France is facing the possibility of keeping its last two coal-fired power plants on standby this winter to ensure the security of its electricity supply, according to the country’s national grid operator, RTE. While France is in a better position than last year, RTE warns that the increasing demand during the country’s long-term energy transition could put pressure on supply. In the event of a shortage in nuclear power production or a lack of renewable energy, the coal plants may need to be activated.
RTE’s executive director in charge of strategy, Thomas Veyrenc, emphasized the need for solutions to address longer imbalances in the energy system by 2030, in line with Europe’s decarbonization goals. He suggested that adding more flexibility, such as battery storage and tools to shift demand away from peak hours, should be a priority.
Currently, France relies on its 56 nuclear reactors, all operated by state-owned utility EDF, to generate approximately 70% of its electricity. However, many of these reactors have faced recurring corrosion issues and have been shut down or are undergoing maintenance, leading to a significant drop in power generation. As a result, France, which used to be a net power exporter, is expected to heavily depend on electricity imports from neighboring countries to meet the winter demand.
To address potential shortages this winter, the French government recently extended permission for power generating companies to burn more coal. However, authorities have also tightened regulations on the operation of the coal plants. Electricity producers will only be allowed to operate for up to 1,800 hours in the coming winter, compared to 2,500 hours last winter, according to the French Ecological Transition Ministry.
The remaining two coal-fired plants in France accounted for just 0.6% of the country’s power output last year. Veyrenc believes that these facilities could potentially be converted to process biomass or be replaced by smaller units running on biofuels or green hydrogen.
It is clear that France is facing challenges in ensuring a secure electricity supply as it undergoes its energy transition. With the need to balance increasing demand and the intermittent nature of renewable energy sources, the country must find innovative solutions to maintain a reliable power grid.