Energy companies are cautioning that if, as planned, millions of homes turn off their lights for five minutes at 8 p.m. on Saturday, and then turn them back on at the same time that the sudden surge could overload the power grid.
"Major disruptions to the grid cannot be ruled out," a spokesperson for the German Energy and Water Industries Association (BDEW) warned. The organization has worked closely with officials in Germany and in neighboring European countries in preparation for Saturday's action.
Environmental organizations including Greenpeace, BUND (the German arm of Friends of the Earth) and WWF have called on residents of Germany, Austria and Switzerland to turn off their lights on Saturday from 8 p.m. to 8:05 p.m. as part of "World Climate Day." The action is also being promoted by Germany's largest daily newspaper, Bild, Google and the private television station Pro-Sieben.
In addition to private homes, Christmas markets, city halls and even major corporations like BMW, Porsche, Deutsche Telekom and T-Mobile plan to flip their switches. Famous German landmarks will also go dark, including the castle in Heidelberg, the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Munich's Hofbräuhaus and Hamburg's infamous Reeperbahn red-light district.
Utility companies are taking steps to provide more power during the action, but if too many people participate, they worry, those measures might not be enough. If there's a major surge, safety systems in the grid could kick in that would automatically shut off power to millions.
Scientists share their concerns. "This undertaking isn't entirely unproblematic," warns Hans-Jürgen Haubrich, head of the Institute of Power Systems and Power Economics (IAEW). If 10 million households participate, he cautions, it could create massive power grid problems.
Still, the action could also go as planned, without any hitches. In October more than a million people in San Francisco turned out their lights for an hour, and restaurants even offered candle-light dinners without any major disruptions to the power grid.
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