Nuclear and hydropower come to French power rescue

Fears of a reduced power supply in France this winter have been downgraded to ‘medium’ by the country’s grid operator RTE.

The decreased risk follows the onboarding of greater nuclear and hydropower availability as well as reduced demand from consumers, RTE said.

Nuclear power utility EDF has faced an unprecedented number of reactor outages this year as a result of a number of factors, including a maintenance backlog for aging reactors, reducing nuclear output to 30-year lows just as Russia’s war in Ukraine hit Europe’s energy supplies.

However, French nuclear availability is now forecast to increase slightly to some 45 GW by the end of January before decreasing again in February for the start of the maintenance season, the operator said.

Meanwhile, power demand has fallen by some 9% compared to the pre-pandemic five-year average, RTE said. The French government has in past months urged households and businesses alike to cut their electricity use by 10%. 

“The consumption reductions are greater than anticipated in the September analysis,” the grid operator said in its report.

French power prices have fallen 25.8% since the beginning of December to a closing price of 331 euros per megawatt hour (MWh) on Monday, a contract low since late June.

Nuclear power availability topped 40 gigawatts (GW) on 12 December lifting supply to the top of the anticipated availability range, it continued.

Combined with the replenishment of hydropower reservoirs during the autumn, which allowed hydro production levels to hit a near record peak at 16 GW in December, this has lowered the risk for the rest of winter, RTE said.

Imported power from neighbouring countries via interconnectors has also reached record levels near 15 GW in recent weeks, they added.

The filling level of French gas stocks has also dropped to around 85% after beginning the winter near full, which is higher than previous years, RTE said.

There is no concern for the first part of winter due to high gas supply levels across the continent, but vigilance will be needed for the second half of winter and especially winter 2023-24, they added.

Highlighting emerging risks, EDF announced earlier this week a delayed restart of several corrosion-hit reactors, in some cases until as late as June.