Martin Kleimaier fears the worst. “We have to be careful not to run into a large-scale blackout situation,” says the head of the department for generating and storing electrical energy in the VDE association. If you like, Russian President Vladimir Putin can also trigger a veritable electricity crisis in Germany after the gas crisis. And as a result, this can push rail traffic even further to its limit.
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Federal Economics Minister and Vice-Chancellor Robert Habeck (Greens) is experiencing these days that new problems are constantly emerging – and how the pressure on the Greens in the nuclear issue is growing as a result. Everything is somehow related to everything else.
Because all the consequences of the throttling of Russian gas supplies through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline are causing experts great concern. Due to the impending shortage of gas in winter for heating, the sale of electricity-powered fan heaters has skyrocketed in Germany.
“From January to June 2022, around 600,000 units were sold in Germany, which corresponds to an increase of almost 35 percent compared to the same period last year,” GfK said when asked by the Tagesspiegel.
As a result of the throttling that took place in July and the temporary halt to Russian gas deliveries, sales are likely to have increased significantly again in July. This means that many citizens in the country could turn on their new electric heaters in winter out of concern about cold heaters and to protect against the horrendously rising gas prices.
In an interview with the Tagesspiegel, Kleimaier refers to an example from 1969, when people suddenly started using fan heaters, and electricity was very cheap back then. “There was also almost a blackout.” If the grid is designed so that “every household can draw one kilowatt (KW), but all households then draw two KW, the grid is overloaded by a factor of 2,” explains Kleimaier .
“The problem is: If the power fails, the fan heaters remain plugged in and switched on. If, as a network operator, you then want to carefully switch the households back on, the fuses will blow right away,” emphasizes the expert.
In contrast to electric heat pumps or so-called night storage heaters, the heaters cannot be switched off by the network operator in the event of impending network overload, as they are only connected to a household socket.
“You would then actually have to inform the customers via a loudspeaker truck or an app that all of their heaters have to be switched off first.” The network simply needs a balance between generation and output. If the gas power plants, which can be started up quickly, cannot run due to a gas shortage, the problem becomes even worse.
His clear plea: “I think it makes perfect sense to let the three nuclear power plants run longer,” warns Klaimeier. “Neighboring countries would have little understanding for supplying us with electricity in emergencies if we more or less willfully shut down our nuclear power plants.”
In an unusual step, several trade associations have now warned the public and urgently warn against the mass use of “electric direct heating devices”. Ingrid Pilgram from ZVEI emphasizes that fan heaters are only suitable for short-term use in a limited space. “Otherwise they generate high electricity costs, are ecologically unfavorable and if they are used in many households at the same time, this can actually lead to problems in the grid.”
Ultimately, political communication has also obviously unsettled many citizens, especially the debate as to whether private households can also be disconnected from the gas network in emergencies and citizens could then sit in cold living rooms. But the legal situation prohibits that, and the gas storage facilities nationwide are filling up a little better, around 67 percent have been reached.
By October 1, the storage should be 85 percent full, by November 95 percent. This is precisely why gas generation should be minimized, which inevitably provides arguments for the proponents of longer running times for the three nuclear power plants Isar 2 (Bavaria/Eon), Neckarwestheim (Baden-Württemberg/EnBW) and Emsland (Lower Saxony/RWE).
Another side effect of the crisis, which also plays into the hands of proponents of running time extensions, can be seen in rail transport. Trade unionists report 25 percent sick leave, which alone leads to the well-known restrictions and absences. In addition, one million concrete sleepers throughout the network are broken or dilapidated and need to be replaced.
And now there is still priority for coal trains over passenger transport, because Economics Minister Robert Habeck (Greens) wants to rely primarily on more coal-fired power plants instead of nuclear power – and get some from the reserve. A new energy security package from Habeck therefore aims to ensure transport capacities for fuel supply by rail.
It is becoming apparent that Germany’s rail network will become even more crowded in the coming months. “That doesn’t bode well for the punctuality of passenger and freight trains,” emphasizes Dirk Flege, Managing Director of the Pro-Rail Alliance.
In June, only 58 percent of long-distance trains reached their destination on time, and 88.5 percent in regional traffic. The deputy head of the railway union EVG, Martin Burkert, also expects additional deterioration. “The significant increase in coal trains and the priority announced by Minister Habeck will affect passenger transport. There will be even more delays,” Burkert told the Tagesspiegel.