* Renewables, idled coal plants help Germany meet demand
* France sees price spikes as nuclear insufficient
* French nuclear future big debate point in elections
By Karolin Schaps
PARIS, Feb 14 Germany came to the rescue
of France during last week's cold snap by massively exporting
electricity to its neighbour, silencing critics who slammed
Berlin last year for abruptly shutting down 8 nuclear reactors
after the Fukushima disaster.
Critics said such a decision would put Europe's electricity
supply balance at risk and waved the possibility of widespread
blackouts as a result.
"The cold snap was a situation most experts feared and we
managed without bigger problems," said Stephan Schnorr, German
power trader at utility Dong Energy.
Instead, it was France which suffered from supply tightness
last week, pushing prices to two-year highs and prompting the
grid to issue warnings urging the public to refrain from using
electrical equipment, such as washing machines or coffee makers.
France, Europe's biggest electricity exporter, reverts to
imports during peak demand periods.
France heavily relies on electric heating developed by
successive governments to meet supplies generated by the
country's 58 nuclear power reactors. Germany, however, uses a
variety of heating methods including gas and fuel oil heaters.
This means that during cold snaps, French electricity demand
goes through the roof, forcing the country to import at full
capacity from its neighbours during peak demand.
When French demand reached a new all-time high last
Wednesday, the country imported from Germany at full capacity in
nearly all hourly blocks, grid operator data showed.
French electricity demand rises by 2,300 MW, or the
equivalent of two nuclear power reactors, per one degree Celsius
drop in temperatures, double the demand surge seen 20 years ago.
PRICE SPIKES IN FRANCE
While France was struggling with high demand, Germany, which
houses 37 percent of the world's solar plants, relied on its
growing renewable energy output and resurrected idled coal-fired
plants to cover a rise in electricity demand.
A spokesman for Amprion, Germany's largest high-voltage
network, said the situation on the network was very tense.
"Our colleagues are intervening on the network much more
than usually, but everything is under control," he said.
By contrast, France, the world's most nuclear dependent
nation which faces presidential elections in April, last week
experienced supply tightness which led to dreaded price spikes
predicted by experts.
French day-ahead power for peakload delivery, the 0800-2000
CET period when demand is highest in the day, rose as high as
628 euros per megawatt-hour (MWh) on the EPEX Spot electricity
exchange on Feb. 9, more than four times higher than the
France's electricity demand has been reaching new record
highs nearly every winter as 30 percent of homes use electric
heaters and as many as 65 percent of new homes are heated using
"One million mobile electric heaters are sold in France
every year, give or take, especially in large spaces," said Jean
Bergougnoux, a former chief executive of French energy giant EDF
"Many of them are used during cold periods, in poorly heated
locations and/or poorly insulated ones," he added.
The government has defended high use of power for heating by
arguing its nuclear power plants provide steady supply, but
record prices have put this in doubt.
Socialist presidential candidate Francois Hollande has vowed
to cut France's dependence on nuclear power and to shut down its
oldest nuclear plant on the German border if elected, making
nuclear power one of the main issues of the election campaign.
In contrast, President Nicolas Sarkozy's centre-right
government is trying to convince voters that nuclear power
plants should run as long as possible nearly a year after the
Fukushima disaster in Japan shook the world.
The government on Monday published a report saying
electricity bills would rise less in the years to come if the
country prolongs the lifespan of its ageing nuclear reactors.
(Editing by Muriel Boselli and James Jukwey)