French grid operator underplays blackout risk

There is no risk of a total blackout in France this winter due to the current energy crisis, but some power cuts cannot be ruled out during peaks of demand, according to grid operator RTE.

RTE said lowering national electricity consumption by 1% to 5% in most scenarios and up to 15% in an extreme scenario of gas shortage and very cold weather could help avert a power crunch. 

It added it would be on alert to monitor market developments from November, or sooner if needed. RTE usually starts its winter monitoring in January.

The risks to supply are particularly high between November and January, but tense situations cannot be ruled out in October, February or March, RTE said.

The main uncertainties in the power sector include the energy situation in neighbouring countries, demand growth over the coming months, and the restart schedule of French nuclear reactors – half of which are currently offline due to corrosion issues and planned maintenance.

“Compared to other European countries, France should be structurally in a less difficult position to deal with it (the supply crunch),” RTE said.

Current analyses show that the supply-demand balance is not forecast to be threatened over the next several months and that the electricity system is expected to operate normally, though a worsening energy crisis could change the situation.

Only a few days of red alert are expected on the French consumption monitoring app Ecowatt, RTE said. A red alert means that the electricity system is tight and that cuts are inevitable without voluntary reduction to demand.

The most extreme scenarios for France would require the concurrence of several unfavourable events, including a nuclear supply shortage, a gas shortage in Europe, and extreme weather. But even in the worst-case scenario, the energy crunch would lead to consumption limits, not to a total blackout, RTE said.

An extreme situation would be handled by reaching out to companies, communities and individuals via Ecowatt, technical levers including a voltage drop and interrupting large consumers, RTE said.

“As a last resort, organised, temporary and rotating load shedding outages can be activated to avoid a widespread incident,” it added.

Load shedding is the interruption of electricity to an area to avoid a supply shortage.