Storms ‘getting stronger’ due to warmer ground

Storms over Germany have been more intense over the past year, and are causing more damage, because the ground is warmer, weather experts said on Tuesday.

Storms 'getting stronger' due to warmer ground
Photo: DPA

Up to a million bolts of lightning hit European soil each day – every single one of which are tracked and measured by storm monitoring company Nowcast.

Although the numbers have remained constant, their increased strength makes it feel as if there are more storms, said Nowcast head Hans-Dieter Betz.

“It might seem like there has been more lightning than usual this year,” he said. But storms have actually been stronger, he explained. Wild weather phenomena like hail often accompany what would have been a “calmer” storm in the past.

“For that reason it seems like there are more electrical storms, especially in southern Germany,” said Betz.

The reason behind this, Michael Kunz from the Karlsruhe institute for meteorology and climate research explained, was because the ground temperature has risen. This causes rising damp air, which, said Kunz, “is exactly the kind of energy that storm clouds devour. This increases the potential for a storm.”

South-western Germany has particularly seen warmer ground temperatures this year.

Nowcast provides its clients, including Munich airport, the army and the German weather service (DWD), with accurate information about where and how quickly storm clouds are travelling.

When lightning strikes it emits radio waves which are collected by the company’s sensors, allowing the team handling the data to pinpoint a storm to within 100 metres. This is, Betz said, especially handy for airports.

But lightning is not just a risk for aeroplanes and people wandering in large open spaces, normal households are also seeing an increase in how much damage it can do.

The average cost of damage done by lightning annually has risen by 25 percent over the past five years and now stands at around €500,000. If a family home gets hit, they normally have to reckon with an €800 repair bill, according to statistics from the German association of insurers (GDV).

As for the rest of this summer, the DWD has forecast that while it will remain warm it could also be uncomfortably humid – meaning a hearty dose of storms for the whole country.

Betz, despite making his living from lightning, was not enthusiastic about this, saying that “there are enough storms already, so I’m emotionless.”

DAPD/The Local/jcw

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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.