CEPS: Last week's power crisis caused by sequence of accidents throughout Europe

31-07-2006

Last week the Czech Republic suffered its most serious power crisis in decades, which forced the Czech transmission grid operator to declare a state of emergency and announce limits on consumption. The crisis was completely solved in less than 24 hours without the supply of energy being cut off anywhere in the country. On Monday, the Czech Republic's transmission system operator, CEPS, called a special news conference to tell the public more about the events of last week.

The company explained that last week's power crisis was caused by a sequence of unforeseen events and accidents throughout Europe, not just in the Czech Republic. As the European energy market is very interconnected, accidents in one part of Europe can affect the flow of energy elsewhere. The overall situation in Europe put a great demand on the capacity of the grids. The ongoing heat wave had made more and more people and companies turn on their air-conditioning and also, some countries had to reduce production of energy because they had problems with the cooling at the plants. Germany, for instance, was forced to import more energy as its numerous wind power plants were not working because of the weather. And last but not least, the heat puts a great strain on the actual wires and cables through which the current flows.

In such a situation, a small technical hitch can cause a chain reaction. CEPS's executive director for strategy and finance Miroslav Vrba explains what the company believes the trigger was.

"On that day, there were unusual redirections of the flow of electricity in Europe. For example, the flow from Poland to Western Europe was reduced because Poland's plants were unable to export, and the flow from Slovenia and Austria to Italy was severed because of an accident there."

The Czech grid was used to bypass the problem spots and all of a sudden the flow of electricity increased here, CEPS explained. One line in Central Bohemia got overloaded and had to be disconnected. That was followed by a fallen cable elsewhere which meant two elements of the system were knocked out - and it started to snowball. Two areas had to be switched over to what is called "island operation" - that is units continued to produce power which was distributed locally but the areas were isolated from the centralised network where maintenance work took place. At that instant, the operator CEPS in line with the energy law declared a state of emergency and limited consumption. But between 2.30 pm and 10 pm, all the failures were fixed and the state of emergency was called off at 11 pm on Tuesday.

Looking back at last week's emergency situation, CEPS say they are happy that the legal measures they applied proved practical in a real-life situation and they thanked consumers for sticking to the limits. But what they say should be reviewed are the rules of the energy trade in Europe and exchange of information in real time. As far as enhancing the capacity of the Czech network, CEPS say, it is not an issue because the bottlenecks of the European grid, so to speak, are usually not in the Czech Republic.

31-07-2006