What is corona in the power grid

Does Covid-19 endanger the energy supply? : This is to prevent bottlenecks in the power supply despite the coronavirus epidemic

A Failure of the German gas and electricity supply is one of the horror scenarios for a modern society - especially serious problems in a nuclear power plant. The Spread of the coronavirus In Germany, the operators of these critical infrastructures could also pose challenges.

How safe it is to operate electricity transmission and transmission networks during a nationwide escalating pandemic runs depends on the in an extreme scenario available number of professionals for operation. In the event of inadequate preventive measures, a high infection rate and many employees in quarantine, situations could arise in which they can no longer guarantee a secure electricity and gas supply.

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How do the companies deal with it? Tagesspiegel Background asked around the industry - and received detailed answers. They show, how seriously the operators take the situation.

At the transmission system operator (TSO) 50Hertz, based in Berlin, the priority is clear. The core of the company, the control center for the East German and Hamburg power grids, must be protected. "The top priority is to protect employees from infection - especially employees in the system control, ie the control room," says a company spokesman on request. It grants a detailed insight into the precautionary measures, as long as no safety-relevant conclusions can be drawn from them.

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In general, the employees are now no longer allowed to travel to risk areas, not even privately. "We take over the definition of these areas from the Robert Koch Institute as a reference point," said the spokesman. In addition to avoiding crisis areas, employees are instructed to reduce business trips to the necessary extent. In addition, every 50Hertz employee who has symptoms of a cold that cannot be clearly identified and who has been in a crisis area must generally stay at home for at least 14 days and recover.

The Events in the lobby and political center Berlin, but also Expert committees and trade fairs, are on the test bench. 50Hertz assesses sharply and tries to make meaningful gradations, says the spokesman. “Close contact, for example a standing party, should not be attended and we do not organize it either. We have also, for example, reduced the number of foreign delegations visiting 50Hertz to virtually nothing. "

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A press conference, where the contact is not so close, can, however, be attended and will also be organized by 50Hertz. “But we also pay attention to the little things: the Access to disinfectants, but also, for example, that Eating in glasses is enough. ”For the staff of the control room, who are essential for the operation, there are even stricter rules, in terms of hygiene, but also in relation to the question of which external contacts are still possible.

However, 50Hertz keeps the core of the company equipped for all emergencies, far beyond the current threat from the corona virus. “In general, we are also protected against network operations dramatic pandemic threats. As usual with the transmission system operators, we maintain a reserve control center that is always ready for immediate operation in the 50Hertz headquarters as a supplement to the control room in Neuenhagen, ”says the spokesman.

In the worst of crises, the staff can "bunker"

Second: In the worst of crises, the staff can literally bunker. Both the employees in the control room and in other system-relevant technical areas could "in an emergency, ensure network operation for weeks independently and largely isolated from the environment“, Says the 50Hertz spokesman. “For this, staff as well as lounge and bedroom as well as supplies are available.” Independent of this, technical resources are also available, for example spare parts for the operation of the substations or lines.

Tennet, Amprion and TransnetBW proceed in a similar way. "We are in close coordination with the three other TSOs and, apart from small differences, we jointly follow these risk precautions," says 50Hertz. There is a constant exchange on the situation with the authorities.
The German gas pipeline network is 40,000 kilometers long - and especially in winter it is highly polluted and particularly important, it is the artery of the gas supply. Technically, the operators manage this with compressor stations that push the energy carrier through the tubes. The largest transmission system operator, Open Grid Europe (OGE), operates around 30 of these systems and controls them from its control room in Essen. What about the precautions there?

Due to the coronavirus, OGE has taken additional precautions to ensure that the gas will flow if the epidemic escalates: A task force is constantly analyzing the risk situation, the company announced on request. OGE has established a reporting chain in the event of suspected infections in the company and tightened its hygiene measures in operational and administrative facilities.

Similar to 50Hertz: Employees are not allowed to travel to areas with high numbers of infections. There are precautionary measures for returnees from risk areas. Internal and external events that are not absolutely necessary have been canceled.

Similar to the operators of the electricity transmission networks, the eleven gas network operators also have replacement control rooms in place in the event that regular control rooms fail. In the wake of the epidemic, many companies have tightened access controls to the facilities that are already particularly secure.

A pipeline network is normally almost completely automated, but trained staff is required to monitor the processes and to control them manually in an emergency. This applies not only to the control rooms, but also to the compressor stations in the area. Specialists must be able to get there at any time in the shortest possible time in order to control them manually if necessary.

Background about the coronavirus:

The Federal Ministry of Economics is also interested in such a procedure, which, according to information from Tagesspiegel Background, is currently collecting information about corona precautionary measures and emergency plans from the network operators via the energy association BDEW.
How the country is preparing for such a “gas shortage”, was last seen in the crisis management exercise "Lükex" in 2018. For two days, federal and state authorities, companies in the gas industry and relevant associations trained what to do if the gas supply in parts of southern Germany fails - be it due to natural disasters, sabotage or delivery stops by gas producers.

In the winter scenario, schools, hospitals, prisons and offices, for example, had to be fictitiously evacuated due to sub-zero temperatures. Communication processes between those involved and with the population were also rehearsed. One of the many conclusions that the official evaluation of the exercise allows: Without employable, i.e. healthy, specialist staff, things get tricky. The enormous effort involved in the protective measures is therefore essential.

Nuclear power plants are increasing hygiene even further

Also in the nuclear power plants - Even in normal operation, they are among the best-protected facilities in Germany - are again due to Corona special precautions met.

An example: when nuclear power plants leave the critical area of ​​their workplaces, they have to pass the so-called exit monitors. These measure possible radioactivity on the body. During the measurement process, the employee has to put his face close to the monitor. The nuclear power plant operator RWE has had these devices cleaned and disinfected significantly more often since the outbreak of the coronavirus epidemic, said a spokesman.

The company is also securing itself more externally. RWE has closed the visitor centers at its nuclear power plant locations in Lingen, Biblis and Gundremmingen. Registered group visits are canceled until further notice. (with Christian Schaudwet)

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