Munich’s Biggest Power Outage in Two Decades Brings City to Halt

Munich is recovering from its biggest power failure in two decades, a blackout that affected at least 450,000 customers in Germany’s third-biggest city, halting underground trains and trapping people in elevators.

Stadtwerke Muenchen GmbH is investigating the cause of the outage that spread across Munich’s southwest, starting at 7 a.m., the utility said today in an e-mailed statement. The outage lasted from 10 minutes in some parts to more than three hours in the Aubing district, disrupting commutes in the city that is home to Siemens AG and Bayerische Motoren Werke AG, and causing an explosion at a transformer station in the Bogenhausen district.

“The last time Munich saw such a wide-spread power failure was 20 years ago,” said Stephan Schwarz, the managing director of supply and technology at the utility.

Bernadette Mohme, 31, opted to take the car instead of the subway when she discovered the failure. It took her almost an hour to drive about 5 kilometers from her home near the Olympic stadium to the state parliament at the center, where she works for the Free Democratic Party.

“Traffic lights were out, so police directed traffic, and streetcars were stopped in the middle of the street,” Mohme said by phone. “It was absolute chaos.”

Power supply has moved to the center of the political agenda in Germany ever since Chancellor Angela Merkel decided in March 2011 to replace nuclear reactors with clean fossil-fired plants and a growing share of renewable-energy sources. Her government has backed plans to prevent utilities including EON SE and RWE AG from closing unprofitable power plants as the nation seeks to safeguard supply.

Abrupt Change

The abrupt policy change risks creating shortages in Germany’s industrial south, which has lost about 5 gigawatts of reactor capacity, because of a lack of cross-country power lines, according to state-owned researcher Dena Energy Agency.

Statdwerke Muenchen said the failure originated at the intersection of a power line owned by the utility and a switch point of the EON grid. EON rejected the blame, saying in an e-mailed statement that its network didn’t experience any interruptions until about an hour after the failure began.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE