Smart Grid

Published on October 9th, 2015 | by Roy L Hales

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German Outages Are 12 Minutes Per Customer/Year

October 9th, 2015 by  

Originally published on the ECOreport.

On any given day, half a million North Americans go through a blackout that lasts 2 to 4 hours. The US economy loses $150 billion a year through these incidents. Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, the average Western European loses minutes, rather than hours, through annual power loses. The average German hasn’t experienced 20 minutes of per customer annual power losses for years and, as of 2014, German outages are 12 minutes per customer per year.

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Less Than 12 Minutes

According to the German Association for Electrical, Electronic and Information Technologies, Verband der Elektrotechnik (VDE), the average consumer’s annual power outages “has fallen below twelve minutes.”

The average power consumer in Germany can expect to experience no more than 2.4 power cuts over a ten-year period.

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Why Does NA Have So Many Blackouts?

Someone from Duke Energy emailed the ECOreport to say that in the US “most electric service is above ground covering vast expanses, and weather frequently knocks down lines and disrupts service. In most of the developed world, reliability is almost never impacted by generation disruptions.”

This is basically true, though there are above ground transmission lines in Germany and US cities that bury their power lines in the ground.

A far more penetrating analysis appeared in the National Geographic last year.  According to a senior member of IEEE (Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers), for the past 18 years the infrastructure’s depreciation has exceeded “the actual investment and steps toward upgrading the current grid to a smart grid have not been taken.”

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European Investments In The Grid

A 2014 report from the European Commission describes how European nations invested more than €3.15 billion developing a smart grid technologies since 2002. This includes “deploying a range of leading-edge transformers across a number of LV and MV circuits, together with use of Capacitors, VAR control devices, and electronic boosters which when optimised together will lead to reduced losses from the power system.”

Germany leads Europe’s development of these technologies and its electrical grid has long been recognized as the most secure in Europe. It is not surprising to learn that Germany broke the 12 minute per year of downtime barrier.

Photo Credits: Frankfurt Skyline by Carsten Frenzl via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License); Dramatic Transmission Tower (taken in Germany on August 23, 2014) by Sebastian Appelt via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License); Minutes Lost per customer in 2012 (Click on image to enlarge) – Courtesy Germany Trade & Invest





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About the Author

is the President of Cortes Community Radio , CKTZ 89.5 FM, where he has hosted a half hour program since 2014, and editor of the the ECOreport, a website dedicated to exploring how our lifestyle choices and technologies affect the West Coast of North America. He writes for both writes for both Clean Technica and PlanetSave on Important Media. He is a research junkie who has written over 1,600 since he was first published in 1982. Roy lives on Cortes Island, BC, Canada.



  • John Hopkins

    Your comparison of the outage experience in the two countries isn’t much help. You total the outages in our country and cite the average one in Germany. Convert either country’s number to the other’s scale and you will have something worth my time as a reader.

    • grendelkhan

      That is bad writing. Scroll down a bit farther to the “minutes lost by customer” graph, which compares like to like, and similarly finds Germany’s grid to be more reliable than America’s.

      • Bob_Wallace

        Correct – very clearly the graph says “Minutes Lost per Customer”

        Germany 15.91 minutes per customer
        USA 244 minutes per customer

        US customers are without electricity 15 times more minutes per year.

  • Philip W

    German guy here. The last power outage I witnessed was almost 3.5 years ago.

    • heinbloed

      Irish guy here.
      In the last 3 years I had more 22 outages I recorded during day time when I was at home (and awake), all protocolled.
      They say there are more timber poles in Ireland than sheep.

  • jonesey

    Wait, what? Germany believes that investment in public infrastructure is actually a good thing that delivers real improvements to people’s quality of life? Those silly socialists. Don’t they know that the free market will solve all of their problems, just like in the good old USA?

    • Martin

      And I guess all that money spent on public infrastructure is a job killer as well.;)
      Guess some Germany managers are unlike the VW ones ( I was born in Germany).
      Free enterprise in Healthcare in the US:
      As far as I know the most money spent per capita, but not the best service for the average person for all that money spent.

    • Larmion

      The problem in the US is that there is no free market in transmission. In Germany, and most of the EU for that matter, the grid is operated by a private company that is free to charge generators and customers almost what it wants.

