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Fierce storm causes travel chaos in Germany

The first autumn storm has wreaked havoc across northern Germany, causing major travel disruption.

Fierce storm causes travel chaos in Germany
Passengers faced huge disruption in Hanover, Lower Saxony. Photo: DPA

Passengers travelling by train in northern Germany face cancellations and delays on Wednesday after a storm lashed the region. 

On Tuesday, high winds and rain resulted in several trees falling onto railway lines and damage to overhead lines, which paralyzed the rail network.

The clean-up is underway but rail operator Deutsche Bahn said there would still be disruption on Wednesday. 

“Long-distance trains between Hanover and Bremen will largely be cancelled,” said a spokesman for Deutsche Bahn.

“There could also be restrictions on the route between Hamburg and Hanover. We recommend that passengers inform themselves about their connections before they start their journey.”

Deutsche Bahn said those who have purchased tickets for affected routes can either get a refund or use the ticket to travel on any train on the route within one week of the disruption. For more information visit Deutsche Bahn's website.

READ ALSO: Autumn weather comes to Germany following weekend highs

The weather, which seemed to signal that summer is truly over in Germany, caused major problems for rail traffic on Tuesday evening, especially in northern and northeastern Germany. Passengers were stranded on trains or forced to evacuate them and change to other means of transport.

In Hanover, 200 people had to spend the night in two trains. Deutsche Bahn had provided two ICEs with a total of 1,400 seats, a company spokesperson said.

In Kassel-Wilhelmshöhe and Hamburg, trains were also available for passengers to spend the night. However, they were not used.

On another ICE, which was on its way from Chur in Switzerland to Hamburg, 150 passengers were transported in buses near Nienburg and driven to Hanover. However, a total of 300 other people from the same train were forced to wait more than two hours for the train to continue. At 1.35am the train was able to start moving again.

The Hanover-Bremen line was temporarily closed. Train traffic between Hamburg and Bremen was diverted via a freight line. On the Hamburg-Hannover route, too, there had been major problems for several hours due to damage to an overhead line.

Wild weather at the Baltic Sea in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. Photo: DPA

The lines of the railway company Metronom were also temporarily closed. About an hour before midnight, the company announced that all lines were passable. The fire brigade and police in the affected areas did not report any major storm damage.

Holidaymakers rescued

On the island of Norderney off the North Sea coast, four holidaymakers including a young child, were stranded due to rising water.

According to the fire brigade, the group had climbed a dune in the east of the island on Tuesday and were then forced to make an emergency call because they couldn't get back. Due to severe rainfall, the water in the North Sea had become significantly higher than normal. They were rescued by helicopter.

Meanwhile, the crew of a sailing boat in Müritz, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, were caught by strong winds on Tuesday afternoon and the boat capsized. A passenger ship rescued the five people who were on board, while the fire and rescue service managed to recover the ship.

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ENERGY

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.

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