The German energy crisis, with its desperate attempts to save up gas for the winter, is well-documented; less publicised is the electricity situation in France. France has quietly overtaken its neighbour in terms of energy volatility. With currently only 26 of 57 total nuclear reactors working, electricity prices recently soared to €507 per megawatt hour. Private consumers are protected by a price-cap, but businesses have to deal with the highest prices in Europe, which puts additional pressure on the French economy. With winter approaching, so too is the threat of blackouts, a hazard more likely than ever if current shortages aren’t alleviated.
Under normal conditions, nuclear energy contributes to around 70% of France’s energy needs, but due to numerous plants undergoing maintenance, this number has dropped to 59%, increasing French dependence on gas, renewables, and imports. This shortage has led to electricity prices being more than ten times higher than the average price between 2010 and 2020.
Current energy production is sufficient for the summer, with average French energy consumption around 45 gigawatts an hour. Winter consumption tends to be almost double, and, to make matters worse, electrical heating is far more widespread in France than in, for instance, neighbouring Germany. At such a rate, that might lead to France becoming the first European country unable to avoid blackouts this winter. To stave off such a scenario, businesses using a lot of energy may periodically be cut off for time periods between 15 minutes and one hour to relieve the burden on the electrical grid. Companies affected by this would receive financial compensation. On top of that, private households are encouraged to reduce energy consumption to avoid a blackout.
French energy deficiencies have inadvertently brought to light structural problems in the nuclear plants. Over the course of the COVID pandemic, scheduled maintenance of many nuclear plants in France had been postponed. Recent inspections revealed that the nuclear plants are old and in dire need of intensive maintenance. The plant Gravelines in the North of France is in need of repairs that will last half a year, as an inspection revealed massive corrosion damage.
Bloomberg, who reported on this issue first, quotes the French energy provider as promising that “at least some of its reactors will be back online in time for the colder months,” but adds that “the company has a nasty habit of over-promising and under-delivering.”
This leaves French people with little more to do than hope for a mild winter.
David Boos is an organist, documentary filmmaker, and writer for The European Conservative and other publications.