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Reader question: What are the chances of a blackout in Austria?

The fear of facing an extensive and prolonged power outage has increased among people living in Austria after the war in Ukraine. But how likely is it that the country would experience a blackout?

Reader question: What are the chances of a blackout in Austria?
A city during a blackout Photo: Munir uz zaman / AFP

Austria is a safe country to live in, and there are few risks when it comes to natural disasters or even terrorism compared to other European countries. However, people in Austria have been concerned about the possibility of a blackout – a large-scale and prolonged power outage. Is that fear justifiable?

First, the concern doesn’t come out of the blue. Austria constantly assesses risks that it may face, and the Armed Forces recently released a report on the most significant threats the country is facing, citing the possibility of a blackout. 

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

With that, many authorities, organisations and even companies set out a plan for dealing with that possibility. For example, supermarkets and logistics companies work on their plans to secure the food supply in the event of a blackout; readers have reported to The Local that schools sent their children home with forms for parents to fill out on what are their emergency and pick-up plans in the event of a power outage. 

All the preparation, added to shocking headlines in some Austrian tabloid media and rising energy prices, raises the alarm among people living in the country. But what are the chances of a blackout in Austria?

Renewable energy sources

Austria is well equipped for electricity supply, with most of its power coming from renewable sources such as 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 accounted for 4 percent.

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

Recently, E-Control, the government regulator for electricity and natural gas markets in Austria, has also come to the public to reiterate that there is currently no sign of an increased risk of blackouts in Austria – especially in the next few months, as the supply of gas is secure.

READ ALSO: Cost of living: How to save money on energy bills in Austria

In 2022, more electricity was imported into Austria, but at no time was there a risk of a shortfall in Austria’s electricity demand, E-Control’s board member Alfons Haber told the national news agency APA.

E-Control’s outlook on electricity extends to 2030, and supply is secure, at least until then. By the year, 86 percent of the country’s electricity will come from renewable sources, while 14 percent will still come from thermal power plants. 

Haber stressed that there was no evidence of an increased risk of blackouts. “It is not good to stir up fear with such discussions.” 

He added that grid operators have plans for large-scale disruption events, and exercises have shown that even large-scale power outages can be repaired after 12 to 36 hours. In Austria, he said, several “black start-capable” power plants, typically small ones, can be quickly brought back online without an external energy supply.

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

What to do if there’s a power failure?

In the Armed Forces’ “Risk Assessment 2023“, technical experts said a blackout is unlikely, especially as the continental European system is seen as very stable. 

However, the country’s military does recommend preparation, not only for a broad and prolonged outage but also in cases when there are shorter power failures, such as the one that affected supply in 33 municipalities in Tyrol, including the capital Innsbcruk, in August 2022. 

It lasted less than one hour, but affected tram lines blocked elevators, and shut down traffic lights. 

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

Austrian energy suppliers ask people to remain calm in a power outage and try to create light using a flashlight, candle or smartphone. With that, you should check if you are the only one affected (in that case, you should check your fuse and flip levers again) or if it’s a broader issue. 

Have the contact information of your local power grid disruption line (in Vienna, that would be calling 0800 500 600; in Tyrol, the number is +43 0 50708 123) handy. 

The Austrian military has a list of things you should have in the (improbable scenario) of a prolonged blackout. It recommends people prepare “as you would for a fortnight camping vacation”. 

This includes having two litres of water per person per day, stocking durable food and medicine for two weeks, keeping cash in small bills, having sleeping bags and keeping your car always at least half full of gas. The list and the Army’s blackout “readiness” videos go viral every few months, alarming people in Austria without sending the context of the current supply situation in the country.

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

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

“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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For members


When will energy prices fall in Austria?

Austrian energy regulator E-Control is predicting a decline in gas and electricity costs over the coming months. When can people expect to see their bills go down?

When will energy prices fall in Austria?

After months of steep price increases on the Austrian energy market, it seems that the end could finally be in could be in sight, as experts are predicting that prices could go down again this year.

Wolfgang Urbantschitsch, a board member of energy regulator E-Control, said on Wednesday he expected energy prices to fall “towards the middle of the year”. 

Speaking in an interview with ZiB2, Urbantschitsch warned customers not to expect their bills to go back to what they were two years ago, but said they were unlikely to see the same sharp peaks in prices that they saw in 2022. 

The energy market could also be influenced by a key February ruling from the Vienna Commercial Court, which declared that price increases levied by energy company Verbund back in May 2022 had been unlawful.

If the partly state-owned company loses on appeal, customers could be in line for significant refunds – and it could become harder for other energy firms to hike their prices in respond the changes on the market in future. 

“You can wait and see, because if this price change has become ineffective, the customers will get their money back,” said Urbantschitsch.

The regulator also said he feared that some electricity companies could leave the market if it becomes more difficult to change their prices – meaning less competition and fewer options for customers.

“The public interest (in low prices) also applies, but ultimately, of course, it is always about acting for the good of society,” he added. 

READ ALSO: How expensive are gas and electricity in Austria right now?

Lower grid fees

Another key change that should lower people’s electricity bills is the grid-fee subsidies that were agreed on by the government in February and that came into force on March 1st. 

Since January, there had been a dramatic rise in grid fees charged to customers, which will now be dampened with a €558 million cash injection from the government. This should cover 80 percent of the increase. 

“The grid operators have also indicated in advance that they will not change the billing for small consumers in the first two months of 2023, but will take the effects into account by smoothing the bills,” explained Alfons Hafer, CEO of E-Control. “Thus, most consumers should feel the support without fluctuating payment obligations.”

This means that customers could start to see their energy costs go down slightly from May.