Germany’s Renewables Revolution Destabilises Neighbours’ Electrical Grid

  • Date: 18/02/17
  • Zeke Turner, The Wall Street Journal

Germany’s excess power spills over the border into Polish and Czech territory and threatens their electrical grids with collapse, companies and governments there say.

A battle is raging in Central Europe over the balance of power—the electrical kind.

Poland and the Czech Republic see Germany as an aggressor, overproducing electricity and dumping it across the border. Germany sees itself as a green-energy pioneer under unfair attacks from less innovative neighbors.

As part of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Energiewende , or energy revolution, Germany will shut its nuclear power plants by 2022 and replace them with its rapidly expanding wind and solar power.

But the volatile renewables don’t always perform, and the Germans are also relying on coal- and gas-powered plants to keep the lights on.

That creates problems on windy and sunny days when Germany produces far more electricity than it needs. Excess power spills over the border into Polish and Czech territory, threatening their electrical grids with collapse, companies and governments there say.

It is “collateral damage of a purely political decision of the German government,” said Barbora Peterova, the spokeswoman for CEPS A.S., the Czech national grid. There has been “no consultation and no discussion about the impact.”

German companies don’t deny that erratic power flows are a problem, but they argue that overloads are largely due to outdated grids on both sides of the border.

“A chain is only as strong as its weakest link,” said Gert Schwarzbach, the head of interconnectors at 50Hertz Transmission GmbH, a grid operator responsible for power lines that cross into Poland and the Czech Republic in northeastern Germany.

A technician monitored electricity levels in front of a giant screen showing the eastern German electricity transmission grid last December in the control center of grid operator 50Hertz near Berlin.

A technician monitored electricity levels in front of a giant screen showing the eastern German electricity transmission grid last December in the control center of grid operator 50Hertz near Berlin. PHOTO: SEAN GALLUP/GETTY IMAGES

But the problem has been aggravated by Germany’s decadelong struggle to build high-voltage power lines that can carry energy from windmills in its gale-battered north to its industrial power gluttons in the south. That delay has forced it to use its neighbors’ grids to shuttle power southward, putting their local networks under heavy stress and at risk of blackouts.

“It has clogged all of the interconnections,” said Grzegorz Wilinski, a senior official at the Polish Electricity Association and deputy director of strategy at Polska Grupa Energetyczna SA, Poland’s biggest energy company.

To bear the weight of German power, Prague and Warsaw are now investing millions in higher voltage wires and installing transformers at the border to redirect the power back to German turf.

CEPS and Polish grid-operator Polskie Sieci Elektroenergetyczne SA have spent about €115 million ($122 million) for the massive transformers, known as phase-shifters. Poland has invested $300 million last year to update its grid and substations, according to a spokeswoman for the country’s national grid.

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