Snow briefly shuts down Frankfurt Airport

Germany’s transport chaos deepened Tuesday morning with the temporary suspension of all flights in and out of the key hub of Frankfurt Airport.

Snow briefly shuts down Frankfurt Airport
Photo: DPA

The nation’s biggest airport shut down from about 5 am until just before 9 am because of unexpectedly heavy snowfall, a spokesman for airport operator Fraport announced.

The closure came as a shock because the sky had been relatively clear after midnight night and observers expected open runways in the morning.

“We did not count on this because we had different forecasts from the German Weather Service (DWD),” Fraport spokesman Uwe Witzel said.

Hundreds of flights were affected.

Some international flights bound for Frankfurt were being diverted to Leipzig/Halle airport in Saxony. Flights from Riyadh in Saudi Arabia, the Angolan capital of Luanda, Amman in Jordan, the Indian city of Mumbai and Tel Aviv in Israel had landed there. Lufthansa cargo flights from New York and Kazakhstan also landed at Leipzig/Halle.

By early afternoon, the airport was trying to get back up to speed.

“All three runways at Frankfurt Airport are now clear of snow and ice,” said a Fraport spokesperson. “The goal is to return to regular controlled flight operations as quickly as possible.”

The closure came after days of disruptions caused by the brutal weather, both to air traffic and also to road and rail as travellers both in Germany and around Europe struggled to reach their destinations by Christmas.

But the battle against the snow and ice turned deadly for two rail workers who were helping de-ice tracks in the Mülheim district of Cologne were killed when they were hit by a regional train.

The men, aged 40 and 41, died at the scene. They were employed by an outside firm contracted by Deutsche Bahn.

PhotobucketClick here for a photo gallery of the winter travel chaos.

The rail operator apologized on Tuesday for the disruptions to its service and promised improvements by Christmas.

“We will run all available trains and ensure that major long-distance routes have the necessary capacity,” DB manager Ulrich Homburg told daily Bild.

Meterologists from the DWD, meanwhile have warned of the danger of black ice on the roads on Tuesday in central and southwest Germany.

However, there were few accidents overnight because motorists appeared to have heeded the warnings of the past few days and either stayed home or driven with extreme caution, police said. A survey of police stations taken by news agency DPA found that even police were surprised by how quiet the roads had been overnight.

That said, a major pile-up occurred on the A40 motorway near Duisburg in North Rhine-Westphalia involving four trucks and eight cars. Four people were injured though none seriously. They accident appeared to have happened when a truck tried to change lanes, police said.

DPA/The Local/dw/mry

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Why sunny weather in Germany can switch off solar panels

The more the sun shines in the southern German town of Aurach, the more likely it is that Jens Husemann's solar panels will be disconnected from the grid -- an exasperating paradox at a time when Germany is navigating an energy supply crisis.

Why sunny weather in Germany can switch off solar panels

“It’s being switched off every day,” Husemann told AFP during a recent sunny spell, saying there had been more than 120 days of forced shutdowns so far this year.

Husemann, who runs an energy conversion business near Munich, also owns a sprawling solar power system on the flat roof of a transport company in Aurach, Bavaria.

The energy generated flows into power lines run by grid operator N-Ergie, which then distributes it on the network.

But in sunny weather, the power lines are becoming overloaded — leading the grid operator to cut off supply from the solar panels.

“It’s a betrayal of the population,” said Husemann, pointing to soaring electricity prices and a continued push to install more solar panels across Germany.

Europe’s biggest economy is eyeing an ambitious switch to renewables making up 80 percent of its electricity from 2030 in a bid to go carbon neutral.

N-ergie thermal power station

The thermal power station of energy supplier N-Ergie in Nuremberg, southern Germany. (Photo by Christof STACHE / AFP)

But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has put a spanner in the works.

Moscow has cut gas supplies to Germany by 80 percent, in what is believed to be a bid to weaken the European powerhouse’s resolve in backing Ukraine.

READ ALSO: OPINION: How many massacres will it take for Germany to turn off Russian gas?

As a result, Berlin has been scrambling for alternative sources across the world to replace the shortfall.

This makes it all the more frustrating for Husemann, whose solar panels normally generate enough electricity for 50 households. With the repeated shutdowns, he suspects they will only supply half of their capacity by the end
of the year.

Grid bottlenecks

Grid operator N-Ergie, which is responsible for harvesting electricity from Husemann’s panels, admits the situation is less than ideal.

There were 257 days last year when it had to cut off supply from solar panels on parts of the grid.

“We are currently witnessing — and this is a good thing — an unprecedented boom in photovoltaic parks,” Rainer Kleedoerfer, head of N-Ergie’s development department, told AFP.

An employee of energy supplier N-ERGIE working at the company's network control centre in Nuremberg, southern Germany. 

An employee of energy supplier N-Ergie working at the company’s network control centre in Nuremberg, southern Germany.  (Photo by Christof STACHE / AFP)

But while it takes just a couple of years to commission a solar power plant, updating the necessary infrastructure takes between five and 10 years, he said.

“The number of interventions and the amount of curtailed energy have increased continuously in recent years” as a result, according to N-Ergie spokesman Michael Enderlein.

“The likelihood is that grid bottlenecks will actually increase in the coming years,” while resolving them will take several more years, Enderlein said.

According to Carsten Koenig, managing director of the German Solar Industry Association, the problem is not unique to solar power and also affects wind energy.

READ ALSO: Reader question – Should I modernise my heating system in Germany?

Solar bottlenecks tend to be regional and temporary, he said. “Occasionally, however, we hear that especially in rural areas in Bavaria, the shutdowns are more frequent.”

2.4 million households

Koenig agrees the problem is likely to get worse before it gets better.

“This will be especially true if political measures aimed at sufficiently expanding the power grid in Germany… drag on for too long,” he said.

Some 6.1 terawatt hours of electricity from renewables had to be curtailed in 2020, according to the most recent figures available.

With an average consumption of around 2,500 kilowatt hours per year in a two-person household, this would have been enough to power around 2.4 million households.

A spokesman for Germany’s Federal Network Agency said it did not share the belief that “it will not be possible to expand the network in line with demand in the coming years”.

Only some aspects of the expansion are seeing delays, the spokesman said — mainly due to slow approval procedures and a lack of specialist companies to do the work.

According to Husemann there have also been delays to the payments he is supposed to receive in return for the solar power he supplies — or cannot supply.

He said he is already owed around 35,000 euros ($35,600) for electricity produced so far this year that has never found its way into a socket.