Power Cuts Strike Western Europe; Millions Without Electricity

as power grids strain, don't let this happen to you,
be ready and prepared for increasing outages

November 5, 2006

Italy's prime minister has said Europe needs a central power authority to prevent the kind of blackouts that left swathes of West Europe without energy.

Photo: Europe at night, showing the change in illumination from 1993-2003. This data is based on satellite observations. Lights are colour-coded. Red lights appeared during that period. Orange and yellow areas are regions of high and low intensity lighting respectively that increased in brightness over the ten years. Grey areas are unchanged. Pale blue and dark blue areas are of low and high intensity lighting that decreased in brightness. Very dark blue areas were present in 1993 and had disappeared by 2003. Much of western and central Europe has brightened considerably. Some North Sea gas fields closed in the period. (Science Photo Library/NOAA)

An overload in Germany's power network triggered outages leaving millions without electricity on Saturday night.

Romano Prodi said there was a "contradiction" in having a unified power network but no central authority.

Power failed first in Cologne, Germany, before shutting down across parts of France, Italy, Spain and Austria.

Belgium, the Netherlands and Croatia were also affected.

"My first impression is that there is a contradiction between having European networks but not having a central European authority. It is somewhat absurd," Mr Prodi said.


German utility provider E.ON said early investigations suggested the supply failures were caused by overloads in the power network in northwest of the country, according to Reuters.

The power outages were quickly restored in most cases but in some of the worst incidences:


E.ON said the power failures may have been linked to a line across a river being switched off to allow a ship to pass through safely, Reuters reported.

France was one of the worst affected, with five million losing power mainly in the east of the country and the capital, Paris, and its suburbs.

"We weren't very far from a European blackout," a senior director with French power company RTE said.

Most electricity supplies were restored within two hours of the outage, and so far no injuries or accidents have been reported.

The worst recent power blackout struck Italy in 2003, plunging the country into darkness for 18 hours between 28 and 29 September.