Europe suffers worst blackout for three decades

One of the worst and most dramatic power failures in three decades plunged millions of Europeans into darkness over the weekend, halting trains, trapping dozens in lifts and prompting calls for a central European power authority.

The blackout, which originated in north-western Germany, also struck Paris and 15 French regions, and its effects were felt in Austria, Belgium, Italy and Spain. In Germany, around 100 trains were delayed, and in the French capital firemen responded to 40 calls from those trapped in lifts late on Saturday night. However, the Eiffel Tower and other monuments remained illuminated, the metro kept running and there were no reports of injuries.

The power loss came about when Germany's network became overloaded, probably as a result of a routine shut down of a high-voltage transmission line under the Ems river to allow a ship to pass by safely.

The fallout from the incident, said to be one of the worst since the 1970s, left engineers and politicians aghast, and underlined the interdependence of European countries' electricity grids.

Parts of western Germany, including the Ruhr region, were without power for half an hour, delaying scores of trains for up to two hours.

In France, five million people were left without electricity, including many in Paris.

In Italy, while the main effects were concentrated in Piedmont and Liguria in the north-west, the blackout even touched Puglia, in the country's south-east.

Belgium was affected, with the cities of Antwerp, Ghent and Liege among the areas hit. Meanwhile, the Spanish network Red Electrica said parts of Madrid, Barcelona, Zaragoza and the region of Andalucia suffered power loss too.

Work was under way yesterday to try to identify why such a routine operation provoked such a massive power failure.

Romano Prodi, the Italian premier, said from his native city of Bologna that the incident suggested that Europe needed to strengthen its co-ordination of power supplies. "My first impression is that there is a contradiction between having European [power] links and not having one European [power] authority," he said. "We depend on each other with being able to help each other, without a central authority."

The likely Socialist candidate in France's presidential elections, Ségolène Royal, also called for the creation of a centralised European electricity authority. "One of the things at stake in the relaunching of Europe will be big policy areas like energy," she said.

Energy has become a priority area for EU policy-makers during the past year. A summit last month in Finland was dominated by discussions with Russia's President Vladimir Putin on energy security.

The European Commission is investigating the structure of the EU's power market and whether the Continent's giant firms need to be broken up to encourage greater competition.

Meanwhile, the inquest into the latest incident has begun. The German power giant E.On said it had shut down transmission lines in the past without causing problems, and was investigating why this operation went so badly wrong.

Theo Horstmann, of RWE AG, another German power firm, said the shortage had caused substations across Europe to shut down automatically to prevent further damage.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Production Operative

£13000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to a period of sustained an...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Marketing Content Leader

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This role requires a high level...

Recruitment Genius: Multi Drop Driver

£17000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This food distribution company ...

Recruitment Genius: Multi Drop Driver

£17000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This food distribution company ...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent