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French Power Supply Margins Seen Under Threat in Coming Winters

March 25, 2021

By Paul Homewood



Talking of interconnectors!




France’s electricity supply may be unable to cope with extreme cold or unplanned power plant outages over the next three winters as atomic output remains constrained by long maintenance halts, the country’s grid operator said.

The warning comes after bitter cold in Texas last month left millions without electricity and heat for days and killed dozens. While nowhere near the same situation, the French grid asked users to reduce consumption in January as supply margins briefly came under strain during a cold snap.

As the French government shuts the country’s last coal plants in the transition from fossil fuels, margins will remain weak throughout 2024 as the pandemic continues to disrupt maintenance schedules and safety checks at Electricite de France SA’s atomic plants, Reseau de Transport d’Electricite said in a report. Next winter requires “particular vigilance” similar to last winter, it said.

“At the start of this decade, insufficient margins aren’t protective enough against extreme events, which might create tensions on the safety of supply,” RTE Chairman Xavier Piechaczyk said in a press conference. Such cases may require “exceptional measures,” including voluntary load-shedding, reduced grid voltage, and ultimately, rotating power cuts.

Margins will become “acceptable” in the 2024-26 period thanks to the commissioning of new atomic generation scheduled in 2023, the ramp-up of renewables, the completion of new interconnectors, and new demand-response management systems, according to RTE.

While the government plans to fully exit coal by the end of next year, it should keep EDF’s Cordemais coal plant open — possibly using biomass as a fuel — until at least 2024 to help supply safety, Piechaczyk said. The government, which also plans to shut down a dozen nuclear reactors by 2035, should refrain from starting to do so before 2027, he said.

While power demand may rise 5% to 500 terawatt-hours by 2030 compared with 2019, supply margins will be comfortable in the 2026-2030 period, RTE said. That’s as the production of renewables increases, even if the government’s goal of quadrupling solar output by 2028 is out of reach, the grid chairman said.

The rise in power demand will be driven by electrical heating, electric cars and green hydrogen production. However, France’s peak power demand will actually fall by 2030 as drivers and hydrogen producers will seek to avoid using electricity when prices are high, it said.

Electric cars may require about 20 terawatt-hours of power in a decade, according to RTE. 


I could not resist this comment:


Margins will become “acceptable” in the 2024-26 period thanks to the commissioning of new atomic generation scheduled in 2023, the ramp-up of renewables, the completion of new interconnectors, and new demand-response management systems, according to RTE.


 Good luck with those renewables, but I don’t think interconnectors will be of much use, when the rest of Europe is wanting to import power from France!

  1. bobn permalink
    March 25, 2021 6:29 pm

    The key comment is this:
    “demand will actually fall by 2030 as drivers and hydrogen producers will seek to avoid using electricity when prices are high, it said.”

    Electricity prices in Europe and UK are going to skyrocket. Start plans to generate your own or use alternate energy because electricity will only be for the rich in the future.

    • Duker permalink
      March 25, 2021 8:04 pm

      Those power wall batteries sound good, to be recharged over night from the grid based supply when prices are lowest and used at home during peak times during the day.

      • Jordan permalink
        March 25, 2021 8:49 pm

        Power wall batteries are very well when energy is plentiful, and you can benefit from a daily profile of prices within bounds.
        It’s an event like a near-windless week we need to be prepared for. This is quite common and can happen at any time of the year. We had one at the beginning of March 2001.

      • Graeme No.3 permalink
        March 25, 2021 9:19 pm

        Best for days when the wind doesn’t blow. Have a small generator available &
        arrange that it slowly recharges that battery.

      • Julian Flood permalink
        March 26, 2021 9:06 am

        Jordan mentions a near windless week. it’s much worse than that. Blocking continental high pressure systems, typified by very low wind speeds across the entirety of Europe, can last two to three weeks. This year there were several days when wind energy from the UK’s greater than 24GW turbine ‘fleet’ was below 3GW.

        As an added bonus a really intense winter high pressure system comes with a thick layer of stratocumulus and/or fog.

        Mind how you go. Wrap up warm.


  2. Ben Vorlich permalink
    March 25, 2021 6:36 pm

    I was under the impression that Macron was planning to phase out nuclear in favour of renewables. Various French politicians have tried to stop the French from burning wood for domestic heating in the large cities. For example Paris 2014

    Parisians were left fuming earlier this month when the local government announced it was to ban log fires in the French capital. Now, the country’s Ecology Minister has got involved, promising Tuesday to overturn the “ridiculous” measure.

