Tech

Accidents, defects, interactions: more than one power failure per day in Berlin

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When construction workers damage two power cables while drilling a hole on the Salvador-Allende Bridge in Berlin-Köpenick at the end of February 2019, the consequences are immense. 30,000 households and 2,000 businesses are left without electricity for around 31 hours. Fortunately, such extreme cases are very rare. Nevertheless, in Berlin the power goes out for more than five minutes on average more than once a day. This emerges from an as yet unpublished answer by the economic administration to a parliamentary question from MP Marcel Luthe (Free Voters), which is available to the German Press Agency.

According to this, 468 “supply interruptions” with more than 100 affected households and a duration of more than five minutes were registered in the previous year. In the previous years there were 478 (2019), 576 (2018) and 458 (2017). The average for the past nine years is 462 failures. In the first half of this year, the power supply failed 225 times.

The duration of the power outages fluctuates strongly according to the statistics. In 2020, the maximum value in one case was 1527 minutes, i.e. a good 25 hours. The electricity in the Köpenick district stayed off even longer in 2019 – a record in the recent past.

In addition to such incidents during construction work, which are listed in the statistics as “third party impact”, power failures can have various reasons. This includes “atmospheric effects” – according to Stromnetz Berlin GmbH, this is primarily about water ingress.

In addition to technical defects, the fourth reason mentioned is “interference from another network”. As a result of interactions between different networks, fluctuations in the voltage can occur.

Luthe, the Free Voters’ lead candidate for the House of Representatives election, sees the numbers as cause for concern. “The stability of Berlin’s power grid is increasingly threatened by the ever increasing fluctuations in the network load due to the expansion of solar and wind systems, as well as targeted attacks by, in particular, left-wing extremists,” he says.

A continuous utilization of the power grids is necessary, which wind and solar energy cannot guarantee. In particular, hydrogen and gas power plants, also based on biogas, are “a clean solution to ensure a decentralized and stable energy supply”.

Stromnetz Berlin GmbH, a state-owned company for a few weeks and, according to its own statements, the largest distribution network operator in Germany, contradicts this. “There is no accumulation or trend towards an increase in disturbances in Berlin,” says spokesman Olaf Weidner. In Berlin, a high quality of supply and supply reliability are ensured, he adds, referring to various key data.

2020 is every consumer in the city statistically around 8.9 minutes without electricity remained. For comparison: The Germany-wide value in 2019 was 12.2 minutes. On average, every Berliner is only dead once every four years.

If the electricity stays off, it takes an average of 48 minutes in the event of a fault before it starts flowing again. If you add up all power outages, including the very short ones, the number of malfunctions has even declined in recent years. But even the best technology can fail – despite a high level of investment, not least in digitization. In addition, Berlin is a growing city with a population of over a million with intensive construction activity.

In Weidner’s words, feeding in electricity from renewable sources is not a problem. “In Berlin, we also have an increasing number of decentralized electricity feeders such as photovoltaic system or combined heat and power plant operators with extremely flexible electricity generation,” he explains. “Their integration into the Berlin power grid is a complex task (…), but has no effect on the disturbance.” It is different in the neighboring state of Brandenburg, for example, where the large number of wind turbines poses huge challenges for the distribution network operator there.