Emergency measures to avoid power blackouts

A working group set up to record the situation of Greece’s electricity system has found that the risk of a blackout during the coming summer is greater than in the previous years. The desperate efforts by the Development Ministry to avoid a similar occurrence to that of July 12, 2004 cannot rule out a collapse of the system as short-term measures cannot cover gaps and omissions of the past, the group concluded. Minister Dimitris Sioufas ordered the appointment of the working group last September, asking for proposals for the best possible credibility of the power system in 2005, when the peak of demand will range between 9,800 and 10,100 megawatts. Imbalance There are two main characteristics of the Greek energy system, according to the group’s conclusions, and it is not the first time they have been noted. The first one is the concentration of the production potential in the north of the country while the bulk of consumption is in the south, which renders the system imbalanced. The peculiarity stemming from placing production units in areas with rich lignite deposits despite the surge of consumption in the capital has been a problem needing a solution for the past 20 years. The second main characteristic is the particularly short peak and the subsequent low power factor formed for about six hours per year in the summer, mainly due to the system’s inability to provide increased power for air-conditioner use. The problem has been increasing since 1996, culminating in the collapse of the southern system on July 12. The combination of these two characteristics renders the stability of the system so problematic that even if the current political leadership of the ministry imposes the best short-term measures, the possibility of a blackout this summer will still be greater than last year. The delay in essential investments in recent years needed for the rational development of the system, despite specific warnings to the ministry by the Regulatory Authority for Energy (RAE), the System Administrator (DESMHE) and the Public Power Corporation (PPC), make any short-term measures insufficient, the group concluded. The picture would have been totally different if, for example, the new unit at Lavrion, proposed by the PPC to the RAE and the ministry in 2001, had started on time. Both the then head of RAE, Pandelis Capros, and the former development minister, Akis Tsochadzopoulos, expected that power sufficiency would be safeguarded through uncertain and unclear plans of private electricity producers. With too little production potential in the south, the system’s credibility now depends significantly throughout the year on hydroelectric production stocks and on imports, which are not controlled energy sources, as the former is affected by the weather and the latter by political and economic parameters. The best use and management of these two sources is vital for the credibility of the system this summer, the group concluded. To deal safely with the north-south imbalance, a 400MW power increase is required in the Peloponnese, by building either a new unit or ultra-high voltage stations. As neither can be built by June, though, the best way to ensure system stability is «the programming of power cuts in emergency situations with the smallest inconvenience possible for the citizens,» the conclusions suggest. Power cuts For some consumers, power cuts will be inevitable if the need to avoid a general system collapse arises. The group recommended a hierarchical listing of power cuts up to 2,653MW, beyond the predetermined cuts of 120MW at the PPC mines. Out of that, 1,218MW correspond to agricultural consumption and 1,435MW to semi-urban consumption (villages and towns). Also proposed are measures for handling demand and adapting consumer energy behavior, which in some way would mean consumers transferring some power demand to non-peak times. The state has failed to take any measures at all for the use of air conditioners with specifications prescribed by the EU, even in public buildings. To handle demand, PPC has until April to submit measures and structures of pricelists to convince big consumers (industry) to avoid peak times. This will mainly refer to consumers in Attica and the Peloponnese. System base units must also be well-maintained to fully participate in the system this summer. The hiring of wind-powered units of 100-120MW at Lavrion is further recommended, along with including in the system from April the unit constructed by Hellenic Petroleum. If all this materializes positively, the risk of a blackout will be considerably diminished, but not eliminated. The problem should be minimized next year thanks to the operation of the unit at Lavrion and the full operation of the Hellenic Petroleum unit in Thessaloniki. Planning for 2007 and beyond should include the goal of liberalizing the market. Sioufas recently stated that the market rules for the first tenders for private producers of electricity will be announced soon. This, according to the existing institutional framework, means at least 900MW will be added to the system by private producers after 2007.

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