Electricity shortage in France: Will there be power cuts this winter?

Power cuts may be used as a last resort to manage consumption amid potential shortages. We explain how they could work

A photo of someone holding a candle up to an electricity meter
Power cuts would only last two hours, RTE said, and only be used as a last resort from January 2023
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France could have power cuts this winter, but they will last two hours at the most, and only be used as a last resort, electricity network RTE has said.

The cuts may happen as a result of the electricity shortage and difficulties in procuring gas. They will be more likely in January 2023, if some nuclear power stations do not start as planned.

This delay, which would be caused by the current difficulties in procuring gas, could lead to power cuts.

Read also:Explainer: What is Ecogaz, France’s new consumption alert tool?

Should they go ahead, they would be limited to two hours only, and typically at set times, including one slot in the morning, and one in the afternoon. They would help electricity consumption to drop by 1-5%, said RTE, which would help bring the network back from crisis level.

Some places that rely on a source of constant power, such as hospitals, will not be affected by the cuts.

However, people in France appear to have been using less electricity so far over this autumn and the start of winter.

With temperatures remaining relatively mild, many households have not yet put on their heating, or are using it less than in colder years. Electricity usage across France has been 5-7% lower this year so far than in previous years over the same time.

This may yet stave off the threat of power cuts due to overuse. In any case, RTE has said that the measure would only start being used from January 2023.

Read also: 'Automatic water heater switch-off could save France from blackouts'

Power cut measures

In order to arrive at a power cut, particular conditions must be met. These include a period of cold, rising electricity consumption, and power stations being offline.

Power cuts are not taken lightly by electricity networks, they have said. Each week, RTE analyses household usage across France, and uses this data to predict usage over the next few days.

Erik Pharabod, RTE delegate for the southwest, told France 3 that Ecowatt – the public website that shows electricity consumption levels – is “an app and a website that works like an electricity weather forecast”.

Read more: Winter power cuts: What risk in France and why an app can help

There are three levels of alert, as measured by Ecowatt.

  • Green: Normal consumption

  • Orange: Electricity system under tension. Energy-saving measures welcomed.

  • Red: Electricity system under high tension. Inevitable power cuts if usage does not drop.

Mr Pharabod explained that power cuts would be “decided a week in advance, once we have enough measures”. He said: “A signal would be sent via Ecowatt, three days in advance, to suggest that it may be needed.

“But it would only be the day before, with the final factors, that we would confirm a power cut or not, and its impact. The [power cut] time slots would be announced in advance and would be spread across the country.”

The measure would be used only sparingly, if at all, RTE said, to limit the impact on households and businesses.

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