    This report also states that there are an estimated 135,000 open fireplaces in Paris

    Should they actually manage to ban the burning of wood then demand for electricity in winter will surely increase dramatically

    • MrGrimNasty permalink
      March 25, 2021 7:41 pm

      I actually agree that burning coal or wood should be outlawed in towns and cities as even one user in the vicinity is highly unpleasant. Unlike imaginary car pollution this is real unpleasant choking pollution and why the world moved on to much cleaner gas and electric heat at point of use and away from toxic deadly smog.

      The problem is of course that green energy policies are pushing up the price of energy and forcing more and more people to burn stuff to stay warm – often not even the proper cleaner types of coal or appropriately dry and clean wood (wood with a high content of plastic/resin [mdf etc.] and other chemicals [preservative etc.]).

      There is also a fashion factor involved – a similarly situation with ‘fire pits’, BBQs, pizza ovens etc. Garden bonfires in towns have pretty much disappeared as most people accept that they are anti-social and unnecessarily polluting, but now we choke each other and drive each other indoors to sweat with closed windows during the best weather of the summer.

      • David MC permalink
        March 26, 2021 12:36 pm

        Smokeless fuels…?

  3. LeedsChris permalink
    March 25, 2021 7:40 pm

    The Belgian coalition government recently announced it is closing its nuclear power stations by 2025. The expectation is that they will rely more on importing electricity from France and the Netherlands. So what is going to happen when everyone thinks they can import electricity from their neighbours?

    • Duker permalink
      March 25, 2021 8:10 pm

      The fight over vaccine supply that at first pitted EU against every one else and then predictably they then turned on each other will be nothing compared to coming power wars. if if there is power available to flow through the interconnector it still needs grid stability at the other end.

    • MikeHig permalink
      March 25, 2021 11:26 pm

      There are rumours that Sweden may go the same way which would increase the demand for Norwegian hydro.

    • Ray Sanders permalink
      March 26, 2021 11:04 am

      And yet there are people who still believe our electoral first past the post system is poor and that PR is somehow better. Wherever PR is used the small band of nutters (Greens) gain an element of control on insisting closing down the nuclear plants. In Germany that is being done only to increase the burning of lignite oh and of course doing a dodgy side deal with Putin for Russian gas.

  4. MrGrimNasty permalink
    March 25, 2021 7:45 pm

    The French inter-connector did cut us adrift one morning this winter when we were at one of our near grid capacity crisis points. No one can depend on these to balance supply in Europe either way, as the cold and windless weather conditions that cause the high demand and lack of renewables generation often cover the whole of Europe at the same time.

  5. Graeme No.3 permalink
    March 25, 2021 9:23 pm

    I wonder how they will make that Green Hydrogen if that is going to save them from not having enough electricity.

  6. Gamecock permalink
    March 25, 2021 10:03 pm

    Interconnectors. French for everyone is depending on everyone else.

    • Phoenix44 permalink
      March 26, 2021 8:45 am

      It will be fine. It’s not as if demand peaks at the same time and on the same days all across Europe….

  7. Phoenix44 permalink
    March 26, 2021 8:44 am

    I drove from Bordeaux to Calais in October over 2 days. Beautiful Autumn days, mist in the river valleys. Utterly still. Not a single wind turbine moving in 600 miles. Going to need more nuclear I’d say.

  8. Phoenix44 permalink
    March 26, 2021 8:53 am

    That’s just yet more wishful thinking. Everyone will get home at 6pm and plug in. This is the same insanity that has plagued Europe for 250 years, the elites’ fantasy of people acting for the community and not themselves. From the French Revolution through to WW2 and the USSR, it has always led to bloodshed and failure. Tiny incentives don’t make most people change their behaviour. Oh and when demand increase at times that are currently low on demand, prices will RISE, reducing the differential.

    • MikeHig permalink
      March 26, 2021 10:37 am

      The French experience doesn’t match that description. They have long had split-tariff pricing to encourage off-peak consumption. For example, hot water tanks are automatically programmed to run overnight – unless the user intervenes. Folk are aware of this and tend to run heavy consumers like dishwashers and washing machines accordingly.
      The effect is clear in their demand pattern which has a much smaller difference between peak and off-peak load than the UK (proportionally).

