A European wide #blackout, almost!
Luckily almost nobody noticed it, but last Friday, 8th of January, at 14:05 CET the whole of Europe was on the brink of a total blackout. Due to an instant loss of energy production, the frequency (see it as the heartbeat of the grid) fell below the critical threshold. Such a high deviation is rarely seen on European grids. The frequency should be as close to 50Hz as possible for a smooth running grid. This time it dropped to 49.74, very close to a catastrophic failure.
If this would’ve happened during the summer, with a lot of solar energy production, the grid definitely would’ve taken a bigger hit. PV inverters are configured to switch off when the frequency is out of range. The fact that this happened in winter, probably saved us.
This is a view from the production side of view, but if you look at it from the demand side I think the same things can happen. What if 100.000 electric vehicles suddenly stop charging, all at the same time. This would mean a tremendous decrease of energy demand.
100.000 sounds like a lot, but in Europe we are aiming for millions of electric vehicles in 2030. Therefore I think it’s time to recognize the potential damage a hacker, or a group of hackers, could do to the grid by just hacking a large charging infrastructure.
Or what about WiFi enabled ovens? Sounds far fetched, but if every house hold, in due time, has a connected oven, heat pump, pv installation, charge station and what not… the potential and attack surface for hacks becomes significant.
We should start making our high power (internet) connected devices more secure, more resilient and less depended on the cloud. Having the right measures and requirements in place before we have millions of devices, is the only way of dealing with this.
And even then, it’ll still be a challenge. We need to think about counter measures and how to mitigate risks before it happens, because that it’ll happen is, to me at least, a certainty.
We could also use those big batteries on wheels to our advantage. If the frequency starts dropping a bit, all those combined EVs could be seen as virtual power plant. We could use them to balance the grid, combined with stationary storage. That’s the future!
In my case at home, the battery started, however limited to a few hundred watts, feeding back energy into the grid. If we have a lot of batteries that work together, we could balance our European grid and deal with volatile solar and wind energy production.
Do you remember that your clocks were a few minutes behind in March 2018? Well, that was related to the frequency of the grid too. Clocks are running slow across Europe because of an argument over who pays the electricity bill