It is a symbol of “European solidarity” to overcome the energy crisis. For the first time, on Thursday 13 October, France started sending gas directly to Germany. These deliveries materialize a mutual aid agreement formalized in early September between Emmanuel Macron and the German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, whose country is suffering from the decline in Russian gas exports to Europe.
For its part, Berlin has pledged to supply more electricity to France, which is suffering the lower effects of nuclear production. The current energy exchanges within Europe which this year are strengthening due to the strong tensions on supplies, linked to the war in Ukraine. How does this system work? What are the advantages of France? Explanations.
Why are European states connected by interconnections?
European countries exchange gas and electricity through interconnectors, transmission lines that connect grids and are the support for commercial energy transactions, as explained by the Energy Regulatory Commission (CRE). On the electricity grid, for example, more than 400 interconnections connect the European states. They are essential to ensure the security of energy supply, in the event of a geopolitical crisis, or when a country is faced with a technical accident on its national production.
Thanks to interconnections, the States it can also permanently exchange energy on the European market according to its needs. “The energy consumption profiles are different in the countries of the European Union”recalls Nicolas Goldberg, energy expert at Colombus Consulting.
This observation is particularly true of electricity. In one year, for example, Spain consumes more electricity in summer than in winter. It is the opposite for France, which therefore exports to its Spanish neighbor during the summer period, “which allows us to make our nuclear fleet profitable, even when national consumption is lower”, emphasizes Thomas Pellerin-Carlin, director of the Europe program at the Institute for Climate Economics (I4CE). According to the expert, this system “winning for all” it is therefore also advantageous for French energy suppliers, such as EDF, who can sell part of their production abroad.
In return, France can rely on the production of its neighbors to supplement its needs during the colder months. These flows also aim to respond to changes in energy consumption over the same day. “Without this system of interconnections, we would have a permanent load shedding”, appreciated Thomas Pellerin-Carlin.
With which European countries does France exchange energy?
France has around 50 cross-border connections, which allow it to exchange electricity with Great Britain, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, Germany and Benelux (Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg). Until last year, France was the largest net exporter of electricity to Europe.
In 2021, the country supplied more electricity to its neighbors (87.1 terawatt hours) than it imported (44 TWh), according to the financial statements of the French electricity transmission network operator (TEN). The main exports were to Switzerland (21.7 TWh), Great Britain (19.7 TWh) and Italy (18.8 TWh). France, on the other hand, received electricity mainly from the area including Germany and Benelux (22.2 TWh) and from Spain (8.7 TWh).
On gas, the situation is completely the opposite of France “imports almost all of the gas consumed on its territory”, indicates the CRE a report on French interconnections. In 2020, around one third of imports came from Norway, routed through an interconnection located in Dunkirk (North), according to data from the Ministry of Ecological Transition. These interconnections also make it possible to receive gas from non-European countries, in particular Russia (17% of imports before the war began) or Algeria (8% of French imports). “The gas connection with Spain is a supply route so that Algerian gas can reach France”says Thomas Pellerin-Carlin.
How do gas deliveries to Germany represent a turning point?
This is the first time that France will deliver gas directly to Germany. “So far we have sent gas to our neighbor via Belgium “, recalled Thierry Found, managing director of GRTgaz, the operator of the French gas transmission network, on Thursday. Work was needed to reverse the direction of traffic at the interconnection point on the Franco-German border, in Obergailbach (Moselle), which was designed to operate from Germany to France.
These deliveries are to help the neighbor across the Rhine, very dependent on Russian gas, to cope with the drop in deliveries decided by Moscow, in the context of the war in Ukraine. However, France currently holds more gas than Germany because it benefits from massive inflows from Norway and liquefied natural gas (LNG), particularly from the United States. These deliveries also allowed France to completely replenish its stocks for the winter.
Specifically, the amount of gas sold to Berlin through this interconnection can reach a maximum of 100 gigawatt hours per day. In order of magnitude, this corresponds to the power of four nuclear units or the equivalent of 10% of what France receives each day in LNG at its four LNG terminals, according to GRTGaz, which estimates it is capable of serving Germany. throughout the winter.
For its part, Berlin has pledged to supply electricity to France, weakened by nuclear production to a minimum. Currently, of the 56 French reactors, about thirty are still off, for reasons of maintenance, control or corrosion problems.
“France went from being a net exporter of electricity to a net importer of electricity.”Thomas Pellerin-Carlin
German deliveries are therefore intended to make up for the lack of electricity in situations of peak consumption, who put under strong pressure the hexagonal mesh.
What is the “European solidarity” of which Emmanuel Macron speaks?
With this political agreement between Berlin and Paris, “We will contribute to European solidarity in gas and we will benefit from European solidarity in electricity in the weeks and months to come”, launched Emmanuel Macron in early September, after his meeting with Olaf Scholz. This declaration follows the agreement signed on July 26 between the European heads of state, which recalls the “indispensable principle of solidarity” Between countries.
This “spirit of solidarity “ it appears already in the Lisbon Treaty of 2007. It has been supplemented by several “European directives and regulations”, accurate Thomas Pellerin-Carlin. In particular, it aims to maintain cooperation on the European market in case of gas or electricity supply voltage. Because “in a crisis situation, there may be political temptations to go back to national controls and export bans”, remembers the expert.
It is also the energy solidarity that this summer prompted the 27 to agree on the principle of reduction “voluntary” 15% of natural gas consumption up to March 2023. However, the agreement provides that this target can become binding assuming “of a substantial risk of a severe gas shortage” Where is it “exceptionally high demand”.
For the specialists interviewed by franceinfo, this solidarity in energy terms is essential for these interdependent countries. “SIf ever the German industry were to fall due to lack of gas, the first victim would be Germany and the second would be France “observes Thomas Pellerin-Carlin, who recalls that Berlin is “both the best customer and the best supplier of the French industry”. An analysis shared by Nicolas Goldberg: “SIf everyone thinks with their own national interests, in the end, we will all be losers. “