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Power grid operator RTE estimated on Friday that there was now a “high” risk of tensions on France’s power grid in January, due to the slower-than-expected restart of EDF nuclear reactors.
Towards a complicated month of January? This is the estimate of the electricity grid operator RTE, which announced on Friday 18 November a high risk of tensions on the French electricity grid in January.
The reason: the slow restart of the shut down EDF nuclear reactors.
The risk of using the Ecowatt system, and in particular of the red alert signal, appears “high in January but will largely depend on the weather conditions and on the possible occurrence of even a moderate cold wave”, according to the monthly update of the “Perspectives of the electricity system published” by RTE.
The risk is increasing that RTE will ask the French to reduce their electricity consumption in January, otherwise there will be a blackout, especially as maintenance of EDF’s reactors has been delayed due to a strike. “The month of January now concentrates more risks” than in its previous analysis, writes RTE.
Voluntary and targeted power outages
Jean-Paul Roubin, Executive Director in charge of the “Customers and management of the electricity system” perimeter of RTE, recalled that if voluntary and targeted interruptions of electricity were decided, as part of the so-called “load shedding” measures, the people might be interested as they are not classified as priority consumers.
“By wards, on average, the non-dispersion power is about 38%. This means that it is likely that 62% of the consumption can be eliminated, so (…) there will obviously be a large number of individuals, families , but also artisans and small SMEs that will be cut at that time,” he said.
“All the means of production available – gas, coal, fuel oil – will be started before we cut them; it is unthinkable to cut off consumers by stopping the means of production (which are) available”, Jean-Paul Roubin however recalled.
For the moment, the drop in electricity consumption, observed for several weeks (-6.6% over 4 weeks compared to the average from 2014 to 2019), “reduces the risk to the security of supply” of electricity for the winter.
But uncertainties remain due to the record unavailability of EDF’s nuclear fleet this winter. With nearly half of its 56 reactors shut down for scheduled maintenance or known or suspected corrosion problems, nuclear electricity generation is expected to hit an all-time low this year, between 275 and 285 terawatt hours (TWh).
Over 60% of nuclear capacity available in January
Therefore, according to the “most likely scenario”, only about 40 gigawatts (GW) of nuclear fleet power should be available in early January, according to RTE forecasts, or about 65% of installed nuclear capacity. The prospect of reaching 45 GW, as initially envisaged on 14 September by RTE in the presentation of its winter scenario, now appears “unlikely” but “not impossible” according to Thomas Veyrencq, executive director responsible for RTE’s strategy, forecasting and evaluation , during an online press conference.
EDF, for its part, expects in its official calendar an availability of 48 GW on January 1, according to AFP’s analysis.
“We have noticed a small but real deviation from our central scenario, a delay of about two weeks,” on the forecast of nuclear fleet availability, a deviation that could be “more significant” in January, according to RTE.
The reasons: the “social movements” of September and October, which blocked the works, but also “delays and technical risks” in ordinary maintenance. However, this situation is not linked to the interventions to solve the stress corrosion cracking problems, planned on 16 reactors considered “sensitive or very sensitive” to this phenomenon.
Until then, the probability of activation of the Ecowatt red signal which warns of possible targeted cuts by sending an alert appears “improbable” for the end of November, and “average” for the beginning of December. Other Ecowatt signs are green and orange.
“The level of quantitative risk is the same throughout the winter. But it will be distributed a little differently: less risk in December, more in January, less in late February and March. But quantitatively during the winter it is the same risk and therefore the number of predicted Ecowatt red days has not changed since what we published in September,” explained Thomas Veyrencq.
In case of normal winter, the number of activations of the Ecowatt red signal is estimated to be 0 to 2, and 0 to 5 in case of cold winter, RTE said.
With AFP and Reuters