Blackout: Why the danger is currently increasing

Why is the risk of a blackout considered high in Europe today? Our interview partner: Herbert Saurugg, international blackout and crisis preparedness expert.

Our interview partner:
Herbert Saurugg, international blackout and crisis preparedness expert, speaker & president of the Austrian Society for Crisis Preparedness. He supports authorities and organizations in the process towards higher crisis fitness and improved crisis preparedness.
Find more about Herbert Saurugg under https://www.saurugg.net.
Portrait/Photocredit: Herbert Saurugg

Blackout: Why the danger is currently increasing

Why we are addressing this issue: In China, electricity has already been rationed, and energy-intensive companies in particular have had to interrupt production over a period of days. Private households have been warned that the power supply is unstable, and there have already been power cuts on the coast. India also experienced power cuts due to historic lows in coal stockpiles.

The Media and various organizations are warning of a difficult winter and the risk of a blackout in Europe as well.

In this article, we address the question: Why is the risk of a blackout considered to be high in Europe today?

The appetite for electricity

Electricity is the basis of digitalization and technological development. Our lives are electrified and shaped by technology: without electricity, the plug is literally pulled on out of our lives, our jobs. “Ten years ago, there were still large power plant overcapacities, which have now mostly been dismantled,” explains Saurugg.

Parallel to this development, an energy turnaround is taking place: Today, our energy still comes to a very large extent from fossil and nuclear energy sources. For many decades, it was also completely clear who produced and supplied this energy or electricity: Power plants centrally planned and supplied us with the energy we needed.

Now this is changing: On the one hand, fossil and nuclear power plants are to be replaced by ecological and sustainable energy sources. These include wind, sun and water, geothermal energy and energy from biomass. And on the other hand, this system will be massively and fundamentally changed in the long term: Every one of us can become a small electricity producer thanks to photovoltaic systems. We can store this electricity and use it to a large extent for our needs – or we can discharge this electricity into the grid.

Consequences of a poorly planned energy transition

Goal of the transition is the sustainable orientation of energy production. Now, a major mistake crept into the planning of this transformation years ago: The energy transformation almost only looks at individual parts and is not done very systematically. Germany in particular, explains expert Saurugg, is taking the second step before the first. Thus, nuclear and coal-fired power plants are constantly being shut down without providing sufficient alternative sources on the other side. “By the end of the year, three nuclear power plants will be shut down in Germany, and three more in 2022, in addition to a much larger amount of coal-fired power plants. But these power plants are important because, unlike wind and solar power plants, they are able to supply continuously or on demand,” Saurugg said. “There is a lack of buffer and storage facilities to be able to compensate the fluctuations.”

Energy production via wind power plants depends on the wind situation. (Credit: Shutterstock)

Wind power plants depend on the wind situation, photovoltaic plants do not supply electricity at night, for example. “The supply problems due to these circumstances are still being ignored. Especially in winter, we need a lot of electricity to operate heat pumps, and at the same time, in winter, the supply of alternative energy is also more difficult and dependent on the weather.

More and more countries only want to import electricity – this leaves us with a big challenge: Who produces this electricity?”, the blackout expert asks.

Especially because the shutdown of the remaining German coal-fired power plants is now already targeted until 2030 – and not 2038.

Challenging energy situation

Apart from this, Russia is first and foremost filling its own gas storage facilities, before European gas storage facilities are replenished in November. Similarly, coal stockpiles are empty in the face of high global demand; in North Rhein-Westphalia, a power plant already had to be shut down in October 2021 due to a lack of coal. These developments are leading to extremely high energy prices and an unstable energy supply in Europe. The US bank Goldman Sachs published a report in September 2021 warning of large-scale blackouts.

An energy shortage could lead to shutdowns of industrial electricity consumers in the first step, but also to planned or unplanned large-scale shutdowns of private consumers in the second step. In China, electricity is currently being rationed, which in turn had a massive impact on supply chains, as a large number of products are produced in China. In India, there have been initial power cuts in several states, and further measures could also be taken in the capital region around Delhi due to dwindling coal supplies.

Preparing for an unstable energy supply

Experts and organizations are advising people to prepare for an “ugly winter”, as as an Italian energy manager expressed it in an interview with Bloomberg news agency.

“We have been talking about tipping points for 50 years, which have been predicted since then. Now we are probably on the point of it, and we are not managing this turnaround intelligently,” criticizes Saurugg.

He pleads for a more realistic approach: “Of course we have to protect our climate, our world. But the governments’ tight schedules and poorly thought-out concepts for the energy turnaround are not manageable. It creates more problems, massively damaging our economy in addition to dealing with a pandemic.”

More information can be found here:

How to help yourself and preparedness guides: https://www.saurugg.net/blackout/leitfaeden-zur-selbsthilfe

Austrian Armed Forces information page on blackout preparedness: https://www.bundesheer.at/archiv/a2021/blackout/blackout.shtml

Credit: Shutterstock

Anja Herberth
Author: Anja Herberth

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