German energy giant blamed for power failure

The power failure of 4 November 2006 that affected more than 15 million households in various parts of Europe was the result of a lack of security measures within the network administered by E.ON, a report finds. 

A “cascade of line trippings” occurred when E.ON Netz “did not undertake proper countermeasures to reduce the flow” on a 380 kV line in Northern Germany, the report prepared by the Union for the Coordination of Transmission of Electricity (UCTE) finds. E.ON Netz is the Transmission System Operator (TSO) susidiary of E.ON, which is the world’s largest investor-owned energy-service provider. 

Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs, who presented the report in Brussels on 30 January 2006, added: “Europe should draw lessons from this blackout, that left millions of Europeans in various member states without electricity, and develop stronger network-security standards.”

The report states that E.ON Netz failed to communicate with other TSOs in time on the planned switch-off of the Conneforde-Diele line, in order to let a ship pass underneath. The switch-off tripped a chain reaction, which resulted in the European grid being divided into three separate areas which, due to their being cut off from the other areas, were not able to sufficiently balance power frequencies. “The power imbalance in the Western area induced a severe frequency drop that caused an interruption of supply for more than 15 million European households,” the report states. 

The report concludes: “The disturbance was triggered by causes in the E.ON Netz control area. The very rapid splitting of the interconnected system could not be stopped once the cascade-tripping of the lines had started. Due to the good performance of countermeasures activated at UCTE level in the individual control areas, a Europe-wide black-out was avoided.”

The Commission concluded: “Firstly, E.ON Netz did not have the security procedure in place and did not even have the full technical tools to verify that the system operated within the security limits.

“Secondly, other European transmission system operators did not receive information on the actions taken by the German transmission operator.

“Thirdly, the lack of sufficient investment both at the level of the reliability and of the operation of the grid are also to be blamed. Other issues to be tackled are the behaviour of distribution networks and, in case of disturbances, the disconnection and reconnection of loads and generators.”

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