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Brussels, 30 January 2007

Blackout of November 2006: important lessons to be drawn

The final report on the incident of 4 November 2006, released today by the Union for the Coordination of Transmission of Electricity (UCTE), demonstrate that common action at European level is urgent.[1] Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs stated, “Europe should draw lessons from this Blackout that left millions of Europeans in various Member States without electricity and develop stronger network security standards".

A serious incident on the continental European electricity network on 4 November lead to blackouts over most of the system. Following this incident, Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs requested the UCTE to produce the report, released, today on the causes of such major failures. He also asked for the assessment of the European Regulators Group (ERGEG) which will report, beginning of February, about the lessons to be learned from this event.

Following the investigation carried out by UCTE, three main reasons appear as the causes of this incident.

Firstly, E.ON Netz, the electricity transmission system operator who was at the origin of the fault, did not have the security procedure in place and did not even have the full technical tools to verify that the system operated within the security limits.

Secondly, other European transmission system operators did not receive information on the actions taken by the German transmission operator.

Thirdly, the lack of sufficient investment both at the level of the reliability and of the operation of the grid are also to be blamed. Other issues to be tackled are the behaviour of distribution networks and in case of disturbances, the disconnection and reconnection of loads and generators.

These causes confirm the Commission's analysis in favour of common action for ensuring the security of electricity supply throughout the European Union. As outlined in its recent Energy Package, announced on 10 January, the Commission considers it urgent to:

  • Accelerate the adoption, in the context of a new Community mechanism and structure, of essential common binding network security standards;
  • Enhance the coordination between Transmission system operators to ensure an effective real-time operation of the European grid; Efforts should be made to have a gradual evolution towards regional system operators; this should require effective unbundling as discussed in the Commission Strategic Energy Review;
  • Improve investments in the European grid both to ensure its reliability and the construction of a truly competitive European market; The Commission's proposals underlined in its Priority Interconnection Plan therefore need to be implemented quickly.

[1] The fault originated from Northern Germany, from the control area of Eon Netz. A high voltage line had to be switched off to let a ship pass underneath. This lead to overloading of lines and finally to splitting of the Union of Co-ordination of Electricity Transmission network into three zones: West, East and South-East. The Western zone lacked power and the Eastern zone had too much power. To cope with this lack of power in the Western zone automatic devices had to switch customers off in the countries affected. The most affected area was France where 5 million customers were cut-off. In Germany also millions of customers were affected, in Belgium, Netherlands, Italy and Spain some hundreds of thousands of customers were without electricity.

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