Energy supply risks for the winter are manageable for Europe

As Europe strives to prevent power outages this winter, the head of the French national grid has downplayed the possibility of a breakdown in electricity flows and significant reductions in energy exports across the continent. High gas storage levels, which were accumulated to support non-Russian reserves, Xavier Piechaczyk claimed, had increased power production capacity throughout the region, keeping electricity supplies flowing while the system is put under stress following a warm fall.

The RTE CEO did acknowledge that a combination of cooling temperatures and delays in fixing nuclear power plant malfunctions might potentially result in shortages and subsequent power disruptions, especially in France. If imports dropped significantly, a scenario Piechaczyk described as “extremely, very unusual,” the risk would be increased. In an interview, Piechaczyk stated that the only factor that may put imports at risk (to France) was if our neighbors’ nations decreased their gas-powered energy production.

As the area weans itself off Russian gas and relies on one another to supply electricity during peak hours, countries throughout Europe are battling to alleviate stresses in their electricity networks. France, a big power exporter typically, has seen a record amount of nuclear plant outages this year as a result of maintenance work and unforeseen corrosion issues, such as pipe cracking that required repair. According to Piechaczyk, countries have no motivation to cut each other off in order to prioritize their home market because they all require supplies from outside of their country of origin. Demand spikes from France to Germany, Britain, and France typically occur at different times of the day. He noted that grid operators in the area were cooperating to guarantee seamless exchanges. According to Piechaczyk, “no one is envisaging any diminution in their [electricity] connectivity capacity.”

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In exchange for supplying more gas to Berlin, France and Germany agreed to raise their electricity imports last month. This required Germany to boost the proportion of interconnection capacity it uses for exports from approximately 30% to 41%, weeks sooner than it had anticipated. Piechaczyk said this was one demonstration of the region’s cooperation. In recent years, Britain has relied heavily on French nuclear power imports, but it is also placing pressure on its own resources by exporting electricity to France. To lessen the risk of brief blackouts, Britain and France have been advising individuals and businesses to minimize their electricity usage.

Meanwhile, the largest grid operator in Germany issued a warning in October that if there were a shortfall, it might be necessary to limit its own exports to other nations. According to Piechaczyk, repairs to France’s nuclear plants should enable the continent’s largest exporter by the end of the following year, giving the area some relief as worries about gas supplies for the winter of 2023–2024 grow. However, grid operators and governments are still preparing for potential targeted power cuts in the near future, particularly if January and February turn out to be colder than anticipated, imports struggle, and the restart of French nuclear units is delayed.

“Is there a possibility of power outages? Yes. Will there undoubtedly be power outages? They would in any case only make up a small portion of the electricity supply, Piechaczyk affirmed. “We wouldn’t be reducing the nation’s electricity by 40%, 50%, or 70%.” In order to prevent power outages, France has designated priority customers, such as hospitals. People are advised to avoid using elevators, and supermarkets are among the affected regions. Targeted areas will be alerted in advance. However, this has also resulted in disputes, such as those over the damage to the telephone infrastructure, with telecoms providers. This week, Orange, the largest provider in France, issued a warning about the potential impact on emergency calls. If roadside illumination is compromised, local authorities are working on strategies to redirect traffic or close schools for a portion of the day. If there are targeted cuts in January, even routine activities like cash withdrawals could be temporarily hampered, but French government spokesperson Olivier Véran downplayed the possibility of severe turmoil. We’re not in a disaster film, Véran said on Thursday to BFM TV.

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