France warned of possible blackouts
France risks running short of electricity for several days this winter as a result of lower-than-usual nuclear plant availability, Bloomberg reported on Monday, citing the country’s grid operator.
According to Electricite de France (EDF), repairs and maintenance on almost half of its nuclear plants may turn the country, a traditional power exporter, into an importer this year. Under this scenario French customers would have to pay a premium to their neighbors, where prices have been soaring lately, the report said.
The French government has called on businesses and households to conserve energy to avoid blackouts. In the event of a possible electricity shortage, grid operator RTE will launch an “Ecowatt” red alert three days in advance demanding reduced consumption.
“We remain in a situation of particular vigilance,” chief executive of RTE Xavier Piechaczyk was quoted as saying by Bloomberg. “If it’s hot, you won’t hear about red Ecowatt. If it’s very cold, you’ll hear a lot of them, and if we’re in an average, median, normal winter, it will be a few units of red Ecowatt,” he explained.
France, which generates roughly 70% of its electricity from 56 nuclear reactors, all operated by EDF, had just 31 of those online on Monday morning. The company said last week that it aims to have more than 40 units in operation in December and January.
RTE will reportedly update its assessment for the next four weeks on November 18, based on forecasts for nuclear plant availability, power consumption, and weather. The company is taking a “cautious” approach as history shows maintenance can take longer than planned, Piechaczyk said.
The weather looks “relatively mild until the end of November,” while the country is also benefiting from a drop in power consumption as manufacturers balk at higher prices, he added. “The fact that France is consuming less is giving us a bit of margin, but the nuclear fleet risks being even less available than we had foreseen, so we’ll have to assess if that evens out.”
The Ecowatt alert takes into account that a dozen large manufacturers would lower consumption under pre-arranged contracts, the RTE chief reportedly said, noting that it would represent a reduction of about 1.2 gigawatts, the equivalent of a nuclear reactor capacity.
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