France Faces Power Cuts in Case of a Cold Snap, Grid Says
(Bloomberg) -- France risks falling short of electricity in the event of a cold snap and low wind next month as an abnormally high number of the country’s nuclear reactors halt for maintenance, the country’s grid operator said.
The stark warning is a reminder that Europe’s energy crunch shows little sign of letting up, despite easing slightly this week. Soaring gas and power prices have forced some manufacturers across the continent to curb output, while governments have responded to the crisis with tax cuts and subsidies, mostly for consumers.
In its updated assessment for January, Reseau de Transport d’Electricite said it will probably need to activate contracts that allow it to briefly cut electricity to some large manufacturers or even to reduce the voltage in the event of unfavorable weather. As a last resort, rolling power cuts of as much as two hours may occur, RTE said.
“Based on the latest forecast for January, such meteorological events -- including a severe cold snap -- seem very unlikely for the start of the month, and little likely for the rest of the month,” RTE said. “Hence, the risk of power cuts is essentially ruled out at least for the start of January.”
More than a quarter of Electricite de France SA’s 56 atomic reactors are currently halted because the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted the utility’s maintenance program. The recent discovery of faults in some reactors also forced EDF to stop or prolong halts at 4 units.
EDF’s total nuclear production capacity in France totals 61 gigawatts. However, only between 43 and 51 gigawatts will be available for most of January, a record low for this time of the year, RTE said.
While ensuring that citizens can keep the lights on is always a politically sensitive issue, any blackout would be a blow for President Emmanuel Macron ahead of April’s presidential elections. His government closed France’s two oldest reactors last year, and is shutting most of the country’s remaining coal-fired power stations to reduce carbon emissions.
Regulations limit the use of France’s three coal units to about one month per year, meaning that they may become unavailable for the rest of 2022, starting in February, if they are used throughout January, said Thomas Veyrenc, in charge of RTE’s strategy.
Earlier this year, France’s grid operator called for “vigilance” on power supplies, especially during January and February. That’s due to a slower-than-expected ramp-up of renewables and repeated delays in the construction of a new atomic plant, leaving the country with tight power supply margins during winter.
While France was able to import a record 13.4 gigawatts for a short period last week, it would be able to pull in just 8 gigawatts should a wave of freezing weather hit Europe, Veyrenc said.
The grid has contracts to cut as much as 1.1 gigawatts of power to large steelmakers and chemical producers, while reducing voltage on the distribution network would reduce power consumption by about 3% for three to four hours, said Jean-Paul Roubin, in charge of the RTE’s operations.
“Using these post-market tools would be likely in case of a cold snap of about 4 degrees Celsius below average temperatures,” Roubin said. Rolling power cuts could be used in the event of “extremely unfavorable weather, in particular in case of a cold wave that would last several days with a lack of wind.”
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