France worries about blackouts

France hopes to avoid blackouts on Monday but faces a tough week as the first cold snap of winter tests Europe’s resolve to save energy and mitigate the economic fallout of the war in Ukraine.

Anxiety about the situation in energy sector

Leaders across the region have said everyone needs to get serious about using less fuel after unusually mild weather until now had made the task relatively easy.

Although Europe’s gas storage is nearly 90% full after a concerted effort following Russian supply disruptions linked to its invasion of Ukraine, a series of nuclear shutdowns, particularly in France, is adding to the nervousness of the shutdowns.

A technical glitch briefly knocked out power in parts of Paris late one evening, prompting one Twitter user to ask: “Is it starting?” while posting an image of a dark street.

The country is focused as corrosion has taken a record number of reactors out of action, reducing its nuclear output to a 30-year low.

But despite concerns that supply could fall short at the start of the week as temperatures in Europe plunge, the RTE grid operator said there were no planned cuts.

An 8.3% drop in electricity consumption last week will help, RTE said, adding that 41 of EDF’s nuclear reactors should be available from Monday, generating 39 gigawatts of capacity, which should be enough.

EDF said it had ramped up production at three of its nuclear reactors after the repairs and hoped to start corrosion repairs at its Penly two nuclear reactor in mid-January.

Risks grow as cold weather continues

Emerick de Vigan, vice president of energy at data and analytics company Kpler, said efforts by companies and households to cut consumption should allow France to avoid an imposed load shedding on Monday. Still, risks could rise if the cold snap persists throughout the following week.

Energy prices, which have hit record highs this year, rose on Friday due to jitters. Demand would outpace supply before easing in later trade.

France is one of the most nuclear-dependent countries and typically generates more than 70% of its electricity from its fleet of 56 reactors, supplying around 15% of Europe’s total capacity through exports.

The government, which has warned that blackouts could happen this winter, said any outages would last no longer than two hours and be marked in advance.

Risk of power outages in Europe

In other places in Europe, Finland’s national grid operator Fingrid said the risk of winter blackouts had increased in the country after another postponement of the start-up of the new Olkiluoto 3 nuclear reactor.

Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said in neighboring Sweden at a press conference: “Many Swedes have saved electricity for purely cost-effective reasons. Now we want to ask the Swedish people to save electricity and also to reduce the risk of power outages.”

Meanwhile, Belgium’s natural gas supply could be at risk this winter in the event of a cold wave, Belgian newspaper De Tijd reported on Friday, citing a leaked government-commissioned report.

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