A routine safety operation in Germany is thought to have triggered a massive power blackout that affected millions of people across Western Europe on Saturday night. The outage affected numerous countries, lasting a few minutes in some places, but up to 90 minutes in others.
The private German power utility E-ON says reports of cuts began after it shut down a high voltage line in the northwest of the country. A company spokesman said the line over the river Ems was shut down so a Norwegian cruise ship was able to pass through safely.
What happened next is highly technical, but essentially Western Europe’s inter-connected networks became overloaded. A kind of domino effect kicked in, where national grids were automatically deprived of power to avoid a complete blackout. There have been calls for an urgent explanation from the German government, and the Italian Prime Minister said the cuts show there is a need for a common European energy authority and policy. Industry commentators say bitter disputes over mergers have hampered efforts by the European Union to formulate a collective policy.