On Saturday, 4th November a major shortfall hit significant parts of the pan-European electricity network. At 22:10 several failures occurred leading to power blackouts lasting about half an hour and affecting over 10 million people in Germany, Belgium, France, Spain and Austria. The French network operator RTE said it was the worst incident in 30 years.
Speaking at the German Energy Day organised by the German WEC Member Committee on 8 November 2006, Dr. Johannes Teyssen, WEC Vice-Chair for Europe and CEO of E.ON Energie commented that despite of a sudden loss of frequency in the system the grid operator managed to react quickly by disconnecting selected consumers. Thus managed to minimise the shutdown time saving the network from a major blackout as happened three years ago.
However, the shortfall lead to long delays in rail transport, affecting about 100 trains mainly in Germany. In France fifteen areas of the country were affected, including parts of Paris, according to RTE - the French grid operator. This lead to a power shortage for five million people. In Belgium the region around Antwerp and in Italy the northern part of the country including Genoa and Turin were without power for 20 to 30 minutes.
The recent events have restarted discussions about the reliability of the European power networks. EU Commissionaire for Energy Andris Piebalgs called upon the European grid operators to work more closely together on communication and information to prevent future blackouts. Germany’s Minister of Economic Affairs suggested that the high profits made by the German power companies be invested in infrastructure to make the grids more reliable.
The grid reliability issues were addressed at the Seminar on Large Power System Failures held by the World Energy Council in London on 2nd of October 2006. The seminar discussed the blackouts in the US and Italy on 2003.
The speakers included: Kieran O’Brien, Chairman of the WEC Irish Member Committee, former CEO of EirGrid; Nick Winser, Group Director UK and US Transmission operations, National Grid; William F. Hederman, Jr., Executive Director Energy Resources Group, Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP, formerly Director Office of Market Oversight and Investigations at FERC; Georges de Montravel, Head of International Affairs, RTE; Luca d’Agnese, Director Italian Operations, TERNA (former CEO, GRTN); Richard Sergel, President and Chief Executive Officer NERC; Guido Bortoni, Director of the Regulatory Authority for Electricity in Italy; G. A. Maas, Chairman of the Steering Committee of UCTE and Odd Håkon Hoelsæter, CEO Statnett.
Power industry management is a major concern in North America and Europe, as both regions are in the middle of a major transformation. New realities call for new governance arrangements to address:
- The aging of existing assets and the great difficulty in constructing new infrastructure
- The impact of consumer choice and trading on modern power systems.
- The effects of tight regulatory constraints on investment and operation and the need for increasingly complex systems and tools.
- The management of system vulnerability at a time of rising global political tensions and increased risk of malicious attacks.
- The difficulty of recruiting highly skilled and qualified technical staff into the industry
The provision of adequate system security requires: the development of appropriate standards, their monitoring and robust enforcement. As with many complex industries the best technical expertise resides in the industry and proposals for industry self-regulation in both North America and Europe have been discussed. Self-regulation however is only feasible where stakeholders are confident that there will be no conflicts of interest.
The World Energy Council is determined to continue to play a role in identifying and communicating best practice in this important area of the global energy industry. The full summary of the workshop is available online