Your sweat can lead to power outages

Switzerland threatens power failure

The extreme cold is pushing the power grid in Switzerland to the limit, because the electric heaters are very draining. A blackout is becoming more and more likely - even the smallest event can lead to a widespread power failure.

In Laufenburg in Aargau, where Swissgrid watches over the national power grid, people are worried. Swissgrid boss Pierre-Alain Graf puts it this way: “The probability of a major power outage has increased recently. In the next few years we will have serious problems without expanding the network. " There is a real danger for consumers. Specifically, according to Graf, the power grid is now overloaded for more than two months a year.

At the moment, the cold spell is an acute challenge for the guardians of the transmission network. «Electricity consumption in Europe is increasing now. At the moment we are even exporting electricity to France at times - namely when the French switch on their electric heaters. That is unusual, and the constant changes demand a lot from us, ”says Rudolf Baumann, veteran specialist at Swissgrid. “Our radius of action is limited because of the cold spell,” adds Graf. "Nothing additional should happen now, no technical breakdown, no freezing rain that breaks lines." Swissgrid has taken precautions: contracts were signed with neighboring European countries in the autumn to guarantee security of supply.

Nevertheless, there was another moment this week when the experts only had around 20 minutes to find technical solutions to stabilize the network. Otherwise there could have been major problems, including a power failure.

Large consumers without electricity

The greatest danger arises when the network is overloaded and at the same time the most heavily loaded link in the supply chain fails: This could be a line, an overheated transformer or a power plant, for example. The frequency of such horrors has only been recorded statistically for a few years. Nevertheless, Graf says: "Even in this short time we were able to determine an increase in critical moments." The Swiss power grid is at its limit, says Baumann. This shows, for example, the fact that the planning of the experts, who decide every day in terms of a secure power supply, where how much electricity flows through Switzerland and when, today has to be adjusted at short notice in 60 to 80 percent of cases. "The power grid has become more unpredictable," says Baumann.

For this reason, those responsible for Swissgrid are already thinking about how they want to implement the most drastic measure: the targeted shedding of electricity consumers. One possibility, which according to the initiated is in the room, are contracts with large consumers. Swissgrid would be able to cut their power in an emergency. In return, it would compensate the network company.

The reason for the increasingly difficult situation of Swissgrid: In recent years, electricity consumption has increased without the grid being expanded. New power plants and, above all, a lot of renewable energy have been added. The effects of this can hardly be predicted, because wind and sun cannot be planned. Cross-border electricity trading as a result of market liberalization has also increased significantly. Today, all over Europe, energy is fed into the grid and bought where it is cheapest. “We have to manage a lot more electricity flows on the same network than we did ten years ago,” says Baumann.

Experts calculate non-stop

"Our electricity grid has long been part of Europe, even if we are not a member of the EU," says Swissgrid boss Graf. That is why the security of supply in Switzerland can only be guaranteed in cooperation with Europe. An important innovation will follow in a few months: an upstream team of experts will calculate the most suitable electricity flows in the grid around the clock in twelve European countries. This group, called the Transmission System Operator Security Cooperation (TSC), is supposed to continuously give second opinions on the calculations of the experts in the individual countries.

In order to guarantee a secure power supply in the long term, however, according to Swissgrid boss Graf, there is no avoiding the expansion of the high-voltage lines (see interview): "We have to massively tighten the licensing procedures and must not shy away from expropriations."

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