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ENERGY

Reader question: What are the chances of blackouts in Austria this winter?

The energy crisis and the war in Ukraine have many people concerned about Austria's energy supplies this winter. Here's what you need to know.

Reader question: What are the chances of blackouts in Austria this winter?
Photo by Charly TRIBALLEAU / AFP

The war in Ukraine and Europe’s dependence on Russian gas have made many people in the continent, including in Austria, concerned about the supply of energy and electricity, especially in the coming winter.

However, it is worth pointing out that Austria is a country well equipped for electricity supply – with most of its power coming from hydroelectric or wind power farms.

In 2020, hydropower accounted for 55 to 67 percent of the electricity generated in the Alpine country. The leading electricity companies operate around 130 hydropower plants, especially taking advantage of its mountainous location. According to the country’s Climate and Energy Ministry, wind power accounted for 10 percent, while solar 4 percent.

READ ALSO: Energy crisis: What to do in case of a power outage in Austria

In total, around 80 percent of Austria’s electricity comes from renewables.

Austria’s impressive Schlegeis dam. Up to 67 percent of the country’s electricity is generated from hydropower. (© VERBUND)

Vienna has a 99.99 percent supply security

The City of Vienna has set up a crisis management team to analyse the security of supply since March 2022, after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The Austrian capital, though, has one of the most secure supplies worldwide, according to the independent regulatory authority E-Control. Moreover, the current figures on the subject of security of supply show that the Viennese were only affected by a power failure for just under 18 minutes a year – an improvement from 2021.

“This high security of supply is only possible through forward-looking planning, regular investments and a strategic, well-considered expansion of the networks.”, the City of Vienna said.

One of the reasons why people get concerned about possible blackouts is that there is a misunderstanding about the emergency exercises practised by authorities. The Austrian capital in early October twice tested its grid for emergency readiness. It doesn’t mean that the city is a risk; it could actually mean the contrary.

READ ALSO: Energy crisis pushes nuclear comeback in Europe

“We passed the emergency exercise with flying colours. All experts know what to do in the event of an emergency”, City Councillor for Economic Affairs Peter Hanke said in a press statement.

“Even though short-term blackouts are always possible, the Viennese can rely on the good quality of their electricity grid in Vienna. Although the topic has increasingly become the focus of media attention, the probability of a blackout has not increased”, according to a government statement.

The capital is also equipped with “black start-capable power plants”, which can start up independently without outside help – thus ensuring supply even if a prolonged widespread power blackout should occur in Europe.

What about the rest of the country?

The general situation in the rest of the country is similar. Still, Viennese authorities ask the federal government to enter into talks with the federal states and institute a national emergency plan with the participation of the states.

Hanke said: “Securing the energy supply is clearly a federal competence. There are currently no representatives of the federal states involved in the daily crisis team of the Ministry of Energy.”

Since March, Austria has been at level 1, the “early warning level”, concerning its energy consumption. However, due to the aggravated situation surrounding gas deliveries, the increasing number of cases of suspected sabotage of gas pipelines to Europe and the current developments relating to the Ukraine war, an alert level (level 2) could also be expected for Austria.

What to do in case of a blackout in Austria? (Photo by Claudio Schwarz on Unsplash)

READ ALSO: UPDATED From lighting to ice skating: How Vienna plans to save energy

Level 2 of an energy emergency is instituted if there is an increased “probability of a deterioration of the gas supply situation”. Then, calls to save gas are made and the industry is asked to use alternatives to natural gas – households and specific sectors (such as hospitals) would be the last to be affected.

In any case, general guidelines recommend being prepared for emergencies by keeping a flashlight with working batteries in case of a power grid malfunction, keeping a battery-powered radio in your home and even having non-perishable food and potable water in the household.

However, perhaps the greatest testament to how small the chances of a power blackout are in Austria is the fact that the Energy Minister, Leonore Gewessler (Greens), has not stockpiled food and supplies.

