IN PICTURES: Storms and floods strike across western Germany

Firefighters and police were called out numerous times on Thursday evening as thunderstorms brought traffic to a standstill, overturned trees and flooded cellars.

IN PICTURES: Storms and floods strike across western Germany
A fireman crosses a flooded street in Bottrop, North Rhine-Westphalia on Thursday, June 3rd. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/Feuerwehr Bottrop
Extreme weather struck the western and central German states of North Rhine-Westphalia and Hessen on Thursday evening, with thunder, torrential downpour and hailstones wreaking havoc in the region. 
The German Weather Service (DWD) urged residents of those areas to stay “vigilant” as they warned of oncoming thunderstorms, hail and downpour on Twitter on Thursday. 

As thunderstorms picked up throughout the evening, firefighters were called out to deal with numerous incidents of falling trees, flooded streets and waterlogged cellars. In the town of Bottrop, North Rhine-Westphalia, a fir tree was struck by lightening and burst into flames – but the fire was quickly extinguished by the heavy rains, local residents and firefighters. 
Meanwhile, in the municipality of Laer near Münster, police reported that an overflowing brook had caused both streets and cellars to flood. 
In other parts of North Rhine-Westphalia, the gales were so strong they overturned trees. In the city of Braubach, a parked car was buried under fallen branches during the thunderstorm, causing firefighters to be called out to the scene.

Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Thomas Frey
The Ruhr area was also struck by heavy rainfall and thunder. In Essen, firefighters and police officers were called out as taxis and other drivers became stranded in flooded streets and manhole covers burst open. 

Photo: picture alliance/dpa/TNN | Markus Gayk
A section of the B42 motorway, which runs between Bonn and Darmstadt, also had to be cordoned off due to a fallen tree. On another part of the motorway, firefighters were called out to deal with a landslide caused by the storms. 

Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Thomas Frey
Hailstorms accompanied the heavy winds and thunder, with hailstones as large as two centimetres wide.

Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Thomas Frey
Across the region, residents complained of their cellars being flooded as the rain continued well into the night, finally tapering off around 4am.

Photo: picture alliance/dpa/TNN | Markus Gayk
In total, police and emergency services were called out to around 50 weather-related incidents in North Rhine-Westphalia on Thursday night. In Hesse, firefighters had to deal with around 70 weather incidents throughout the evening and into the night.

Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Thomas Frey

While residents of Hessen, Rhineland-Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia battled against thunderstorms and gale-force winds, other parts of Germany enjoyed clear skies and summery temperatures. In the southwestern state of Baden-Württemberg, temperatures hit highs of around 28C on Thursday, while in Berlin and Brandenburg, they peaked at around 27C around midday. 

Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christoph Schmidt

Will the storms stretch into Friday?

According to the DWD, another bout of stormy weather looks set to strike across western and central Germany on Friday evening, as heavy rain, hail and heavy gusts are expected to hit North Rhine-Westphalia, Hesse, Rhineland-Palatinate, Saarland and parts of Lower Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt.

There also looks set to be further floods on the horizon in these areas as DWD expects rainfall of up to 60 litres per square metre, gusts of wind at speeds of 85 kilometres an hour, and potential thunderstorms. 

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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.