Falling temperatures and the coronavirus epidemic do not mix. France could experience electricity supply difficulties in the event of a cold snap in February, the health crisis having disrupted the maintenance of nuclear reactors, warned the network manager on Thursday.
The situation for the winter is that of a “month of December more serene than expected, a month of January normally tense in this statistically coldest period of the year, and finally a difficult month of February”, detailed the President of RTE Xavier Piechaczyk, during a press conference. For this winter, RTE has long warned that “vigilance” would be required, which was confirmed on Thursday.
Deferred maintenance work
At issue: the Covid-19 pandemic which upset the maintenance schedule for nuclear reactors in the spring, when this work is usually carried out in anticipation of winter. The question is particularly sensitive for France, whose electricity production is 70% nuclear.
EDF finally managed to reorganize these shutdowns and saved fuel during the summer in order to retain production capacity for the cold season. But some reactors will eventually have to be shut down: there should be 13 of the 56 in the fleet not to be produced at the end of February, against two to four in previous years. There will then be around 10 gigawatts less available compared to the end of January.
In addition, uncertainties remain on the timing of the restart of the two reactors at the Flamanville (Manche) power plant, which is currently shut down. “In February, given the reduction in the production fleet, the risk is increased compared to previous years,” said Xavier Piechaczyk.
Electricity demand 5% lower than normal
“What would pose a problem would be a lasting cold wave, particularly intense, or a cold wave combined with other unfavorable factors such as a lack of wind,” he added. In addition, the level of consumption in February remains uncertain. Electricity demand is now 5% lower than normal due to the health crisis, but this will not necessarily be the case in three months.
Faced with these difficulties, RTE recalls that several levers are at its disposal to ensure supply and avoid a generalized breakdown, the “blackout”. These solutions include stopping the consumption of industrialists who are large consumers of electricity or a slight drop in the voltage on the distribution network.
Localized and temporary cuts can finally be organized “as a last resort”. These so-called “load shedding” measures would consist of depriving approximately 200,000 homes of electricity at a time for 2 hours, while sparing sensitive facilities such as hospitals.
” There will be no blackout »
“In the extreme, we can consider very short cuts”, recalled the Minister of Ecological Transition Barbara Pompili Thursday morning. But “there will be no blackout », She assured. France, which is globally a net exporter of electricity, will also be able to count on its neighbors and import in the event of a hard blow. A new interconnection with England, IFA2, is due to be put into service in December.
“It is estimated that in a cold snap, we could count on almost 9 gigawatts of import,” said Thomas Veyrenc, strategy and prospective director of RTE. The manager also announced this Thursday the generalization throughout France of the “Ecowatt” device, which already exists in Brittany and Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur.
A website thus helps guide consumers on their electricity consumption. In the event of supply tension, a text message may invite the French who have registered to lower or shift their consumption. Regarding gas, Storengy, the number one storage company in France, also said on Thursday that it had more than 99% of its capacity filled in early November to get through the winter.