Paris dims lights as power cuts threaten disaster for Macron
Jeantet of Enercoop says: “In the evening in winter, when everyone comes home from work and turns on the heating, there is a big peak and it is the most dangerous moment.”
Unlike the United Kingdom, the French government is trying to reduce consumption by 10% over two years thanks to an “energy sobriety” plan.
Government offices turn down the heat and remote working is encouraged. Companies are asked to reduce their consumption, while households will receive cash bonuses if they reduce their consumption. Macron even sported a turtleneck sweater as a symbol of his desire to stay warm in cooler offices.
However, French consumers have been protected from the worst price rises by limiting the amount of their bills, measures that EDF is pursuing the government. Some industry bosses say it may dull any drive to cut household usage.
A spokesperson for EDF specifies: “We have this stress corrosion problem on the existing fleet. Obviously we’re worried he’s come on in the worst year we could imagine. »
They say “this winter is going to be tough,” but the company wants most reactors to be available by early December.
“It is obviously very dependent on the temperature because we have a lot of electric heating in France”, he specifies.
“We expect maybe a few percent less consumption than a normal winter, but not much.
“We will do our best to get the power generation we need.”
On the French Normandy coast just 30 miles east of Guernsey sits Flamanville 3, a nuclear reactor under construction that many see as symbolic of the country’s energy problems.
EDF plans to start producing electricity next year from this next-generation reactor on the granite cliff, but the project is delayed by a decade and is several billion euros over budget.
Weeks before the invasion of Ukraine triggered Europe’s energy crisis, Macron announced that up to 14 new reactors would be built by 2050, a drive he wants to turn into a nuclear “renaissance”. The Flamanville 3 delays are blamed on the loss of skills within the industry after a lack of new reactors in recent decades – a solvable long-term problem, but not one that can be solved this winter.
Xavier Ursat, executive director of engineering and new nuclear projects at EDF, believes that France must develop renewable energies in addition to its nuclear power.
“What we can learn from this story is that we need margins in power systems,” he says.
“Obviously we need to develop onshore/offshore renewable wind farms, solar parks and at the same time we need to operate the existing park longer and put new reactors on the grid.
“What is certain is that electricity consumption in 2050 will be higher than today and we need low-carbon electricity if we want to decarbonize our economy.”
A battle is now under way to secure France’s future energy needs. Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Rally party, called on France to switch to a more nuclear-dependent system in the presidential election it lost earlier this year.
Jean-Philippe Tanguy, MP for the National Rally and one of Le Pen’s energy specialists, declared: “There are countries which have the opportunity and the privilege of mastering nuclear energy.
“[For countries] who cannot have nuclear energy… wind and solar are the solutions for the climate transition. But for France, it was an irrational choice because our energy and electricity were already decarbonized.
He says the current problems are due to a lack of investment, and argues that a switch to renewables in France would be irrational.
Meanwhile, many in the energy industry want diversification of energy sources and politicians to overcome barriers that are holding back renewables, such as nimbyism.
After France missed numerous revolving targets, Barbaro at Neoen is optimistic of a catch-up in the coming years following efforts to streamline the approval process. He thinks France can avoid blackouts, but laments the lack of green energy.
“I really regret that compared to what we see in Germany and the UK, public awareness is not where it should be,” he says.
“Even if it’s only 60% renewable energy, it would work very well given the characteristics of our country and it’s really a shame that we don’t take advantage of it more. It could really work: solar, wind, hydro and biomass could really be 50/60/70% of the mix without adding costs to bills.
To prevent the lights from going out, France is now counting on no hitch to restart the reactors, a mild winter or perhaps a little help from neighbors.
Macron is taking steps to bolster France’s future energy security, but could be punished by decades of neglect if there is a shortage.
For this winter at least, as the Eiffel Tower darkens, it looks like the dice have already been cast.