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WEATHER

‘Like a war zone’: Stunned Germans count cost of floods                        

The village of Schuld in western Germany is one of the worst hit areas in the floods. Residents say a deluge of water filled their homes and businesses in minutes.

'Like a war zone': Stunned Germans count cost of floods                        
The village of Schuld on Friday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Lino Mirgeler

Aware that a storm was brewing, Cornelia Schlösser quickly installed a water pump in the cellar of her bakery.

But “within minutes, a wave was in the house” and she lost the business her family had held for a century in Schuld, a village in flood-hit western Germany that now looks like a battlefield.

“The oven is just junk now,” she said as she examined the extent of the damage from torrents of water unleashed in a violent storm overnight Wednesday, killing more than 100 people in two western German regions.

The front of her bakery, where just two days ago she was selling bread, has been reduced to rubble.

Bits of scrap metal, concrete, glass, wood have piled up around the store front. A tangle of branches sticks out of a window.

LATEST: More than 100 dead after German flood disaster 

Schlösser remembers the inundation hitting a nearby village.

“We brought a pump into the cellar, but it was useless. Within minutes, a wave was in the house,” she said.

“It’s all been a nightmare for 48 hours, we’re going round in circles here but we can’t do anything.”

A destroyed road in Schuld. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Thomas Frey

Shell-shocked, exhausted

Like her, several residents wander through the ruins of the 700-strong village which once drew tourists, located in the lush, green Ahr Valley, not far from Bonn.

As torrential rain lashed the ground on Wednesday night, the normally peaceful, meandering river in Schuld swelled and unleashed a furious flood.

As the sun rose on Thursday, news starting filtering through: houses had been swept away, walls destroyed, roofs torn off, bridges and roads collapsed.

What came as a bigger shock was that people in the region had lost their lives, although no one died in Schuld in what is deemed a miracle.

The river, which normally doesn’t rise above one metre (3.3 feet), surged up to eight metres.

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The river is still roaring through and people look shell-shocked, scared, exhausted.

“Caravans, cars were washed away, trees were uprooted, houses were knocked down. We have lived here in Schuld for over 20 years and we have never experienced anything like it,” said Hans-Dieter Vrancken, a 65-year-old local.

“It’s like a war zone,” he added, surveying the damage.

Thomas Geilen, 53, had come to help his 28-year-old son who was renovating a house in the village for two years and planned to move there.

He had even moved in furniture earlier this week. In a matter of hours it was swallowed by the floods.

“The water kept rising and 10 minutes later it had penetrated the house,” Geilen said.

“The water took everything with it.”

‘Everything under water’

The main road to the neighbouring village has been partially swept away.

All the shops in the centre are devastated: not just the bakery, but also the hairdresser, fishmonger, delicatessen and a hotel.

Dozens of houses have been severely damaged, some of them threaten to topple, and six are completely destroyed.

Aided by firefighters, residents tried to clear up the mass of debris, to no avail.

Some 50 kilometres (30 miles) away in Bad Neuenah-Ahrweilar, Agron Berischa is still astounded by the speed of the disaster.

“At 11:30pm, there was only a little water, 1am, everything was under water,” he says.

“Our flat, our office, our neighbours’ houses. Within 15 minutes.”

 By Jean-Philippe LACOUR

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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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