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French TSO flags nuclear supply risk mid-January to end-February

Highlights

Five reactors scheduled offline compared with three in Q1 2018

Q4 nuclear availability well above record lows in Q4 2017

Coal plant closures only possible after 2020: RTE

London — French power grid operator RTE warned Thursday of a period of heightened risk from mid-January to the end of February, with five reactors scheduled offline for maintenance.

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That compares to just three reactors offline during the same period in early 2018, it said in its winter outlook published Thursday.

France should have surplus margins all through the winter season even in the case of severe cold, with the exception of second week of January when the country's dependency on imports will rise, it said.

The need for imports could reach 9 GW the second week of January in the event of extreme cold weather, with a capacity deficit of 650 MW.

However, RTE said this generation gap can be bridged by post-market means, including appealing to citizens to cut consumption, use of interruptibility of large industrial consumers, lower voltage on the distribution networks, and as a last resort, temporarily cut supply that is localized and rotating.

By contrast, nuclear availability in the current quarter is well above record-lows in Q4 2017 with no concerns about security of supply, the TSO said.

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Nuclear availability is more than 4 GW above last year's levels until the end of the year. In addition, water stocks in the French reservoirs are above the seasonal average, with an average wind and solar power production pegged at 4.5 GW and 2.4 GW during the winter, RTE said.

RTE also presented Thursday its supply/demand outlook to 2023, concluding that planned coal plant closures would only be possible after winter 2020-21. France plans to close its remaining five coal units with 3 GW combined capacity before 2022 with the government having delayed its keenly awaited PPE energy roadmap setting targets for the period 2019-2023.

A similar long-term analysis by RTE in November 2017 prompted the government to postpone the legally binding target of a reduction of nuclear in the French power mix to 50% by 2025.

This nuclear reduction target is now envisaged to be achieved in the 2030s. Key issues for the next five years from the grid operator perspective are three new interconnectors (one to Italy, two to the UK by 2020-21) as well as the start of operations of the new 1.6 GW EPR reactor at Flamanville as well as the new 400 MW CCGT plant at Landivisiau, it said.

--Andreas Franke, andreas.franke@spglobal.com

--Anuradha Ramanathan, anuradha.ramanathan@spglobal.com

--Edited by Maurice Geller, newsdesk@spglobal.com