Blackout -- Could it Happen in Germany? | Current Affairs | DW | 29.09.2003
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Current Affairs

Blackout -- Could it Happen in Germany?

Power is being restored in Italy following Sunday's massive blackout -- the fourth major Western power cut in two months. Now many in Germany are wondering if it could happen here.

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Despite a wave of blackouts in Europe, Germany says its power grid is stabile.

Following an accident on a power supply line in Switzerland, it was only a matter of seconds before grid failure spread, leaving Italy in darkness on Sunday night. Germany's energy providers reacted quickly, taking measures to prevent the power outage from affecting the German network.

According to Johannes Altmeppen, spokesman for the country's third largest energy company, Vattenfall Europe, extra power pumps were immediately activated to use up excess energy, preventing a power surge beyond the normal network frequency of 50 Hertz.

Germany better prepared

So was Germany just lucky this time? Or is the German network superior to those in North America, London and Scandinavia, all places which, like Italy, have suffered major outages recently? Altmeppen says it is. "Italy didn't exactly come as a surprise," he told DW-WORLD. "Italy doesn't produce enough energy for its needs, so it has to import power, mainly from France and Switzerland, and that's not good. Here in Germany, we produce enough energy, we have enough reserves, and we have a wide network so we're not dependent on one or two main generators."

Germany's energy companies have been reassuring worried consumers ever since the blackout that hit North America in August. Such an extreme power outage can't happen here, they say. The German grid is so close-knit, that if there were a power outage, another generator would kick in to fill the gap. And if multiple facilities were to malfunction, generators in neighboring European countries would provide Germany with power.

Causes still unknown

German energy officials still don't know exactly what caused the blackout in North America -- they say that American officials are being cautious in how much information they release in their statements. The cause of the power outages in London and Scandinavia haven't been explained yet either, as investigations are still going on. Italian officials disagree over who is to blame for their blackout. In each case, terrorist activity has been dismissed.

Terrorist motives?

But Konstantin Staschus, the director of Germany's Association of Network Operators ( Verband der Netzbetreiber) says the question is still being asked: Could terrorists succeed in bringing an entire country to a standstill if they were to gain access to the power supply via the Internet?

"Energy providers are asking themselves that question, not just because of the threat of terrorism, but also because of the threat from Internet viruses and worms," Staschus said. He adds that such a situation in Germany is highly unlikely, because the computer networks that direct the energy flow operate independently of the Internet.

For Johannes Altmeppen of Vattenfall Europe, raising the terrorist alarm is nothing more than a knee-jerk reaction. "We're constantly checking the safety and security of our networks," he said. "There is absolutely no reason for anyone to worry about this point. Our security systems are arranged so that it is impossible for anyone to break into them via the internet or with an internet worm."

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