Supply in winter: stress test for the electricity market

As of: 07/19/2022 18:43

How safe is power supply in winter? The federal government recalculates it. The further course of the nuclear debate probably also depends on the outcome.

Author: Hans-Joachim Vieweger, ARD Capital Studio

If you want to buy a fan heater these days, you will search in vain in many places: especially for the cheaper ones, your local hardware store or on the Internet says “Item unavailable.” This shows that in the face of impending bottlenecks, many homeowners have stocked up on portable heaters, devices that run on electricity instead of gas, just in case.

Is there a peak in energy consumption?

All this makes the demand for electricity in the coming winter a great unknown, explains Tobias Federico, managing director of the Berlin consulting company Energy Brainpool: If all these devices run at the same time, it could lead to a decent peak in energy consumption .

However, the rise in electricity demand is just one of the reasons why the Federal Ministry of Economy wants to re-examine how the German electricity grid would be at risk in a crisis. The first stress test showed that the power supply was secure in winter; but now the ministry recalculates the calculations – using more stringent assumptions: what if less gas reaches Germany and the price of gas continues to rise? What if French nuclear power plants continue to cause problems and France is able to export less nuclear energy or, as it does today, even buy electricity from Germany?

Various scenarios are modeled

These assumptions are then fed into computer models that grid operators use to model electricity production and consumption in many different scenarios. Here, down to the last detail, there are three contents: Which power plant can produce how much electricity at what time? How much energy is consumed where and at what time? And: Can the networks handle all of this, or do you need countermeasures somewhere?

Of course, how cold winter is also plays a role. And how limited is electricity from renewable wind and solar energy at this time of the year. Finally, the models of extreme situations also cover the pan-European electricity market: Where can Germany get electricity from in an emergency, which other countries must be able to count on Germany’s help in an emergency?

No blackout even with a cold starter?

Many of the unknowns are gathered in the supercomputers of the four major network operators 50Hertz, Amprion, Tennet and Transnet BW. Finally, one question: is there enough power, even in critical situations, anytime, anywhere?

Energy Brainpool Managing Director Federico does not currently expect a winter power outage, even if the situation is “rather difficult” than in previous years. Refers to coal-fired power plants which are currently being withdrawn from reserves to replace gas. Even in the cold, according to Federico, there should be no “blackout”.

Bavaria is particularly concerned about the power supply

However, at present, there is particular concern in the south, where there are hardly any coal-fired power plants to replace the shortage of gas. Bavarian Economy Minister Hubert Aiwanger (free voters) therefore links the new electricity stress test with clear expectations. He wants to know if Bavaria can do without nuclear power from January 2023, amid the uncertain gas supply situation. Aiwanger points out that the Federal Network Agency has concluded that a nuclear weapons phase-out in Bavaria in 2019 is only possible under the assumption that “we have safe bridging gas” – which of course is no longer the case. Until now, nuclear energy covered about 6% of Germany’s electricity demand, in Bavaria this share amounts to several percent.

The head of the Free Voters – like the union parties and the FDP – is in favor of extending the operation period of the three remaining nuclear power plants Emsland (Lower Saxony), Isar 2 (Bavaria) and Neckarwestheim 2 (Baden-Württemberg). The federal government says wait for the results of the stress test before making a factual decision. However, the stress test has already fueled the debate on the possible extension of the life span of nuclear power plants.

Electricity stress test: what does it mean, how does it work?

Hans-Joachim Vieweger, ARD Berlin, 7/19/2022 18:18

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