At 16:36 on 24 July 2021, there was a grid disconnection in the European interconnected system and thus the second major disruption and network splitting in the last 7 months. However, hardly anyone noticed it, freely following the motto „Guat is ganga, nix is g’scheh’n“ (please move on, nothing to see here), even though around 2 million people in France, Spain and Portugal were temporarily without electricity. While people in Germany are busy lamenting how the deadliest catastrophe since the Second World War could have happened, other warning signals continue to be ignored. We are obviously not learning.
The Iberian Peninsula is not optimally interconnected with the central European power supply system. Nevertheless, large amounts of energy keep flowing through these interconnections. This was also the case on 24 July. Unfortunately, a wildfire broke out under one of these lines. Fire-fighting aircraft were deployed. At 16:35, a fire-fighting aircraft may have unloaded its cargo directly above an extra-high voltage line, causing a short circuit. This apparently triggered resonance effects, which one minute later led to an overload of the coupling points and to the disconnection of the grid between France and the Iberian Peninsula. The Iberian Peninsula now lacked an amount of energy from about three large power plants, which could not be compensated by other power plants in the short term. As a result, an automated load shedding was triggered, leaving around 2 million people in France, Spain and Portugal without electricity for up to an hour. The spread of the disturbance was thus stopped just in time and a blackout on the Iberian Peninsula was prevented.
Even though the power cut lasted a relatively short time for the people affected, there are numerous reports of consequential disturbances in other infrastructure areas. For example, in a steel plant or in various IT infrastructures. Computer cash registers are also said to have not worked for hours afterwards.
Once again, there are clearly more questions than answers. Because something like this should not have happened. The European transmission grid operators are now investigating the incident. After all, it is already the second one this year. Before that, there were only three other grid disconnections in the European interconnected system: in 2003, causing the blackout in Italy, in 2006, during the most severe major disruption across Europe to date, in 2015, during the blackout in Turkey, and on 8 January this year, when there was a grid disconnection between the Balkans and the rest of Europe. At that time, too, electricity exports to the Iberian Peninsula played an important role.
The European transmission system operators did an excellent job again. Thanks to the automated processes, worse things were prevented. Nevertheless, we should not continue to ignore the warning that was clearly formulated in 2015 by the European grid operators: „A large electric power system is the most complex existing man-made machine. Although the common expectation of the public in the economically advanced countries is that the electric supply should never be interrupted, there is, unfortunately, no collapse-free power system.“
There is no hundred percent security, anywhere. But as before the floods, the indications and warnings have been ignored for years. While it is possible to repair the damage after severe extreme weather damage at very high cost, the damage after a blackout will hardly be manageable in the foreseeable future. Massive production and supply problems are to be expected as a result of the expected widespread and protracted loss of electricity and telecommunications. How long could it take if the entire logistics across Europe were to fail chaotically and then have to be resynchronised, when the Suez Canal blockade has already triggered such serious knock-on effects? It is precisely these effects that are massively underestimated. At the same time, we know that about two thirds of the population will no longer be able to supply themselves adequately after one week at the latest. But the widespread restart of the supply of vital goods and services (food, medicine, health, etc.) will take much longer. And there will hardly be any free forces to help because everyone will be affected themselves.
A discussion, as at present after the violent storms, about who is to blame or who did not warn sufficiently, will then be irrelevant. Therefore, we should not wait any longer, but finally take a serious look at the topic of blackout preperation.