French winter power supply risk cut to 'medium', says RTE

Snow in Strasbourg
A man walks in the central courtyard of the European Parliament, covered by fresh snow in Strasbourg, France December 14, 2022. REUTERS/Yves Herman

PARIS, Dec 20 (Reuters) - The risk to French power supply from the start of January through the rest of winter has been reduced to 'medium' because of higher nuclear and hydropower availability as well as reduced demand from consumers, French grid operator RTE said on Tuesday.

Nuclear power utility EDF (EDF.PA) has faced an unprecedented number of reactor outages this year owing to delayed maintenance and stress corrosion, reducing nuclear output to 30-year lows just as Russia's war in Ukraine hit Europe's energy supplies.

French nuclear availability is now forecast by RTE to increase slightly to about 45 GW by the end of January - lower than EDF's projection of almost 50 GW - before decreasing again in February at the start of the maintenance season.

Refinitiv analysts told Reuters they agreed that EDF's January projections are too high, predicting 46.5 GW on average for January, adding that there is a moderate chance for higher than normal temperatures for the rest of winter.

Meanwhile, power demand is down 9% from the pre-pandemic five-year average, RTE said.

In recent months the French government has urged households and businesses to cut electricity use by 10%.

"The consumption reductions are greater than anticipated in the September analysis," the grid operator said in its report.

However, there is uncertainty on the level of demand destruction in industry when new prices are set in January, Emeric de Vigan, vice president of power at data and analytics firm Kpler said.

The French front-year baseload power price has fallen 25.8% since the beginning of December to Monday's closing price of 331 euros per megawatt hour (MWh), a contract low since late June.

Nuclear power availability topped 40 GW on Dec. 12, lifting supply to the top of the expected availability range, RTE said.

Combined with the replenishment of hydropower reservoirs during the autumn, which allowed hydro production levels to hit close to a record peak at 16 GW in December, this has lowered the risk for the rest of winter, the grid operator added.

Imported power from neighboring countries via interconnectors also reached record levels near 15 GW in recent weeks.

The filling level of French gas stocks has dropped to about 85% after beginning the winter near full, which is higher than previous years, RTE said.

There is no concern for the first part of winter thanks to high gas supply across the continent, but vigilance will be needed for the second half of winter and especially winter 2023-24, RTE added.

Highlighting the risks ahead, EDF on Monday announced the delayed restart of several corrosion-hit reactors, in some cases until as late as June.

Reuters Graphics Reuters Graphics
Reporting by Forrest Crellin Editing by Kirsten Donovan and David Goodman

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.