As Christmas draws nearer, so do fears of a large-scale blackout in Austria. More than 12,000 households were left without electricity on Thursday morning, December 22, during a power outage in the Baden and Mödling area south of Vienna. According to initial reports, the power outages were caused by a failure in the transmission system. Later in the day, officials speculated that defective industrial machinery might have been connected to the electrical grid and thus caused a circuit breaker to flip. After an hour of involuntary darkness, the power was back on, only to fail again two hours later. By the early afternoon, the problem was finally resolved.
The power outage affected not only private households, but also industry, businesses, and critical infrastructure. The police issued warnings that traffic lights were out of order, a situation that led to congested roads and dangerous driving conditions.
Businesses were also affected by the power outages. Many stores and restaurants had to close early or turn customers away due to the lack of electricity. In addition, some hospitals and medical facilities had to rely on backup generators to continue operating.
The incident wasn’t the first this week. Two days earlier, a similar power outage in Graz plunged large parts of the city into darkness. According to a police report, a fried electrical system in a transformer caused, among other things, street lighting and traffic lights to go dark around 9 p.m. on Tuesday, December 20th. Electricity flow resumed at 10:30 p.m.
Police have ruled out sabotage as a cause of the recent outages.
These power outages hit Austria at a time of heightened fear of a potential blackout. Even officials admit that the likelihood of blackouts is higher than it has been for years, if not decades. Emergency plans for such scenarios are being shared even by the government. Grid technicians, however, hope to avoid large-scale blackouts through planned shutdowns to prevent a collapse of the electrical grid. It remains unclear to the public to what extent the recent power outages are caused by the volatility of the electrical grid. Regardless, these outages are not bound to build trust in ordinary citizens over the coming weeks and months.