Some 125,000 Parisians were thrown into darkness on Thursday night (December 8) after a vital transformer in the heart of the city crashed just after 20:00.
Some buildings were reconnected within 20 minutes, but it was was 22:00 before power was restored to the historic centre of Paris, with some areas not reconnected until later in the night.
Traffic lights, street lights and house lights powered down simultaneously as stunned Parisians fumbled their way around the mediaeval streets with little more than car headlights and phone torches for guidance.
Coupure de courant dans le 4eme arrondissement de Paris. Les rues aux alentours sont également concernées. pic.twitter.com/tPQcnp9VhL— Alban Barthélemy (@AlbanBty) December 8, 2022
Engineers sprang into action and a statement was put out by EDF blaming a "technical incident on an Enedis transformer," which led to the cutting of a "radial", a 225,000-volt underground high-voltage line.
The third, fourth, fifth and 14th districts (arrondissements) were particularly affected, according to RTE and Enedis. Around 60,000 homes were only briefly deprived of power while a further 65,000 around the Cardinal-Lemoine substation were affected for longer.
La coupure a touché le coeur historique de Paris. pic.twitter.com/vWRIUjDzAo— Juan Branco ✊ (@anatolium) December 8, 2022
The breakdown coincides with detailed discussions about temporary controlled power cuts.
With an energy crisis caused by the war in Ukraine and aggravated by maintenance problems in nuclear reactors, these cuts could potentially be scheduled to reduce strain on the supply network. Some 18 of the 56 French nuclear reactors are still shut down for maintenance or repairs.
Faced with the uncertainty of electricity supply this winter, many people in France are investing in generators to power essential equipment. For €2,000, a new 5,000-watt diesel generator installed in your garage can run for about ten hours on a full tank of petrol.
Although the government and operators are trying to reassure the population, 59% of the population remains convinced that there will be powerdowns.
Since the end of the summer, sales of generators have hugely increased at Castorama, with the biggest spike during the last fortnight, when four times as many machines have been sold as this time last year.
The government says that in any event, around 40% of the population and buildings will not be affected by any controlled cuts as they are considered to be a priority. This includes hospitals, gendarmerie or police stations and people who rely on electricity for medical equipment.