Electricity: France faced with the scenario of power cuts this winter

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RTE (electricity transmission network) last Friday updated its outlook for the electricity system for the fall and winter of 2022-2023. Due to lower than expected production from the nuclear fleet, the electricity supply in January concentrates “more risk”. Cuts are therefore to be feared.

What was only a vague fear seems to be materializing: France is facing a potential risk of power cuts in January, in particular due to the low production of the nuclear fleet. Half of the nuclear reactors are, in fact, unavailable due to scheduled but sometimes prolonged maintenance, or corrosion problems.

Last Friday, RTE (electricity transmission network) published an update of the outlook for the French electricity system for the fall and winter of 2022-2023, warning that the supply of the French electricity network was at “high” risk. to be tight in January.

“The September 2022 analysis had presented three scenarios for winter (intermediate, high, degraded), which stood out according to the availability of nuclear reactors in France and gas in Europe, as well as a variant integrating effects rapid and consistent with the sobriety plan. The overall panorama had led to placing the security of electricity supply under close vigilance, and this from the autumn (which constituted an exceptional situation)”, recalls RTE.

The weakness of nuclear production pointed out

To update its forecasts, RTE notably took into account two major elements: the drop in French consumption of 5 to 7% compared to its 2019 level and that of the production of the nuclear fleet which should “reach an availability of order of 40 GW at the end of December, beginning of January then approaching 45GW (without reaching them) at the beginning of February”. “During the month of January, the difference with RTE’s initial forecast should be greater (around 3 to 4 GW in the probabilistic view): availability of around 40 GW at the very start of The year 2023 thus seems possible”, i.e. around 65% of the installed nuclear capacity. EDF, for its part, provided in its official schedule for the availability of 48 GW on 1er January.

“The probability of activation of the Ecowatt red signal therefore remains identical to that of the central scenario presented on September 14, 2022. […] The situation appears less risky in December and from the end of February, but the month of January now concentrates more risk”, writes RTE. Switching to Ecowatt red would therefore trigger the “load shedding” scenario, these temporary and localized power cuts which could be organized this winter in the event of electricity shortages to avoid the “black-out”, the generalized and uncontrollable blackout.

The Golfech nuclear power plant.

Enedis prepares for load shedding

At Enedis, which manages the distribution of electricity to households, businesses (excluding large industrialists) and communities (i.e. 1.4 million kilometers of low and medium voltage lines), the agents responsible for monitoring the distribution network are preparing for months to this “ultimate” scenario. A new national training is also planned in a few weeks.

The whole challenge will be to crush the consumption peaks, which extend from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. and from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., times when France lights up, heats up, cooks, works, produces at the same time. If the call for sobriety is insufficient, managers can lower the voltage by 5%, a measure that saves 4% in consumption, while being imperceptible to the user. It is only as a very last resort that load shedding can be carried out by Enedis at the request of RTE.

“Not a lot of leeway”

Even if “there will be no blackout”, “we don’t have much leeway”, assured the president of the Energy Regulatory Commission Emmanuelle Wargon. After the publication of RTE on Friday, the government, which wants to avoid cuts at all costs, asked EDF and other energy companies to take measures to unleash dams and wind farms in order to facilitate electricity supply this winter.

However, RTE highlighted positive points: the extremely high filling of gas stocks in France and Europe and the satisfactory operation of electricity exchanges via international interconnections, in particular with Germany and Belgium.

The situation and the avoidance of cuts will therefore depend a lot on the restarting of nuclear reactors, one of the priorities of the new CEO of EDF appointed Wednesday in the Council of Ministers, Luc Rémont, who yesterday brought together EDF executives in Flamanville .

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