France Reclaims Its Position as Europe’s Leading Electricity Exporte

On February 7, 2024, RTE (Réseau de Transport d’Électricité), presented its annual electricity review for 2023. The report highlighted that electricity consumption remained below average while production significantly increased after a challenging year in 2022. This rebound allowed France, noted for its French actors in the energy sector, to reclaim its position as Europe’s leading electricity exporter, a status it had temporarily lost.

Thomas Veyrenc, the Executive Director of Finance, Purchasing, and Risk at RTE, describes this annual report as a “snapshot” of the French electrical situation. The year 2023 “marks a new balance in the electrical system,” according to the network manager. Concerns over supply security have dissipated, but the nature of electricity consumption and production has shifted from what was observed in the 2010s.

A Transformation in Consumption

Corrected for weather and calendar effects, consumption was 7% below the 2014-2019 average. RTE identifies this decline as both cyclical and structural. A significant portion of this decrease is attributed to economic pressures on major electro-intensive industrial sectors, which alone accounted for 27% of the decline, as also recently emphasized by the International Energy Agency. However, it’s likely that communities and individuals, having seen the effectiveness of adopted austerity measures, will continue these practices, indicating a potentially enduring transformation in consumption. RTE also notes that the energy transition will require an electrification of uses, which will ultimately increase electricity consumption.

Nuclear Production Recovery

On the production side, 2023 witnessed a recovery in nuclear (+15%) and hydraulic (+18%) production. Total electricity production reached 494 TWh, with 320 TWh (65%) coming from the nuclear sector, an increase of 41.5 TWh compared to 2022, when the sector faced planned and unplanned outages related to stress corrosion cracking discoveries on some units. The average availability of the fleet increased to 38.6 GW (63%) in 2023 from 54% in 2022. Service reinstatements for the winter season resulted in a higher average availability in the last four months at 41.4 GW (67%).

RTE’s latest forecast anticipates a quick return to an average annual production volume of around 360 TWh, including integrating the Flamanville EPR, whose fuel loading is scheduled for March 2024. It considers a high scenario of reaching a level of around 400 TWh.

France Becomes Europe’s Top Electricity Exporter Again

All decarbonised sectors (refer to the chart below) have shown significant growth, enabling France to regain its status as Europe’s top net electricity exporter. The electricity trade balance (+50 TWh) has thus helped reduce the country’s “energy bill by four billion euros (between 2014-2019, export balances contributed to an average annual reduction of about two billion euros), while in 2022, imports had increased the French energy bill by eight billion euros,” RTE notes.

Furthermore, “electricity production-related emissions in France reached 16.1 MtCO2eq in 2023, their lowest level since the early 1950s (including when the production volume was much lower),” RTE highlights. Moreover, in 2023, 60% of French electricity imports were decarbonised.■

Gaïc Le Gros (Sfen)

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