Why the risk of power cuts is down a notch in France


RTE (Réseau de transport d’Electricité) is the subsidiary of EDF – operationally autonomous for competition issues – responsible for transporting high-voltage electricity throughout mainland France. It is this actor who sounds the alarm in the event of a risk of power cuts, since it is also he who manages supply and production according to consumption at any time.

The energy crisis triggered by the war in Ukraine is coming to France at a less than ideal time: many nuclear power plants were under maintenance at the start of the first upheavals in the energy market. As a result, French electricity production is more limited than in normal times. The grid essentially has to source electricity from abroad, even as the supply of electricity is reduced.

RTE salutes the efforts of companies and French people

As a result, RTE spoke in a recent analysis of a “high” risk of power cuts in January. And proposed measures to solve the problem. On the one hand, it was a matter of increasing electricity production as best they could. The fastest being to raise the availability of the nuclear fleet and restart power plants running on fossil fuels, such as in Cordemais (Loire-Atlantique) and Saint-Avold (Moselle).

And there is some real good news here. First the nuclear fleet, whose capacity has risen above 40 GW after the return to service of a few reactors – which should continue in the coming weeks, while EDF is accelerating their return to service. Hydraulic energy stocks (dams) also increased during the fall, and strategic gas storage capacities are now at 100%.

On the other hand, RTE recommended a series of energy saving measures, largely adopted by the government. For example, lowering the heating temperature, both at home and in business premises. Or move certain uses out of peak hours. A week ago, we learned that the French had consumed just over 9% less electricity compared to the same period last year.

It is therefore all of this that led RTE to lower the risk of power cuts in January from “high” to “medium”. The manager stresses, however, that this prospect will only materialize “subject to the maintenance of energy saving efforts”, while indicating that these “Favourable developments allow the risk for the security of supply to be reduced compared to the anticipation of recent months, in particular for the month of January”.

The weather in January still threatens to cause cuts

However, an unknown person comes to invite herself into this precarious equation. Indeed, as RTE already indicated in a blog post dating from several weeks ago, the weather remains a major factor of tension on the electricity network in winter. A persistent cold spell can cause consumption peaks that are very difficult to anticipate and which can force the manager to load shedding.

This prompts RTE to add in its press release that it cannot, at this stage, rule out power outages “in the event of very unfavorable weather conditions”. According to RTE, other difficult winters in terms of energy supply are to be expected. The difficulties should even persist until 2025.

Yannick Jacquemart, Director of New Flexibilities at RTE explains: “The situation should subsequently improve, for several reasons. First of all, nuclear production should increase with the recommissioning of a certain number of power plants which are currently shut down and the commissioning of the Flamanville EPR”.

And the manager adds: “On the renewable side, several offshore wind farms will then be operational. In addition, a certain number of additional interconnections will be available between France and its neighbors (Italy, in particular), which will allow us to import more during periods of tension”. In passing, the government has launched an EcoWatt application which makes it possible to adapt consumption and avoid cuts in the event of voltage on the electricity network.

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