As the sporadic, unpredictable supply of solar and wind energies increasingly become a part of Germany’s power mix, the country’s electrical grid is becoming more and more unstable and thus vulnerable to a massive power outage.
Dr. Klaus Peter Krause has an article at www.freiewelt.net called “Renewable, but not controllable“, which looks at Germany’s ever more precarious power grid, all thanks to its madly rushed foray into renewable energies, particularly wind and sun. Krause describes the situation in Germany as: “Getting closer to a power outage – The energy policy of madness“.
In the article he brings up a presentation by 2 German power grid experts, Dr. Bernd Benser and Prof. Helmut Alt, which was made at an event organized by the European Institute for Climate and Energy (EIKE).
Most people have experienced a power outage at one time or another, and so may view it as only a nuisance. However, such power outages are almost always very local, isolated, and usually last only a few minutes or a couple of hours at most. But a prolonged, large-scale power outage would be much more than just a nuisance. It would be a catastrophe for a developed country like Germany. Fortunately, few of us have ever experienced that. That may change soon.
Peter Krause reports on how Benser and Alt described what would happen if a large-scale power outage did hit Germany:
What happens when the power goes out
Benser and Alt warned of the consequences of such a power outage and described what it would mean. Here’s just an excerpt: The communication system would immediately go silent or would collapse, if it could function, because of overloading, Fire departments, aid organizations and law enforcement could no longer be reached, payment systems would come to s standstill, ATM machines would no longer dispense cash, water supply and wastewater removal would no longer operate, traffic would jam up completely due to non-functioning traffic lights and signals, entire logistics systems would collapse, production systems would stop functioning, refrigeration systems would stop and perishables would rapidly spoil, air conditioning would cease at in large poultry farms, cows would not be milked, in buildings the electrical blinds for windows would not operate in the morning, also (after 4 hours, at times after just 2 hours) plundering would have to be expected, the medical care system would be crippled as about 90 percent of German hospitals are unable to supply themselves with emergency power for more than 48 hours. According to Benser, six days are needed to bring power back online after a total power outage. “‘n the worst case, we estimate 200,000 dead.“ In high-tech Germany, the most important things practically stop functioning. A large scale power blackout is a national catastrophe scenario.”
Photo: Dr. Klaus Peter Krause; Source: www.freiewelt.net.
7 responses to “What Would Happen If Germany Suffered A Largescale Power Outage? Greens Place National Security In Jeopardy”
It has to be noted that there are tax breaks and probably KfW credits for micro cogeneration plants, ranging from single household to multi appartment / hospital size, usually gas driven. See
Today many appartment blocks have such devices instead of ordinary heaters.
Even though the law talks about saving the climate I would assume that one underlying motive is to stabilize society somewhat against catastrophic failure.
The technocrats behind the government are not entirely stupid; I find it ridiculous though that in this day and age we must pretend that we’re saving the planet when installing diversified power supplies is entirely justifiable by the desire to harden society against systems failure.
A nearby farmers’ market suffered from prolonged power outages one summer. There was a fire (nothing “suspicious”) a little later.
When they rebuilt, they put in several standby generators; not only for refrigeration but also for the cash registers. Their electricity supply has been almost faultless since the rebuild.
Most businesses around here have less than 6 hours’ standby power; if any standby power at all. One of my former customers argued that a generator would be a complete waste… then storms hit and power was out for almost 24 hours. Their main computer system, which served all their branches throughout the country, was without power and there were of course, no generators available for rental. After the recovery of a quasi-stable grid; they claimed that that was still no reason to have a generator because power outages are so rare.
I suspect that many businesses in Germany are accustomed to a reliable electricity supply so they have practically no standby power provision. I bought a machine tool from Sweden many years ago and insisted on a UPS for the control system as loss of position during a power failure with the material in the machine could result in the production of up to 8 tons of scrap. They’d never had such a request previously.
Retail outlets such as supermarkets cannot operate without electricity. There are no prices on the shelved items and the staff usually can’t add numbers up anyway. By-weight items can’t even be weighed; which saves the staff from trying to do multiplication by hand.
The POTS (plain old telephone system) is typically powered via batteries at exchanges; but they have a finite storage; I suspect that the old 72-hour “gold” standard has been let slide with competitive pressures. People on optic fibre are of course in the dark; unless they provided their own UPS.
In countries like Australia where grid-connected PV systems are shut down when the grid goes off, the sanctified multitude will be no better off than the neighbours subsidising them. Unless the neighbours bought a diesel/gasolene/gas generator instead of mis-investing in PV; in which case the neighbours can sit comfortably for at least a couple of days; should they have enough fuel stockpiled.
Speaking of fuel; motor cars and other means of transport will soon grind to a halt as filling stations seldom have generator backup to run even one set of pumps.
Public transport won’t be able to operate for the most part. Only the diesel buses and trains and taxis have a chance of nominal operations. Trains are vulnerable not just due to a lack of traction power, but the signalling will be largely inoperable. In my experience, road traffic tends to run more smoothly without traffic lights (Krause is wrong on that.).
Aviation will have to be limited, depending on the capacity of the standby power to airport flight control systems and airport infrastructure. Airports use a lot of electricity for lighting, security, etc. If there’s a chance of security being compromised, then operations will be reduced to what is a manageable level.
Water supply and sewage will be compromised in many areas. Circulation pumps of central heating systems will stop.
There will be more house fires than usual; especially if outages span the dark hours.
So with renewable energy (mostly wind and sun), we need conventional fossil plants constantly on standby, and now it is advisable to also have your own personal generator in case the fossil fuel system fails to cope with the sporadic renewable supply.
Well, free markets tend to optimize resource allocation; Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand. As soon as politicians start fixing prices, a slide into ever rising inefficiency begins. Meddling begets problems, problems beget more meddling, more meddling begets bigger problems, the Information Problem of the Central Planner as detailed by von Mises and Hayek, we can watch it here in action, the slide into collapse is a textbook example.
And as the problems get worse, we can hear shriller screams blaming arbitrary scapegoats for the problems; the capitalists, the speculators, OPEC, whoever is available. German journalists have never heard of Hayek or von Mises, they are living in a bubble of rewritten history where Austrian economics never happened and don’t know that all of this has been analyzed 80 years ago already.
“The communication system would immediately go silent”
Not true – unless you Germans are far more confident than us Brits. Virtually all telephone exchanges have backup generators which would keep them going for several days (fuel supplies permitting), and in any case they all rely on a stable DC power supply and so have batteries as part of that supply. Smaller roadside equipment cabinets and cellphone towers usually won’t have generators, so will only function as long as the batteries hold out. This is a very good reason NOT to have high speed internet supplied in part or entirely by roadside cabinets. The traditional copper pair phone line supplied direct from your exchange will keep working much longer. The exchange will also be air-conditioned, keeping the equipment and batteries in a much better environment. The same applies to data centres hosting internet servers.
“Or would collapse, if it could function, because of overloading”
That’s an entirely different matter – I suspect that once large parts of the cellphone network shut down (see above) it would relieve quite a lot of the congestion, as folks would have to find a landline instead of just reaching into their pocket!
If the diesel tanks run dry and the fuel distribution network collapses, THEN you start looking at civil unrest…
Good comment, Dirk, but a cogen system needs to be specifically designed to operate when the grid goes down. It has to be able to handle the situation, with the right isolation from the grid and the capacity to run all of its service loads without the grid. I hope the micro cogen installers were smart enough to do that.
You’re right. I know that PC inverters shut down when the grid goes down, as Bernd already mentioned; it’s the same here in Germany. I don’t know whether the micro cogen units are designed for that…