Warning about winter shutdown of German energy exports

Germany may have to cut its power exports to France and other countries this winter to avoid a power grid outage, a senior executive at the country’s largest grid operator has warned.

Hendrik Neumann, technical director of Amprion, the largest of Germany’s four power grid operators, said a temporary shutdown might even become necessary to avoid power shortages and bottlenecks as a “last resort”. However, he said such a scenario would likely only last a few hours rather than a few days.

The warning comes at a time of heightened tensions over Berlin’s response to the energy crisis, with some EU states claiming the €200bn ‘protection shield’ for German businesses and consumers announced last week latter risked undermining European unity.

Amid accusations that Germany was using its economic firepower to protect its households in ways others could not afford, outgoing Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said that “in the face of common threats from our era, we cannot divide ourselves according to space in our country. budget”.

Any blackouts or reductions in German power exports could worsen supply shortages in France, where nearly half of the country’s 56 nuclear power plants are currently off-grid.

The French government is urging utility group EDF to honor the planned restart this winter of the 32 nuclear reactors that had shut down at some point this summer for maintenance and due to corrosion problems.

France imported 6,000 gigawatt hours (GWh) of electricity from Germany from January to March, or 5% of the country’s total electricity production in the quarter, according to think tank Fraunhofer ISE, a multiplication by five compared to the same period last year. .

Hendrik Neumann, Technical Director of Amprion, said: “We assume a very stressed situation over the coming winter.” © Sina Schuldt/dpa/Alamy

Germany has been a net exporter of electricity for years. Last year, it sold 17,400 GWh more electricity to other countries than it imported, compared with 18,500 GWh a year earlier, according to data from the grid regulator. The biggest buyers of German electricity were France and Austria.

“We assume a very tense situation over the coming winter,” Neumann told the Financial Times, adding that the energy crisis caused by the war in Ukraine was just one of many “overlapping issues.” Other headaches include the closures of French nuclear power plants and disrupted coal deliveries caused by the low water levels of major rivers.

Dortmund-based Amprion generated 2.6 billion euros in revenue last year and 216 million euros in operating profit. Majority-owned by a consortium of German insurance companies and pension funds, it operates the power grid and substations in western Germany, the industrial heart of Europe’s largest economy.

Neumann said he did not share the view of German Economy Minister Robert Habeck, who claimed in July that the country did not face an electricity problem.

“If that were the case, we wouldn’t have been asked [by the government] carry out a special analysis [on the electricity market in the winter],” he said.

Following this review, the German government decided this month to postpone the planned dismantling this year of two of the country’s three remaining nuclear power plants.

Neumann requested that all three plants remain in operation, arguing that it was still uncertain how tight the market would be.

“All I can say is that three nuclear power plants are better than two,” he said. However, he pointed out that Amprion’s point of view was a technical point of view that ignored “political and ideological aspects”.

“The government must draw the political conclusions and take the political responsibility.”

Germany also suffers from a regional mismatch in electricity production and consumption. Many wind farms are located in the wind-rich northeast part of the country, while much of the energy-intensive industry is based in the southwest, where generating capacity is becoming increasingly scarce .

This can lead to geographical disparities between supply and demand, as the grid operator may have difficulty getting electricity from one region to another.

Such an imbalance is normally corrected by switching on more coal and gas power plants in southern Germany, but there may not be enough available capacity this winter. In such a situation, Germany might have to cut exports, Neumann said.

Additional reporting by Sarah White in Paris

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James R. Rhodes