  9. Ray Sanders permalink
    March 26, 2021 10:11 am

    Although it is extremely worrying that there may well be winter situations were the generation cannot meet demand, the most likely incidence of blackouts in the UK is actually in the spring/summer as evidenced by the events of August 2003, May 2008 and August (again) 2019.
    Simultaneous high wind in sunny weather is now causing many unprecedented effects.
    1. the grid has very little spinning inertia to smooth out any loss of generating asset..
    2. there is little rapidly despatchable asset available online that can be significantly ramped up – the nuclear plants cannot do that and they will be running at the maximum available, Many gas plants will be offline. Batteries are very quick but of low power and short duration.
    3. there will be a very high level of embedded generation. Any action to disconnect areas to reduce load can actually exacerbate the problem by removing elements of supply – this occurred in 2019.
    4 Not all available STOR can be accessed. For example in 2019 the pumped storage hydro assets at Foyers and Cruachan could not assist as the transmission to England was already constrained due to excess wind supply from Scottish wind farms.
    5. NG commission supply back up generation based on a percentage of demand applied to the transmission network NOT as a percentage of overall demand. They are actually only protecting transmission network assets against failure not including embedded supplies. Again in 2019 it was the huge loss of embedded generation that caused the problem to get out of control.
    6. The UK under such windy/sunny conditions is likely to be exporting power and cannot rapidly switch interconnectors into import to help balance up. Indeed rapidly halting export is in itself a major grid destabiliser and has to be done by progressive reduction.

    During the artificially low demand of 2020 caused by the pandemic NG had to take extreme measures such as paying for Sizewell B and Torness nuclear plants to run at reduced power levels – had a full 1.2GW at Sizewell tripped, the grid could not have sustained the loss. Many gas plants had their generators spun up to act as synchronous condensers to hold frequency and provide synthetic inertia. Load reduction protocols (Triads) were on much higher alerts.

    As the situation progresses it will only get worse. The engineers working in the system know this full well but are being managed by committed, and not fully qualified, politically motivated
    individuals such as the likes of Steve Holliday who started this mess.

    Time for some direct action to stop this getting worse.

    • It doesn't add up... permalink
      March 26, 2021 12:56 pm

      There have been some actions to deal with some of the problems you mention. After to 2008 blackout, over-protective settings on embedded generation were highlighted as a problem that caused them to trip out. Nothing was really done about it, so it was a major cause of the extent of problems in 2019. But now finally money has been spent on rectifying the problem.

      I think the grid report over 10GW of embedded generation has been dealt with so far.

      National Grid have now proposed maintaining at least 140GVAs of inertia at all times, with some of this (about 12.5GVAs was contracted a few months ago) coming from things like converting plants (a generator at Cruachan for example) to synchronous condensers that provide inertia but no generation. The new Dynamic Containment market is dominated by batteries, and is regularly providing 500MW of what is effectively synthetic inertia. Batteries only have to keep going until more durable generation ramps up: OCGT can go from a standing start in about 20 minutes, and diesel is faster still. The minimum inertia level of course results in curtailment at increasing cost as renewables capacity increases in order to ensure sufficient inertia is available.

      It’s worth seeing how some of these things have been performing in dealing with grid trips – and also what has been tripping out. October 25th saw Hornsea WF drop almost 1.2GW instantly. Quite a few trips on interconnectors. Some other power stations.

      Of course, it may mean that the risk of blackout isn’t quite as high as you suggest for the reasons you mention, but it means a lot of added cost, with balancing costs having soared to enormous proportions. The real problems will come when like Texas, we suddenly find that we have next to no renewables generation and high demand due to uncooperative weather, coupled with inadequate dispatchable capacity. Then there is no avoiding sharing out the blackouts. We have also seen that over reliance of interconnection can lead to constrained grids that suffer cascading blackouts: there is a risk we import our blackouts from Europe, particularly if we become heavily dependent on interconnectors.

      • Micky R permalink
        March 28, 2021 10:38 am

        Western Europe relying on interconnectors during an attritional winter e.g. 1963, will probably result in increased reliance on Russian gas

  10. Ray Sanders permalink
    March 26, 2021 11:13 am

    Probably the most bizarre thing about this closure of nuclear plants is that most of the high priests of the “Climate Crisis” movement are actually in favour of much more Nuclear as is the IPCC. It is the “Green” political movements who oppose nuclear and clearly therefore do not believe their own BS arguments. This from none other than James Hansen himself in aof all papers The Grauniad

  11. Stuart Brown permalink
    March 26, 2021 2:14 pm

    The French should just build some more wind turbines then (to segue into a barely related link):

    “RenewableUK‘s Deputy Chief Executive Melanie Onn said: “Today’s record-breaking figures, set despite the pandemic, show that renewables are keeping this country reliably powered up during the most challenging period any of us have faced for many decades.”

    How she can say that with a straight face is beyond me. As it says in the article, demand was down 13% from 2019, so when whatever wind turned up was forced onto the grid, all the reduction was FF being forced off. If demand had increased or even remained the same, she wouldn’t have had a story. During the lulls we relied on gas for electricity (and coal!) as always; during the windy days we had coal plants idling along to add some inertia for grid stability. As always – until the last prop is kicked away and we turn to nos amis Francais, qui dit Non!

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