European power grid operators are taking special precautions to protect their workforce from Coronavirus, potentially isolating employees for weeks at a time to ensure networks continue to function, Recharge has learned.
Transmission system operator (TSO) 50Hertz – which is in charge of the power grid in Eastern Germany and the country’s two largest cities, Berlin and Hamburg – said its primary goal is to protect staff from infection, especially in the system's control room.
“Both the employees in the control room and in other system-relevant technical areas can ensure network operation for weeks in a self-sufficient manner and largely isolated from the environment [outside],” the TSO said in a statement sent to Recharge.
“For this, a staff room, as well as a lounge and a bedroom, and storage are available.”
Independent of this, technical resources are also available, for example spare parts for the operation of the substations or lines, the TSO added.
50Hertz also maintains a reserve control centre that is always operational at its headquarters as a backup for the control room in Neuenhagen close to Berlin. Such a back-up is also common at the other three TSOs in Europe’s largest economy, 50Hertz said.
Like those across Europe, German network operators are responsible for power systems that are crucial to the effective functioning of society, and include an ever-increasing contribution from wind and solar plants.
All German TSOs, also including Dutch-German grid operator TenneT, Amprion and TransnetBW, agreed on common measures to protect their workforce, stressing that as providers of critical infrastructure they take the risks posed by Covid-19 extremely seriously.
The rules also apply to the Netherlands, where TenneT is the sole TSO. TenneT is also responsible for the grid access of German and Dutch offshore wind farms.
The companies have banned all business travel to areas considered risk areas by Germany’s Robert Koch Institute (RKI), which coordinates Germany’s response to the outbreak. Those areas include large parts of Northern Italy, as well as parts of China, Iran and South Korea.
Domestic business trips are restricted to a minimum.
“Employees who have been in a risk area must inform their superiors and, if necessary, work from home,” the rules state.
The common guidelines are slightly less specific than the statements made by 50Hertz, but all TSOs acknowledged that “there are special requirements for employees in the control rooms and in the technical teams that are essential for maintaining the network.”
TenneT said as it cannot make more specific statements as critical infrastructure is concerned.
The TSOs tell their employees to deal responsibly with the situation also in their private lives in order to make it more difficult for the virus to spread.
50Hertz added that close contact should be avoided.
“Our [own] receptions or similar events, as well as visits by foreign delegations to 50Hertz, have practically gone to zero,” the company said.
Germany as of Monday according to the RKI reported 1,139 cases of Covid-19, and two deaths. The Netherlands according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Monday had 265 reported cases, and three deaths.
Part of Germany’s North-Rhine-Westphalia state have been particularly hit by the outbreak, but so far were not declared as a risk area. Both German casualties occurred in the state.