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Vodafone outage highlights difficulty of balancing power markets

ByJez Davison

Oct 29, 2018

The rise in mobile network outages, unpredictable weather patterns and other unforeseen events is making the challenge of balancing European power markets more difficult, energy analyst EnAppSys has warned.

When Vodafone suddenly lost its 4G mobile service in the Netherlands recently, vital real-time balancing data became unavailable. This incident coincided with an unplanned outage at one of the country’s largest power plants, the Rijnmond 1 gas-fired plant – a double whammy which left the Dutch system short and caused prices to soar.

EnAppsys said these events highlight how seemingly unrelated incidents can have a big impact on energy markets.

Director Jean-Paul Harreman said: “The availability and reliability of mobile networks is crucial to energy markets. When the Vodafone network in the Netherlands failed, we noticed that the data-feed of our provider of greenhouse data went down. This is logical; if the phone network is unavailable, you can’t collect meter-data over 4G connections.

“However, it also meant that sending modulation instructions to greenhouses was not possible. As a result, when the Dutch system went short because of an outage at Rijnmond 1, the usual quick reaction from greenhouses – ramping up generation or switching off the lights to take advantage of high balancing prices – did not happen. In fact, the greenhouse sector was largely absent in the balancing market and this caused prices to surge on several occasions.

“We foresee that in the future we will see more of these types of seemingly unconnected events having a significant effect on energy markets.”

Aside from mobile phone network outages, unpredictable weather patterns have also put a more extreme load on electricity grids around Europe and caused major power shortages at critical times, while TSO’s (Transmission System Operator) are facing challenges in providing more information on markets.

Jean-Paul Harreman continued: “It is crucial that the quality and reliability of market information improves. The Dutch TSO, TenneT, has been suffering from several data outages over the last weeks, which caused markets to be ‘blind’ at crucial times. With the market being quite opaque because of missing transparency data, it is all the more crucial that balancing data is available.”