      It can raise as much money as it needs to invest in a top quality grid, and has no reason to discriminate against renewables as it has no own generating assets to protect. It also pays handsome dividends, including to me.

      Compare to the US, where grids are usually operated by quasi-monopolistic, government sanctioned companies that also own generating assets and cannot set rates without making rate cases to its local authority. Texas is the only exception. It’s almost communism.

      Here in Europe, we don’t spend much public money on the grid. It’s mostly private. The high distribution costs are one of the main reasons that power is twice as expensive in Europe as in the US, but we get the quality we pay for.

      Lefties of the world, Europe is not the socialist utopia you’re looking for. Germany in particular has a very strong private sector and a pretty light state. And the US? More corporatist than capitalist, sadly.

      • JamesWimberley

        Give Margaret Thatcher the credit for pushing through the separation of generation from distribution in her electricity privatisation. The model was later taken up by Texas and the EU Commission, which managed to make it a European standard. In France for one it’s pretty theoretical (the state-owned generator EDF and the state-owned grid used to have the same address), but in Germany it’s real. BTW, I am not a fan of the Iron Lady.

        It’s a pity that the chart doesn’t give the US breakdown between medium and low voltage. I share the presumption of other commenters that the big difference is the low-voltage mess, but antiquated transformers etc. would also impact the higher voltages.

        The USA does not have a national grid at all, rather three separate grid zones. The Tres Amigas interconnector in West Texas is still marking time.

      • Neil

        Ha. I’d much rather pay avg half in power bill personally and ‘suffer’ with no power for a few hours a year! In my case that’s around $150 a month avg savings.

        I can’t remember ever losing power though in last 6 years in current home, in mid-Atlantic east coast. Neighbor says can’t remember losing in last 20 yrs much at all. I’m sure it depends where you live too. We get fair share of ice storms.

        • GCO

          You spend like 3600$/year on electricity??

          • Neil

            No, more like half as cost is 9.8 cents kw (roughly), but it’s my understanding more like 20 in Germany. Maybe I’m wrong.

        • Larmion

          1) We pay roughly twice as much per kWh, but our electricity bill is not twice as high. Because the average western European home is much more efficient and needs much less AC than an American one, our monthly bills are similar (if anything slightly lower) than in the US.

          2) That prices are twice what they are in the US isn’t due to distribution alone.

          Taxes are also much higher: 21% sales tax + 8%-ish renewable contribution + 2.5%-ish levy for providing subsidised electricity to the poorest + some assorted minor levies.

          And those are just the direct taxes. There is also quite a bit of implicit taxation: the last mile low voltage bit costs me almost twice what the high and medium voltage network cost combined. The former is ran by my municipality, the latter by a highly efficient private enterprise.

          3) You spend $3600/year on electricity? Either you have the most expensive electricity connection in the world or you use direct electric heating…

          • Waiting to be bribed

            In Ontario we pay an averaged (time of day) rate of 12 cents/Kwh, but the biggest portion of the bill is service and transmission charges. I still make money with my solar panels.

          • Neil

            Hi, no, the electricity averages $150ish a month all year. Higher in winter lower in fall & spring and then higher in summer. Have a heat pump. Compared to a neighbor, it’s much less. His is about $75-100 more a month. (We do an equal payment plan). Around 3k sqft homes. I’m though super cautious (compared to him) with the power bill. He has two new heatpumps (15seer) and I one, with another about 8 years old.

            Still compared to others in my area/size home, I’m considered ‘very efficient’ per our power company that sends out comparisons.

            That being said, I could probably use some insulation in the attic. I plan on getting some rolls to put on top of some blown in which has settled a lot. Hopefully will save some $ during this winter!

  • Steven F

    The second picture in this article is a metal tower with high voltage lines. These are generally not the problem in the US. The main source of the problem are the wooden power poles that line most road in the suburbs. In most Europeans countries I have visited wooden power poles are a rare site. Most of the medium to low voltage distribution lines in Europe are underground.

    When you have one ice storm that causes hundreds of trees to go down a significant number of power poles and lines need to be replaced. That means shutting down power clearing all the downed trees, Removing the damaged power poles and line and then installing new ones. A task that can sometimes take days to do.

  • Munch this

    “The United States endures more blackouts than any other developed nation” -http://www.ibtimes.com/aging-us-power-grid-blacks-out-more-any-other-developed-nation-1631086

  • heinbloed
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