France's power net exports fell in 2012-grid
* France, a net importer from Germany every month in 2012
* France's biggest clients are Switzerland, Italy and Belgium
By Muriel Boselli and Michel Rose
PARIS, Jan 22 (Reuters) - French net electricity exports fell by nearly one fifth in 2012, hit by competitive German electricity produced from cheap coal and renewables, France's power grid operator RTE said.
France's power export surplus dropped by 21 percent in 2012 to 44.2 terawatt hours (TWh), although Europe's second economy remained the bloc's biggest electricity exporter, said RTE, a subsidiary of former power monopoly EDF, in its annual report on Tuesday.
For the first time ever, France was a net importer from Germany every month of last year, RTE added.
"This situation is quite paradoxical at first glance because Germany stopped 7 nuclear reactors in March 2011," RTE said.
The grid said the rise in German power imports was due to a big increase in sun power capacity and because coal-fired power plants were now far more competitive. Coal prices have dropped as a result of lower demand in the U.S., which has massively developed shale gas production in the last few years.
In 2012, France exported 5.2 TWh to Germany while it imported 13.9 TWh, bringing net imports to 8.7 TWh. France's biggest clients remained Switzerland, Italy and Belgium.
In the previous year, France exported a net 2.4 TWh to Germany after Europe's largest economy shut seven nuclear reactors in a reaction to Japan's Fukushima disaster.
Excluding the impact of weather, electricity consumption was stable in 2012 at 480 TWh once the closure of energy-hungry Eurodif, an uranium enrichment facility, was taken into account, RTE said.
While demand from the industry sector has fallen by 4 percent in 2011 and 2012, household consumption has risen continuously since 2002, with a 2.4 percent increase in 2012.
The sectors that saw their power consumption fall the most were the car and steel industries.
"Aside from the crisis-related impact, the trend reflects the evolution of the French industry which has become less energy-intensive," the CRE said.
Including the weather impact, electricity demand climbed by 2.1 percent compared to the previous year because of a cold wave at the start of the year that pushed demand to record levels.
On the production side, output has eased by 0.3 percent to 541 TWh, led by a 3.8 percent fall in nuclear production especially during the summer months, RTE added. (Editing by James Jukwey)