* France a net importer from Germany every month in 2012
* France's biggest clients are Switzerland, Italy and
* French nuclear output down in 2012, short of EDF target
(Adds quotes, details)
By Muriel Boselli and Michel Rose
PARIS, Jan 22 France's net electricity exports
fell by nearly a fifth in 2012, hit by competitive German
electricity produced from cheaper coal and booming renewables,
French power grid operator RTE said.
The power export surplus dropped by 21 percent in 2012 to
44.2 terawatt hours (TWh), although France remained the European
Union's biggest electricity exporter, RTE said in its annual
report on Tuesday.
For the first time ever, France was a net importer from
Germany every month of last year, added RTE, a subsidiary of
former power monopoly EDF.
"This situation is quite paradoxical at first glance because
Germany stopped seven nuclear reactors in March 2011," RTE said.
German power exports increased due to a big expansion of its
solar power capacity and because coal-fired power plants became
more competitive, RTE said. Coal prices have dropped as a result
of lower demand in the United States, which has massively
developed shale gas production in recent years.
The share of Germany's power production coming from
renewables such as wind turbines and solar panels increased by
1.6 percentage points to 21.9 percent in 2012, industry group
BDEW said earlier this year.
Germany's subsidised renewable power has priority grid
access and flows throughout Europe via interconnections. When
renewable output is high in Germany, this weighs on its spot
prices and makes its power attractive in neighbouring countries.
"Can we predict whether Germany could become Europe's
biggest electricity exporter? I don't know," Dominique Maillard,
the head of RTE, told reporters at a news conference.
"At some point France will also have surpluses of renewable
energy production to offload, which will weigh on its spot
prices," he said.
NUCLEAR OUTPUT FALLS SHORT OF EDF TARGET
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 2011, France exported a net 2.4 TWh to Germany after
Europe's largest economy shut nuclear reactors following Japan's
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,
While demand from industry fell by 4 percent in 2011 and
2012, household consumption has risen continuously since 2002,
with a 2.4 percent increase in 2012.
Power consumption fell the most in the car and steel
"Aside from the crisis-related impact, the trend reflects
the evolution of French industry, which has become less
energy-intensive," RTE said.
Including the impact from weather, electricity demand
climbed by 2.1 percent from the previous year because of a cold
wave early in the year that pushed demand to record levels.
On the production side, output 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.
French nuclear production fell to 404.9 TWh in 2012 after
EDF had to carry out more maintenance than expected at its fleet
of 58 nuclear reactors. The figure compared with a forecast for
an increase to 420-425 TWh, which EDF made in February last
(Editing by James Jukwey and Jane Baird)