France has enough electricity to last the winter despite cold snap

Paris: We are expecting a peak this week that will occur on Wednesday morning at about 83 gigawatts, which will be covered by French electricity production, Arnaud Mazingue, operations manager at the French electricity grid operator RTE, told BFM television.

Unless temperatures are much lower than those predicted and there is less wind than expected to run turbines, France will be at an equilibrium, neither importing nor exporting electricity with neighbouring countries.

This is a different scenario than last winter, when France’s natural gas supply was reduced by the war in Ukraine, and several nuclear reactors were offline for maintenance. More than half of France’s electricity is derived from nuclear power.

Facing the possibility of blackouts, France imported an unprecedented amount of electricity (16.5 terawatt hours) last winter and restarted a coal plant to meet consumer needs.

This year France will have an “extraordinarily limited” need for coal, Energy Transition Minister Agnès Pannier-Runacher told FranceInfo radio on Monday.

“Everything will go well, we have a lot of electricity,” she said, adding that France exported a record amount in December 2023.

France’s electricity production capacity is higher for several reasons, including more supply and less demand.

Last year 20 of the country’s 56 nuclear reactors were offline for maintenance to repair corroding cooling circuits.

Today, 10 are back online, with RTE estimating the entire capacity could reach 50 gigawatts in January, up 6 gigawatts from January 2023.

Hydroelectric power, which accounted for 11 percent of French electricity production in 2022, is also stronger, with water tables higher than last winter following two years of drought.

The capacity of water reservoirs is “above historical averages”, RTE said.

France has also continued to add wind and solar power installations, and the offshore wind plants at Saint-Brieuc and Fecamp are expected to go online this winter, adding to the Saint-Nazaire site that has been operating since 2022.

French electricity consumption has also dropped over the past year after the government encouraged households and businesses to cut electricity use by 10 percent and to put in place an energy savings plan.

RTE said there was a structural reduction of 7.5 to 8 percent of electricity consumption over the past year.

“The behaviour of the French has evolved enormously, and not just during last winter, but throughout 2023,” Mazingue said.

Referring to an October 2023 report, Pannier-Runacher said that energy consumption was down 12 percent compared to 2014-2019, the period before the Covid pandemic.

“Collectively we have reduced our consumption of gas and electricity,” she said, pointing out that this has allowed France to be “very comfortable when cold snaps arrive”.

People should, however, keep their thermostats to 19 degrees Celsius as recommended by the Ademe energy transition agency.