Energy crisis: RTE warns of a risk of tension on electricity production in January

France’s electricity supply appears more secure than previously in December and from the end of February 2023, but the month of January concentrates “more risk” than in previous analyses, according to an update of RTE’s forecasts published on Friday.

The manager of French high-voltage lines specified in this document that the availability of EDF’s nuclear fleet should be lower than its initial forecasts in December and reach around 40 gigawatts (GW) at the start of January.

“The delays already accumulated on certain reactors make it improbable, even if still possible, to reach an availability of 45 GW during this period”, according to RTE. However, the situation appears to be “little risky for the end of November, and moderately risky for the beginning of December, due to the weather forecasts and more generally the level of consumption”.

The company responsible for the electricity transmission network also indicated that its analysis remained unchanged for the whole of the winter insofar as the structural drop in electricity consumption – which has reached 5 to 7% since the end of summer compared to its level of 2019 – and that of nuclear production “compensate on the whole”.

“There is less risk in December, there is more in January, there is less at the end of February and in March. But quantitatively, over the winter, it is the same risk,” he told reporters. Thomas Veyrenc, Executive Director of the Strategy, Forecasting and Evaluation Division of RTE.

“If EDF puts 15 reactors back into service by mid-December, we will end up above our central vision. If ever it is not 15 but a little less, which seems likely to me, we will be consistent with our vision statistics,” he added. Friday morning, the availability of the French nuclear fleet was around 53%, or 32.5 GW out of a total of 61.4 GW of installed capacity.

Alert “high” risk

RTE had to lower its forecast for nuclear production in France for 2022 at the beginning of November, to a level of 275 to 285 terawatt-hours (TWh), due to the impact of strikes on the maintenance of its power plants and the extension of the duration of shutdown of four reactors for repairs related to the corrosion problem detected on certain circuits. Jean-Paul Roubin, Executive Director in charge of RTE’s “Customers and electricity system operation” scope, recalled that if voluntary and targeted power cuts were to be decided – as part of so-called “load shedding” measures -, private individuals could be concerned insofar as they are not classified among priority consumers.

“By departments, on average, the non-shedding power is around 38%. So that means that 62% of consumption is likely to be able to be shed, so (…) there will obviously be a large number individuals, households, but also craftsmen and small SMEs-SMIs who will be cut at that time”, he said.

“All the means of production available – gas, coal, fuel oil – will be started before we cut off; it is unthinkable to cut off consumers by having means of production stopped (which are) available”, however reminded Jean -Paul Roubin.

RTE specified that the risk of recourse to the “Ecowatt” alert system – and in particular of a “red alert signal” warning of inevitable cuts if consumption does not drop – appeared “high in January but will depend( it) largely climatic conditions and the possible occurrence of even a moderate cold snap”.

Still according to RTE, electricity prices on the futures markets for early 2023 still include “a disproportionate risk premium compared to the fundamentals of the supply-demand balance, despite a decrease in futures prices mainly reflecting a drop in tension on the gas markets”.

RTE updates its outlook for the electricity system for autumn and winter 2022-2023:

— RTE (@rte_france) November 18, 2022

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