As winter approaches, the outlook in France is increasingly dire. Electricite de France SA, the state-owned utility, is running only 26 of its 57 reactors, with more than half of its chain undergoing emergency maintenance after the discovery of cracked pipes. With atomic reactors generating the lowest share of the country’s power in 30 years, France faces an electricity ‘Waterloo.’
The slump in nuclear availability is forcing France to rely more than ever on gas-fired plants, intermittent wind and hydro as well as imports. That’s pushing up the cost of electricity in the wholesale market for the whole of Europe, with French forward prices surging to almost 1,000% more than their decade-long average through 2020.
In the middle of the summer, when French electricity demand hovers around 45 gigawatts per hour, that’s not an insurmountable problem. But on a cold winter evening, when French households can push consumption above 80 or 90 gigawatts, it could be catastrophically expensive. Although the French economy is smaller than Germany’s, Gallic power demand surges well above that of its neighbor during the winter as households there rely more on electricity for heating and hot water.
While EDF has promised that at least some of its reactors will be back online in time for the colder months, the…