Austria's electricity grid in urgent need of modernisation


"The Austrian high-voltage grid is no longer able to cope with the increasing demands resulting from Europe-wide power trading and rising energy requirements. For this reason we badly need to modernise our electricity grid – in particular by constructing the 380 kV lines in Styria and Salzburg - most importantly to prevent supply security in Austria from being put at risk," pointed out Heinz Kaupa, Managing Director of VERBUND-Austrian Power Grid AG (APG), Austria's leading electricity distributor.

Kaupa expressly welcomed the measures demanded yesterday by the UCTE, the Union for the Co-ordination of Transmission of Energy, in a joint press conference with the EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs. These would reduce the risk of blackouts similar to the one that occurred on November 4 to a minimum. The measures would include an obligation to strengthen the cross-border co-operation of grid operators, for example by organising joint instruction courses and safety training. If line shut-downs become necessary, meticulous safety analyses should be required in order to be able to judge in detail their permissibility and effects. Last but not least, a European information system should be established to be able to detect and immediately respond to any disturbances by initiating appropriate measures such as activating reserve power stations.

The starting point of the November blackout was in Northern Germany in the grid belonging to E.ON where a violation of what is referred to as the (n-1) safety criterion took place. "It means that in the event of a failure or shut-down of a high-voltage line or a transformer it must be ensured that the additional power surge from other parts of the grid can be coped with. At the time this was not the case and the chain reaction that followed had far reaching consequences. In total, around 10 million Europeans, among them 60,000 Austrians, were without power," explained Kaupa. In Austria compliance with the n-1 security criterion is not fully provided due to the missing 380 kV gap closures in the transmission line. "This definitely makes us a weak spot in the European extra-high voltage network," Kaupa pointed out.

"We fully support the recommendations issued by the EU Commission on strengthening grid security," said Kaupa, at the same time criticising the difficult framework conditions imposed on APG in Austria. "We not only want to, we have to invest in line construction, only we are unable to do it to the degree necessary because of the lengthy and tedious approval procedures," added Kaupa, referring specifically to the gaps in the domestic 380 kV grid.

Already at an early stage, APG implemented an extensive training and advanced training programme at all levels including an instruction programme and regular crisis drills to be optimally prepared in cases of emergency. Training also includes grid failure simulation drills that are carried out in Germany.