By Forrest Crellin and Benjamin Mallet
PARIS -France’s RTE power grid operator said on Wednesday the threat of power outages has receded after milder temperatures lowered consumption but warned a looming nationwide strike could impact nuclear supply.
RTE said in a report that power consumption had fallen 8.5% since the start of the winter, and that risks to French power remained at “medium” level for the rest of the season, lower than envisioned in a September analysis.
An increase in energy prices and inflation have pushed down power demand in all sectors, particularly industry, it said.
Nuclear supply has also approached 45 gigawatts (GW) and should slightly exceed this level by the end of January, before decreasing in February.
“Today, most of the risks are behind us,” RTE head Xavier Piechaczyk said. Some limited risks to power supplies remained if there was a long and severe cold wave in the second half of February “but we are a lot more relaxed for March and April,” he added.
However, he said that a nationwide strike due to start on Thursday against the government’s plan to make people work longer before they can retire may impact nuclear power availability in the short term.
Unions have called workers to massively walk out of their jobs on Jan. 19 and take to the streets across France. The government has said it will stand its ground and called on workers not to paralyse the country.
France had been at risk of power shortages as its main source of electricity – nuclear power – fell to a 30-year low last year due to a record number of outages at the fleet of reactors run by EDF.
However, the group has been ramping up maintenance repairs to get reactors back online, and mild weather in December has helped reduce power needs.
Two of the reactors affected by corrosion issues are expected to return to operation by the end of the month, and an additional two are seen returning in February. That should lead to nuclear availability of between 40 and 45 GW by the end of February, RTE said.
The gas transmission system operator GRTgaz was equally upbeat on Wednesday, saying that natural gas shortages were highly unlikely if current temperatures hold, adding the risk of daily scarcity had “nearly disappeared”.
“We are reasonably optimistic for the coming two months,” the head of GRTgaz Thierry Trouve told Reuters.
High gas storage stocks, lower domestic consumption, and continued strong imports from Norway and global suppliers via France’s liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals have led the optimistic assessment of French gas availability.
Hydraulic stocks have also rebounded to higher than seasonal averages from the extreme lows recorded at the end of summer.
The recent uptick in electricity production has allowed France to return to its traditional position of net exporter of power, with almost 2 terawatt hours (TWh) exported since the beginning of January, RTE said.
However, it added that France, which was a net importer of electricity last year, would again be importing power in the coming days as wind supply and temperatures fall.
The weather was chillier than usual on Wednesday and temperatures are expected to continue to decline, though the forecast for the first half of February sees temperatures rising to closer to the norm for the season, RTE said.