READ ALSO: Austria’s civil defence alarm: What you should know about the warning siren system

“No, I do not store food for 15 days”, she told Austrian media. The minister adds that she has not taken such extreme provisions because Austria’s network is “one of the safest in Europe and the world. We have very high safety standards.”

Additionally, Gewessler urged people to remember that power outages differ from blackouts. “What we can always have are power outages. They usually last about 20 minutes but can also be longer,” she said.

“Precaution on such cases is certainly clever,” the minister stated, mentioning she does have a flashlight and candles at home for this possibility.

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ENERGY

How Austria plans to secure the food supply in the event of a blackout

The energy crisis and war in Ukraine have raised fears of blackouts in Austria this winter. While the risk is low, there are now plans in place to distribute food if the worst happens.

How Austria plans to secure the food supply in the event of a blackout

Grocery retailers in Austria have agreed on an emergency plan to secure the food supply to the nation in the event of blackout.

The agreement followed a meeting with Energy Minister Leonore Gewessler (Greens) and Agriculture Minister Norbert Totschnig (ÖVP) on Tuesday (November 29), reports ORF.

FOR MEMBERS: Energy crisis: What to do in case of a power outage in Austria

A statement released following the meeting said: “As a system-critical infrastructure, the domestic food retail trade has a social responsibility to be prepared for emergencies and to be able to ensure the basic supply of the population even in the event of a blackout.”

What is the emergency plan for Austria’s food supply?

If Austria is hit by a widespread blackout, all grocery stores will close to protect the supplies.

On the second day, supermarkets will open from 10am to 3pm, but staff will hand out bags of fresh food at the front of the shops and customers will not be allowed to enter.

This will take place at Spar, Interspar, Maximarkt, Billa, Penny, ADEG, Sutterlüty, Hofer, Lidl, Nah- und Frisch, Unimarkt and M-Preis stores.

The bags will contain ready-made food, water, non-perishable bread and canned goods. Convenience products and candles will be sold for cash. Baby items and hygiene products will be available on request.

If a blackout extends to a third day, only dry food will be distributed.

Additionally, all Austrian households are advised to have a supply of food to last for 14 days, as well as around €100 in cash per family member.

READ MORE: Who to call and what to say in an emergency in Austria

How secure is Austria’s energy supply?

Austria is a country with a stable electricity supply – with most of the power coming from hydroelectric or wind power farms.

In 2020, hydropower accounted for 55 to 67 percent of the electricity generated in the Alpine country. The leading electricity companies operate around 130 hydropower plants, especially taking advantage of its mountainous location.

According to the country’s Climate and Energy Ministry, wind power accounted for 10 percent, while solar 4 percent. In total, around 80 percent of Austria’s electricity comes from renewables.

Vienna has one of the most secure supplies worldwide, according to the independent regulatory authority E-Control. Moreover, the current figures on the subject of security of supply show that the Viennese were only affected by a power failure for just under 18 minutes a year – an improvement from 2021.

The capital is also equipped with “black start-capable power plants”, which can start up independently without outside help – thus ensuring supply even if a prolonged widespread power blackout should occur in Europe.

The situation in the rest of the country is similar. But Viennese authorities have asked the federal government to enter into talks with the federal states to develop a national emergency plan. 

Emergency preparation guidelines for the general population include keeping a flashlight with working batteries in case of a power grid malfunction, keeping a battery-powered radio in your home and even having non-perishable food and potable water in the household.

READ ALSO: Reader question: What are the chances of blackouts in Austria this winter?

Austria’s energy emergency system

Since March, shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine, Austria has been at level 1 (the early warning level) of the alert system related to energy consumption.

However, due to the aggravated situation surrounding gas deliveries, the increasing number of cases of suspected sabotage of gas pipelines to Europe and the current developments relating to the Ukraine war, an alert level (level 2) could be expected for Austria.

Level 2 is declared if the gas situation deteriorates. At this stage, businesses are encouraged to use alternatives to natural gas whenever possible. 

Level 3 – the emergency level – is activated when gas can no longer be supplied and the current demand can no longer be met. Measures for industry, such as substituting natural gas with other energies as energy control measures, are to be put in place. 

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