German floods ‘likely to cost billions’

Cities and towns along the Elbe braced for a huge flood wave to roll downriver on Thursday, as German officials estimated the natural disaster would cause billions of euros in damages.

German floods 'likely to cost billions'
Photo: DPA

With large chunks of Germany already under water, thousands of people have been forced to leave their homes in recent days. Chancellor Angela Merkel has pledged €100 million in immediate aid, but it now seems the damage will far surpass that sum.

Authorities have put the damage in the eastern state of Saxony alone at over €2.5 billion, but with the waters cresting there on Thursday, that figure could be revised higher. German parliamentarians were due to debate the historic flooding in the Bundestag later in the day.

Regional overview:

SAXONY: The flood wave was expected to reach its highpoint in the eastern state of Saxony midday Thursday. Massive amounts of water were hurling down the Elbe River towards the Saxon capital Dresden from the neighbouring Czech Republic. But officials in the baroque city did not expect the record flooding from 2002 to be surpassed. Other cities in the state, however, were already underwater, including popular tourist destinations such as Pirna, Meißen und Riesa.

SAXONY-ANHALT: The waters on Thursday morning threatened the regions around Bitterfeld and Halle. “We hope the dykes hold,” said a member of the state’s disaster response team. However, a lake near Bitterfeld was close to spilling over its banks, which would flood the entire city. Halle on the Saale River was preparing for a large evacuation after parts of the old town had already been flooded. Some 30,000 residents could be forced to leave their homes.

LOWER SAXONY: Further down the Elbe, people in this northern German state were bracing for the flood wave to crest sometime between Thursday and the weekend. Tens of thousands of helpers were reinforcing dykes with sandbags day and night.

BAVARIA: This southern state appeared to have the worst flooding behind it, but many communities were still underwater on Thursday. Waterlogged dykes threatened to give way in Straubing and Deggendorf, according to the authorities. The Danube River, which caused the worst flooding in 500 years in the city of Passau, was slowly receding.

BRANDENBURG: The eastern state surrounding Berlin had so far avoided massive flooding, but water levels were expected to rise slowly along the Oder, Neiße and Spree rivers.

DPA/The Local/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.