UK and France Narrowly Avoided Power Supply Emergency Last Week

image is BloomburgMedia_RRKIJ7DWRGG101_19-03-2023_07-11-40_638147808000000000.jpg

Vapor rises from a cooling tower at the Golfech Nuclear Power Plant, operated by Electricite de France SA (EDF), beyond power lines in Golfech, France, on Monday, Feb. 27, 2023. Europe's largest fleet of nuclear reactors in France and their ability to rebound from a spell of prolonged outages and maintenance is key to the region diversifying its energy supplies in the absence of Russian supplies.

French and British grid operators narrowly missed having to declare a power-supply emergency last week during a late winter cold snap that coincided with low wind generation.

The UK was due to export electricity to France during peak evening demand on March 7. National Grid Plc’s control room issued a rare market warning of a looming shortage which couldn’t be addressed through usual measures like asking plants to generate more or by cutting consumption. 

The company asked French counterpart Reseau de Transport d’Electricite to sell back some of the exports that were due to flow to ease the situation, but the French grid said no, slides published Wednesday show. RTE said it needed the power and would have to ask for Emergency Assistance, a rarely used status.

RTE said it could only send power if Britain declared an emergency alert. National Grid instead fired up reserve coal-fired power plants for the first time to ease the situation, the slides showed.

Last week’s situation underlines the fragility of Britain’s energy system as old coal and nuclear plants shut down. Electricity imports via huge cables that run under the sea to markets in Europe like France and Norway are a key part of Britain’s energy security strategy. The UK network has struggled to balance the grid at times this winter when cold weather boosted demand wind output was low.

Ireland also restricted exports to the UK market because it was under the same pressure, grid data show. 

National Grid said in its winter outlook report that the base case assumes power imports from Europe are available when needed to meet demand — but that wasn’t the case last week. 

Later on March 7, some intraday trades were made on the interconnector to France to obtain imports to Britain and the coal reserve was stood down.

That day marked the first time the grid operator used coal-fired power reserved it was asked to procure to cope with a historic energy crisis. National Grid said it has been asked by the government to extend the reserve for next year, but Electricite de France SA, Uniper SE and Drax Group Plc all said their units won’t be available as such a backup in winter 2023-24.

That may prompt more forceful government intervention, especially as the coal reserve was needed this winter, according to the slides. 

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©2023 Bloomberg L.P.

By Rachel Morison


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