Europe can meet winter power demand despite French nuclear closures -grid lobby

* France faces lowest nuclear availability in 10 years

* Very cold snaps in Dec, Jan in France could raise risks

* UK has extra capacity to make up for lower imports

* Belgium system should be balanced

By Nina Chestney

LONDON, Nov 29 (Reuters) - Europe will be able to meet higher-than-normal electricity demand this winter even if nuclear safety checks tighten France’s power supply further, the ENTSO-E European power grid lobby said on Tuesday.

France faces its lowest level of nuclear power availability in 10 years, five gigawatts (GW) below last winter’s levels, because several reactors have been take offline for safety checks that will see some not return to operation until the end of the year.

French nuclear safety regulator ASN has ordered EDF to carry out tests on 12 nuclear reactors in a metal resilience probe related to high carbon concentrations in their steam generators.

Concerns have risen over recent months that France, which depends on nuclear power for more than 75 percent of its electricity, could struggle to meet peak winter power demand, causing spikes in French and other European wholesale power prices.

However, Europe can still meet demand, ENTSO-E said in its annual winter outlook report.

“Even if the situation in France will be tense, Europe has sufficient generation to meet normal and severe demand conditions in the winter of 2016/2017,” the report said.

France’s grid operator has said it will boost power imports. It could also pay some industrial customers to reduce energy consumption and might have to impose short, rolling blackouts in some parts of the country.

However, the French power system is very sensitive to weather conditions. A drop in average temperature by 1 degree Celsius leads to a load increase of 2.4 GW, ENTSO-E said.

“Risk can occur in the event of cold waves at least 3 degrees Celsius below normal temperatures in December and 5 degrees below normal temperatures in January,” ENTSO-E said.

During certain weeks, countries such as Czech Republic, Ireland, Poland, Romania and Slovenia might need to export excess renewable energy to neighbouring countries.

Germany and Denmark would also need to export power capacity.

The ability of Britain to meet power demand might be impacted by the situation in France. Usually reliant on France for power imports, Britain will need high imports from all neighbouring countries, ENTSO-E said.

However, under extreme circumstances, Britain can turn to additional capacity from gas plants, pumped-storage plants and short-term storage to cover any deficit from imports.

Belgium should have a balanced system this winter thanks to the return from maintenance of nuclear plants Doel 3 and Tihange 2 last year.

“However, in a severe winter situation, Belgium is still dependent on imports to cover demand,” the report said.

ENTSO-E represents transmission system operators in 34 European countries. (Additional reporting by Alissa de Carbonnel in Brussels; editing by Jason Neely)