Lack of gas could lead to power supply problem

Status: 08/02/2022 08:13 a.m

Around 13 percent of the gas is used to generate electricity. After the nuclear power plants were shut down at the end of the year, this could lead to power supply bottlenecks – even blackouts.

At the energy supplier N-ERGIE in Nuremberg, the head of the corporate development department, Rainer Kleedörfer, is looking forward to the coming winter with concern. Since less and less gas has been coming to us from Russia in Germany, the head of corporate development sees the security of supply for his around two million customers at risk: “We expect that we will have to turn off the electricity in individual districts by the hour.”

A gloomy scenario that many energy suppliers and public utilities in Germany fear. Because if there is no gas, there could soon not only be a heat problem, but also an electricity problem. The reason is the electricity mix in Germany. After all, almost half of the electricity is generated from renewable energies. But the rest is generated from other sources. A third comes from coal, six percent from nuclear power plants and at least 13 percent from gas.

Power shortage due to lack of gas

S. Born/J. Homer/B. Hirl, plusminus, 28.7.2022

In winter, a lot of electricity is generated from gas

In the winter months, however, the proportion of gas in the electricity mix can increase significantly, because there are many so-called dark doldrums at this time of year. Then the production of electricity from renewable energies such as wind power or solar energy is extremely weak. On January 10th of this year there was little wind and sun. Although all gas-fired power plants were connected to the grid that day, ten gigawatts still had to be purchased from abroad.

But it is questionable whether this electricity, especially from France, will also be available in the coming winter. Because there, many nuclear power plants are currently shut down due to technical defects. If the last nuclear power plants in Germany are also taken off the grid at the end of the year, four gigawatt hours of electricity will be missing. The government wants to counteract the shortage by ramping up coal-fired power plants.

Inefficient power plants as price drivers?

However, experts such as Jürgen Karl from the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg fear that when the last nuclear power plants are shut down at the end of the year, the price of electricity will also rise massively: “We are assuming a price increase of eight cents in procurement. That corresponds to the current electricity prices an increase of a quarter to a third.”

The reason is the so-called merit order effect. This states that the price of electricity is always based on the producer who was last used. First of all, electricity is always generated from cheap renewable energies. If that is not enough, then nuclear power is added, which can also be produced cheaply. Coal power is a bit more expensive. The most expensive is generation from gas, which only comes into play when the other sources of electricity have been exhausted. “If there is no nuclear power, particularly inefficient gas-fired power plants will also be used. And they then set the price for all the electricity,” explains Karl. “With gas prices skyrocketing at the moment, the price of electricity will go through the roof.”

If gas is no longer available for power generation due to the reduction in gas supplies from Russia, there is a risk of controlled shutdowns and, in the worst case, blackouts. “These are caused by a chain reaction in which the network then collapses,” says Karl. “And it usually takes several days before the individual power plants are started up and synchronized again one after the other.”

Industrial customers could sue

These scenarios have also been prepared at N-ERGIE in Nuremberg. If there were to be shutdowns, a wave of lawsuits from customers, especially from industry, is expected. Because there the economic damage is particularly high when there is no more electricity and nothing can be produced.

Extending the service life of nuclear power plants would ease the need for power supply in winter, says the head of corporate development at N-ERGIE, Kleedörfer: “We are in a situation where you have to take every option free of ideology in order to get through the winter and to achieve some degree of security of supply. And that includes nuclear power plants.”

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