Power Outage: Forecast Today and Over the Next Days


Power Outage: Forecast Today and Over the Next Days

POWER FAILURE. The risk of power cuts in France, considered very high at the end of 2022, finally faded completely this winter 2023. No orange or red EcoWatt signal was emitted by RTE, the network manager, mainly thanks to a strong lower consumption...

Power cuts will finally have been avoided during the winter of 2022-2023. After the panic caused at the beginning of December by a government load shedding plan, aimed at preventing electricity shortages during the coldest days of the year, the situation finally improved in January and February 2023, eliminating any risk of voltage on the electrical network.

On Thursday, March 16, 2023, in its Winter 2022-2023 report, the Electricity Transmission Network (RTE) reported that "more than the weather - a relatively mild winter with some marked cold spells - it's good the sharp drop in French electricity consumption and imports from European neighbors which have made it possible to avoid the emission of EcoWatt signals this winter – pushing back the risk of cuts". This risk of cuts could have been relatively high without these two factors, with "up to 12 EcoWatt 'red' signals" possibly emitted, "in the worst situation".

For winter 2023-2024, even if the situation looks more favourable, RTE's forecasts remain "cautious". As electricity cannot be stored, RTE, in charge of transmission and Enedis, in charge of distribution, must indeed coordinate at all times the levels of electricity production and consumption in the country.

In addition to a new tool, EcoWatt, aimed at encouraging French people to be sober and alerting them in the event of tensions, RTE provides, through the Eco2Mix platform, valuable data, updated in real time or almost, to establish the daily an electrical dashboard of the country. The latter showed a very contrasting situation between the start of the September school year and the end of winter: a France in chronic electricity deficit and therefore obliged to import several tens of thousands of megawatts from abroad every day in the fall; a more controlled situation from the end of the year holidays, with electricity production exceeding daily consumption; then new sequences of imbalance from mid-January.

The principle of EcoWatt is to determine whether the production capacities are able to meet the consumption of the moment, or expected in the coming days, on a national scale. Multiple data are therefore taken into account, such as real-time consumption and forecast consumption in France, as well as the maximum production capacities at the same times.

PRECISION: the data of the day and the day before are accumulations carried out by our care since the beginning of the day from the "real time" data made available on Data.gouv by the Open Data Networks Energies (ODRÉ), platform bringing together data from GRTgaz, RTE, Teréga and several other key organizations in the energy sector in France. Same-date averages for the past 5 years are calculated using "consolidated" data from 2017 to 2021.

Targeted and scheduled power cuts have been considered as part of a load shedding plan, planned by the government, in the event of high tensions on the electricity network during the winter of 2022-2023. A circular sent to the prefects at the beginning of December 2022 revealed the outlines, which could still be valid during the coming winters. In summary, if electricity production in France and imports are not in line with consumption at the coldest times of the season, Enedis, at the request of RTE, can preventively cut entire sections of the network to avoid blackout complete. A giant breakdown which, if left unchecked, would have even more serious consequences.

The fear of an electricity shortage during the winter of 2022-2023 has been fueled by electricity production disrupted since the summer by major maintenance operations and corrosion problems in French nuclear power plants. EDF thus predicted in the fall that around ten reactors out of the 56 in its nuclear fleet would still be disconnected at the end of January 2023 (up to 36 were shut down at the start of the school year in September). A forecast respected since at the end of January only 11 reactors remained to be restarted.

The government therefore communicated at the start of the school year in September 2022 on possible power cuts or scheduled load shedding in the event of high tensions during the winter. Officially, these cuts were only to occur in the event of particularly harsh winters and if eco-gestures during peak consumption are insufficient.

From October 18 at a press conference, RTE warned that the margins available in winter would be reduced and that "vigilance" would be required in winter until 2024. In early December, the electricity transmission network operator also established three winter scenarios specifying the number of these "red signals" according to several parameters (consumption and efficiency of the government's sobriety plan, temperatures, restarting the reactors, etc.). In the worst case, between 12 and 20 activations were envisaged and even between 20 and 28 if the winter had been very cold. A scenario that has gradually moved away.

The network operator announced on December 20 and then on January 19, in updating its outlook for the electricity system in France, a "medium" risk of tension until the end of winter, while it was "high" in the fall. In the report for winter 2022-2023, finally published on March 16 by RTE, Xavier Piechaczyk, Chairman of the Management Board, was delighted with a winter "without EcoWatt signal, and above all without cuts". According to the report "the availability of the nuclear fleet was in line with RTE's central forecast", but "the interconnection of European countries operated in a particularly fluid manner with electricity imports reaching 15 GW (leading to the exclusion of the degraded scenario)". Above all, "consumption fell in an unprecedented way from September" and "the winter was relatively mild with some marked cold periods, leading to avoid issuing a red EcoWatt signal".

The efforts of the French in terms of consumption were particularly underlined. "The gross decrease in consumption was very significant over the period (October to February). The effect of the energy crisis (price signal and sobriety efforts) represents around three-quarters of this drop, i.e. around -9 % compared to a winter at seasonal normals (around 20 TWh)", writes RTE again.

The winter of 2023-2024 could see the return of fears of tensions on the electricity network, RTE maintaining more optimistic forecasts while recalling that "the availability of nuclear power remains a key factor". A drop in temperature of 1 degree statistically leads to an increase in consumption of 2400 megawatts at the national level... However, according to the manager, a drop in consumption of 1 to 5% could already be enough to avoid power cuts during periods of voltages on the electrical network.

On the EcoWatt site, RTE details the "eco-gestures" to limit consumption, in particular between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. and between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m., in other words when the French start their day and economic activity increases, then when appliances household appliances are put back into operation and the heating is very busy in the evening, when some employees are still in the office and the public lights are switched on. Among these "eco-gestures":

If consumers' "eco-gestures" prove to be insufficient in times of tension and if the situation so requires, rotating load shedding would therefore be considered, in other words scheduled power cuts on part of the network for a given period. According to the government's plan, it is Enedis which should take charge of these power cuts, on the alert of RTE, by acting on entire sections of the network. The cut would occur at the source substations supplying neighborhoods or entire municipalities.

These cuts could occur "over a short period of less than two hours", in the morning between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. and in the evening between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m., i.e. the most consuming hours of the day according to RTE's estimates. They should be limited to one cut per day, but could be repeated over one or more days if necessary. The same address should not a priori be targeted twice in a row and cuts should not occur during weekends. In any case, they would be a solution of last resort. These terms were confirmed during the Council of Ministers of November 29, 2022 and specified in a circular from Matignon to the prefectures in early December.

If decided during the winter, power outages would first be announced with a red EcoWatt signal three days in advance on the EcoWatt website and app. A map of the departments concerned would be published the day before at 3 p.m. Then at 5 p.m., users will in theory be able to check if they are concerned on the Monecowatt.fr site, in a “Temporary cuts” space, where all they have to do is enter their address. It will also be possible to contact Enedis via the breakdown number indicated on the electricity bill. Enedis will continue to monitor the situation and may revise its plans until the end of the previous night, until the last minute. An announced power cut will therefore not necessarily be a power cut.

Voltage drops can also be decided preventively, in other words the reduction of the network from 230 volts to 220 volts, an almost painless measure for households according to the authorities. RTE can also issue a "shrinkage order" to hundreds of so-called "electro-intensive" industrial sites, in other words an appeal to the most greedy companies to postpone or reduce the use of certain devices or to supply themselves with internal energy sources. The voluntary disconnection of customers (in return for compensation) or the shutdown of the electricity supply to the 21 most "greedy" national industrial sites are also possible.