Snow and ice freeze traffic

Snow and ice caused numerous accidents and road closures around Germany on Thursday, as meteorologists warned more winter weather was on the way.

Snow and ice freeze traffic
Photo: DPA

Traffic in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein was heavily affected by snowfall, police reported. Multiple accidents were clustered in the districts of Schleswig-Flensburg and Northern Friesland, and two people were injured overnight, they added.

Meanwhile icy roads in the southern state of Baden-Württemberg caused some 40 accidents in just two hours along the A81 motorway in Ludwigsburg county, police said. One collision involved a beet-laden truck that was hit by another car after sliding into a road barrier around 6 am. The truck driver was trapped in the vehicle and severely injured.

Police closed the A81 into Heilbronn due to the extremely icy conditions, causing traffic jams several kilometres long. Winter storms in nearby Heidelberg forced the closure of the A5 motorway, and the 600a and B535 were also impassable.

More snow and freezing temperatures are expected as a low-pressure system continues to send cold air through central Europe, the German Weather Service (DWD) reported.

On Thursday, up to 10 centimetres of snow could fall in coastal areas in Schleswig-Holstein and Lower Saxony. Later in the day snow will likely cover low mountain ranges in the eastern part of the country too.

Friday will be continue to be snowy in eastern and northern Germany, where temperatures will top out between -1 and -8 degrees Celsius. Light snow will continue in many places overnight into Saturday as temperatures reach as low as -15 degrees in the south.

The northern coast will see snowfall on Sunday, though it may turn to rain as the day goes on. Temperatures will average -5 degrees but could drop as low as -10 in the south and east, the DWD said.

While cloud cover will dissipate in the Alps on Sunday, northern and central Germany could get up to 10 centimetres of new snow and rain on the Baltic and North Sea coast. The air will likely warm to exceed freezing.

While more snow is expected in the week to follow, the DWD hesitated to predict a white Christmas, saying that current weather patterns are too “complicated” to make an accurate report.

Click here for The Local’s weather forecast.

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Why sunny weather in Germany can switch off solar panels

The more the sun shines in the southern German town of Aurach, the more likely it is that Jens Husemann's solar panels will be disconnected from the grid -- an exasperating paradox at a time when Germany is navigating an energy supply crisis.

Why sunny weather in Germany can switch off solar panels

“It’s being switched off every day,” Husemann told AFP during a recent sunny spell, saying there had been more than 120 days of forced shutdowns so far this year.

Husemann, who runs an energy conversion business near Munich, also owns a sprawling solar power system on the flat roof of a transport company in Aurach, Bavaria.

The energy generated flows into power lines run by grid operator N-Ergie, which then distributes it on the network.

But in sunny weather, the power lines are becoming overloaded — leading the grid operator to cut off supply from the solar panels.

“It’s a betrayal of the population,” said Husemann, pointing to soaring electricity prices and a continued push to install more solar panels across Germany.

Europe’s biggest economy is eyeing an ambitious switch to renewables making up 80 percent of its electricity from 2030 in a bid to go carbon neutral.

N-ergie thermal power station

The thermal power station of energy supplier N-Ergie in Nuremberg, southern Germany. (Photo by Christof STACHE / AFP)

But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has put a spanner in the works.

Moscow has cut gas supplies to Germany by 80 percent, in what is believed to be a bid to weaken the European powerhouse’s resolve in backing Ukraine.

READ ALSO: OPINION: How many massacres will it take for Germany to turn off Russian gas?

As a result, Berlin has been scrambling for alternative sources across the world to replace the shortfall.

This makes it all the more frustrating for Husemann, whose solar panels normally generate enough electricity for 50 households. With the repeated shutdowns, he suspects they will only supply half of their capacity by the end
of the year.

Grid bottlenecks

Grid operator N-Ergie, which is responsible for harvesting electricity from Husemann’s panels, admits the situation is less than ideal.

There were 257 days last year when it had to cut off supply from solar panels on parts of the grid.

“We are currently witnessing — and this is a good thing — an unprecedented boom in photovoltaic parks,” Rainer Kleedoerfer, head of N-Ergie’s development department, told AFP.

An employee of energy supplier N-ERGIE working at the company's network control centre in Nuremberg, southern Germany. 

An employee of energy supplier N-Ergie working at the company’s network control centre in Nuremberg, southern Germany.  (Photo by Christof STACHE / AFP)

But while it takes just a couple of years to commission a solar power plant, updating the necessary infrastructure takes between five and 10 years, he said.

“The number of interventions and the amount of curtailed energy have increased continuously in recent years” as a result, according to N-Ergie spokesman Michael Enderlein.

“The likelihood is that grid bottlenecks will actually increase in the coming years,” while resolving them will take several more years, Enderlein said.

According to Carsten Koenig, managing director of the German Solar Industry Association, the problem is not unique to solar power and also affects wind energy.

READ ALSO: Reader question – Should I modernise my heating system in Germany?

Solar bottlenecks tend to be regional and temporary, he said. “Occasionally, however, we hear that especially in rural areas in Bavaria, the shutdowns are more frequent.”

2.4 million households

Koenig agrees the problem is likely to get worse before it gets better.

“This will be especially true if political measures aimed at sufficiently expanding the power grid in Germany… drag on for too long,” he said.

Some 6.1 terawatt hours of electricity from renewables had to be curtailed in 2020, according to the most recent figures available.

With an average consumption of around 2,500 kilowatt hours per year in a two-person household, this would have been enough to power around 2.4 million households.

A spokesman for Germany’s Federal Network Agency said it did not share the belief that “it will not be possible to expand the network in line with demand in the coming years”.

Only some aspects of the expansion are seeing delays, the spokesman said — mainly due to slow approval procedures and a lack of specialist companies to do the work.

According to Husemann there have also been delays to the payments he is supposed to receive in return for the solar power he supplies — or cannot supply.

He said he is already owed around 35,000 euros ($35,600) for electricity produced so far this year that has never found its way into a socket.