what scenarios in France in the event of an energy shortage?

Lowering your gas heating by one degree this winter, reducing your electricity consumption as an individual or business… multiple “low-energy” scenarios are on the table to deal with the energy shortages that France could experience in a few month. Other more extreme mechanisms that can go as far as power outages are also among the possibilities. Explanations.

There is a choice of water in the gas or electricity in the air in France a few months before autumn and winter. The executive is preparing, in fact, “for the worst-case scenario” concerning energy shortages that could affect the country, as declared on July 18, before the National Assembly, the Minister for the Ecological Transition, Agnès Pannier-Runacher.

Starting with gas, at the center of European concerns since the start of the war in Ukraine at the end of February. Russia is a major supplier of this fossil energy, since it supplied 40% of European gas in 2021 – and 17% of French gas in particular. But the situation has changed: there is a risk that Moscow will turn off the tap – in response to economic sanctions by European states. The main Russian gas pipelines have recently sharply reduced their deliveries to the EU, and the maintenance of the main one – Nord Stream 1, through which passes more than a third of the 153 billion m3 cubes of gas purchased annually by the EU – has only heightened the energy tension. He finally reopened his floodgates, Thursday, July 21, after ten days of shutdown.

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“The risk (of a gas shortage in France this winter, editor’s note) is very high,” explained Anna Creti, professor of economics at the University of Paris-Dauphine, scientific director of the natural gas economics chair and of the climate economics chair. “If we look at this winter and next winter, we don’t have enough gas resources to cover the next twelve months.”

More than 12 million main residences were heated with natural gas in France in 2020, according to data from the Center for Economic Studies on Energy. But unlike other European states like Germany, which imported 55% of its gas from Russia before the war in Ukraine, the fossil energy sold by Moscow represents only 17% of French energy supplies. Less dependence… which could also lead Paris to have to export more gas to other European states in greater difficulty, in the name of a European solidarity mechanism.

Still, the threat of a gas shortage in France this winter “is real and serious,” warned government spokesman Olivier Véran on July 20. He called “pay attention to the use that everyone can have of gas” and gave a practical example (lowering your heating by one degree during the fall) in order to collectively reduce the consumption of this fossil fuel.

On the same day, the European Commission detailed a plan to reduce Russian gas consumption by 15% this winter. In particular, it proposes to limit the heating of certain buildings, to postpone the planned closure of nuclear power plants… and, there too, to adjust the thermostat by one degree in private homes. This plan will be examined on July 26 by European energy ministers.

Interruptibility, brownouts and blackouts

In addition to gas, France’s electricity capacities in the coming months are also a source of concern. “If it’s cold, there’s no wind this winter and we don’t increase our electricity production with the French nuclear fleet, there could be a shortage of electricity. is not certain but it is within the realm of the possible”, explains Nicolas Goldberg, energy expert at Columbus consulting.

Nuclear power created, in 2020, 67% of total electricity production in France, and electrical energy was used to heat nearly 11 million main residences. But almost half of the nuclear fleet is currently undergoing maintenance: 27 reactors out of a total of 56 were shut down for this reason at the time of writing this article – and work must continue on some of them. over a period of several more months.

This situation leads to a drop in electricity production which does not compensate for renewable energies – the development of which has moreover fallen behind in France, to the point where it risks soon being financially sanctioned by the European Union.

And if the winter were to be too harsh in terms of electricity, RTE – the company which manages the electricity transmission network in France – could activate levers in order to adjust supply and demand for electricity. energy. Starting with the interruptibility mechanism: “Voluntary industries that consume a lot of electricity can be cut in a few seconds (between 15 minutes and an hour, ten times maximum over a year, editor’s note) to relieve the network, and they have in return, financial compensation”, specifies Nicolas Goldberg, who adds that RTE “rarely uses this mechanism, once in 2019 and again in 2020 in recent years”.

The other two more extreme levers have, for their part, “never been used in France until today”, affirms the energy specialist: “RTE can slightly lower, temporarily, the voltage on the electricity network English in order to relieve a little. She can finally use power cuts (“temporary, anticipated, localized and rotating” according to the RTE, editor’s note) for individuals and businesses for a maximum of two hours.

Sobriety and energy efficiency

But with electricity, as with gas, citizens are called upon to modify their daily behavior to avoid these omissions. RTE, for example, made several recommendations to reduce electricity consumption in France, in its report “Energy Futures 2050” published last June: more “shared” housing, “extensive development” of teleworking, the reduction of the heating temperature by 1°C… This plan could reduce consumption by around 5 to 10% this winter.

All these ideas fit more broadly into a plan of “energy sobriety”, of which the executive is made its hobbyhorse. Emmanuel Macron announced on July 14 that a political plan will be unveiled at the start of the school year (in September) to consume less gas and electricity in France. The objective will be to reduce energy consumption by 10%, compared to 2019, by 2024.

Companies are starting to take this path. Perifem, a federation which brings together all the players in the distribution sector, announced on July 18 the deployment of several measures from next October 15 “in anticipation” of a shortage of electricity: extinction of illuminated signs from closure, reduced lighting, more sober energy management in stores, etc.

According to Nicolas Goldberg, there is no “short-term” choice other than energy sobriety: “The means of producing energy (particularly renewables) take time to be implemented, so we have to play on the only lever we have at the moment, namely consumption”.

This change in usage will not be enough on its own to save energy. “In the medium term, we also need energy efficiency in France, such as for example an even more extensive renovation of buildings (there are 4.8 million thermal strainers in France, editor’s note)”, continues the specialist, who concluded “The current tensions over energy are set to last for several years”.


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