France sets out its strategy for winter power cuts to homes

Cuts of up to two hours would affect millions of people under the plans. It comes as half of France’s nuclear power supply remains shut off

A photo of an electricity meter in the dark, with someone holding a candle in front of it
Power cuts will only last two hours at the maximum, if they happen, the government has said
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More than half (60%) of people in France could be affected by power cuts this winter, the government has warned, with train cancellations and school closures possible.

Prefects have been asked to warn their departments of any impending cuts, which, if they happen, are likely to occur in January, said a government statement.

Priority clients and sites, such as hospitals, will not be affected.

The government said that the cuts could affect the whole of mainland France. Corsica will not be affected as its power supply is also connected to Italy and has its own power production supply.

Possible plans include:

  • Limiting power cuts to two hours

  • Staggering cuts across the country

  • No household to be affected twice in a row

  • Giving at least one day’s notice

  • Not cutting off an entire department at the same time

  • Keeping cuts to within the hours of 08:00 and 13:00 and 18:00 and 20:00

The timetable for possible power cuts has been set to avoid schools from opening without lights, heating, or fire alarms. Yet, some schools are set to install generators and test them over the month of December.

No department will be cut off in its entirety. The cuts will look like a ‘leopard print’ rather than a blanket blackout, the government said.

Some trains and metro lines could be cancelled or stopped if a power cut is planned to prevent passengers from getting stuck during a journey.

Priority power unaffected

Around 40% of the population will not be affected as they are considered to be a priority. This includes hospitals, gendarmerie or police stations or people who rely on electricity for medical equipment.

Agences régionales de santé will also inform electricity networks of the local residents who depend on machines such as oxygen cylinders for their health so that they can receive advance warning three days before the potential power cut and, if necessary, are taken to a healthcare facility so that they can continue their treatment as normal.

How will people be notified of cuts?

A red EcoWatt signal will be issued three days in advance, allowing departments to know if they will be affected as early as possible. This will trigger updates online, which the public can consult.

Specific notice of power cuts at individual addresses will be searchable on the websites of electricity network managers Enedis and RTE by 17:00 the night before.

“The idea is that no-one should be surprised,” a government source told the AFP.

Prefects are also set to be asked to suggest power cut strategies that will enable electricity usage to decrease by 38% in the areas affected.

Anyone who needs emergency services during a power cut should use a mobile phone to call 112 rather than relying on local phone lines for the normal numbers to be working.

The government has said that mobile phone service should still work. However, the general director of network Orange, Christel Heydemann, warned the government that cuts could affect access to emergency services.

She said: “It is a fantasy to think that in case of a cut, we will be able to offer uninterrupted service. If mobile service is turned off in a geographical area for two hours, there will be no access to emergency numbers for a while.”

Power supply shortage

The power shortage, if it occurs, is a result of more than half of the nuclear power network being unavailable in the country. Some are undergoing scheduled maintenance, but others have been closed for longer than anticipated because of corrosion problems.

Cuts will only happen if the electricity supply becomes a problem, with supply dropping and usage increasing.

The statement said: “We will only make cuts, especially in January, if we have a production or connection problem, and if consumption doesn’t drop [at a given time].”

Government committees are working on plans for around six to 10 cuts, affecting six million people at the same time. They are also drawing up plans for a blackout scenario ‘just in case’, but it is not expected that this will be used.

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