A dispute between Serbia and Kosovo has resulted in clocks across Europe running up to six minutes slow. But why?
The issue stems from the way digital clocks connected to the mains keep time, such as the ones in your oven or microwave. They do this by measuring the oscillations in the alternating current they receive, which is when the electricity sort of changes direction.
This frequency in Europe is about 50Hz (meaning the current alternates 50 times a second), while in the US it’s 60Hz. But according to the European Network of Transmission System Operators for Electricity (ENTSO-E), deviations in this frequency since mid-January have resulted in delayed timings. The average frequency since then has been about 49.996 Hz.
“Some clocks are based on the frequency of the power system, and thus run late when the frequency decreases, or run too fast, when the system is in over-frequency,” they said.
“Such clocks are typically radio-, oven clocks or clocks for programming the heating system. These types of electric clocks show now a delay around six minutes.”
About 25 countries are affected in Europe from Spain to Turkey and Poland to the Netherlands. The UK isn't one of them as it runs its own grid.
The problem is due to Kosovo using more electricity than it generates. Owing to a border dispute since 2008, four Serb-majority districts in the north of Kosovo don't pay for electricity. Kosovo had been paying for their electricity, but in December it stopped.
The result is that there is too much demand on the grid and not enough supply. There have been some rumors that cryptocurrency miners in the regions have been making use of the free electricity and exacerbating the problem, but a spokesperson for ENTSO-E told The Verge the issue was “absolutely unrelated to cryptocurrency”.
Last week Kosovo agreed to a temporary solution by paying €1 million ($1.2 million) for the electricity in the districts. But a longer-term solution is required. In a few weeks, it’s hoped the network will be back to normal, and the clocks should reset to the right time or they can be manually reset.