Fatal Rhine accident triggers warning for swimmers

Entering the water in the hot summer months can have fatal consequences, and young men in particular are at risk of disregarding swimming rules at the cost of their lives.

Fatal Rhine accident triggers warning for swimmers
Rescue workers at Silbersee II in North Rhine-Westphalia. Photo: DPA

Following the first deadly swimming accidents of the year, the German Lifesaving Society (die Deutsche Lebens-Rettungs-Gesellschaft, or DLRG), reiterated basic rules of conduct for outdoor swimming on Tuesday.

On Thursday, a dinghy capsized on the Rhine in the Alsace region of France. Two of the boat’s occupants died, as did a 22-year-old man who entered the water to try and save the victims. A young girl from Baden-Württemberg remains missing. Furthermore, four people have died in Germany in swimming accidents over the weekend.

READ ALSO: Search for four-year-old German girl missing after boat accident in France

DLRG representative, Achim Wiese in Bad Nenndorf near Hannover, emphasized that “the first piece of advice is to heed basic swimming rules.”

Wiese highlighted that there is a swimming ban in place along all of the Rhine. 

Even an adult would have significant difficulty emerging from the Rhine’s currents, “how then, could a four-year old child, who cannot even swim, manage at all?”

Justifiably, these basic rules also include not swimming where there is shipping traffic and not swimming under the influence of alcohol, as well as ensuring that you cool off before entering the water on hot days.

According to Wiese, if you swim after consuming alcohol, you are at risk of losing your sense of direction. Swimming in hot weather, and jumping straight into the water without first cooling off, threatens the possibility of circulatory collapse. Jumping from bridges or from pathways along the coast is also dangerous, he added.

It is young men in particular who are at the highest risk of water-related accidents. Wiese highlighted that almost 80 percent of drowning victims are men, and, above all, young men. This group often overestimates their own abilities, and underestimates the danger.

In 2018 at least 504 people in Germany died following swimming accidents, the DLRG said in a report at the end of February.

The organization will present its new annual report on Thursday.

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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.