Montel Magazine 3 2022 - Pipeline sabotage 3 - Page 17

“ It is quite unlikely that EDF would restart reactors as planned in the
December-March period ”

EDF ’ s winter production forecast shrouded in fog

Amid a European energy crisis , political pronouncements and the state-run utility ’ s own estimates have done nothing to calm market jitters over nuclear output targets .
By Chris Eales
It is rare for the government to pronounce on future nuclear availability . But recent comments by France ’ s energy minister about reactor restarts have failed to lift a fog over EDF ’ s winter production outlook , analysts say .
Energy professionals know to expect the unexpected when trying to predict future French nuclear availability , particularly going into winter . Over the last five years or so the country ’ s nuclear sector has been hit by a series of setbacks including issues with steam generators , earthquake defences and more recently corrosion on safety circuits . These incidents have helped dent EDF ’ s nuclear availability as the firm has been forced to unexpectedly stop reactors and extend outages .
By contrast , energy minister , Agnes Pannier-Runacher , who has been in the job since May , appears to expect , well , the expected , at least as far as nuclear output is concerned . In early September she told a Paris press conference that state-run utility EDF had promised to restart 32 reactors this winter . This was based , she said , on the firm ’ s published schedules . Under EU Remit rules , EDF , and the region ’ s other power producers , must publish production estimates . Yet , at least in the French firm ’ s case , these estimates are notoriously unreliable , partly because they do not consider unexpected plant outages or unscheduled stops for fuel saving , analysts say .
Accurate production estimates are vital for a functioning market , especially as Europe grapples with an unprecedented energy price crisis amid a lack of Russia gas supply due to the fallout from the Ukraine war . This has been compounded by record low French nuclear output , with the country typically a key power supplier to neighbours . At the time of writing 27 of the country ’ s 56 reactors were out of service , with 15 undergoing corrosion repairs or probes , according to EDF .
Analysts , aware of serious gaps between EDF ’ s Remit figures and the “ reality ” of nuclear production , have dismissed Pannier-Runacher ’ s comments as “ political communication ”. The ministry is “ maintaining some sort of blur ” around the exact dates of restarts , Yves Le Thieis , vice president of Compass Lexecon tells Montel .
Nevertheless , her statement was duly picked up by Europe ’ s mainstream media and Germany ’ s economy minister , Robert Habeck , who trumpeted that “ France has promised us 50 GW by the start of January ”.
In September , French TSO RTE published its own estimates of reactor
Montel Magazine 3 – 2022 availability this winter . Its main scenario sees nuclear output climbing to 45 GW in January and February , about “ 10 GW lower that EDF ’ s Remit estimates ”, says Emeric de Vigan , vice president of power for French financial services firm Kepler .
That gap exists because RTE ’ s estimate is a “ conservative assumption reflecting what has historically happened between the published dates of restarts after maintenance and the actual restarts of the reactors ”, says Le Thieis . “ EDF ’ s view is trying to do the best they can to optimise the availability in winter , also linked to sub-contractor availability ,” he adds .
Yet there was also a “ huge ” 10 GW gap between EDF ’ s Remit estimates for Q4 and Q1 and the firm ’ s own , normally more reliable , annual nuclear output target , says De Vigan . That target is currently 280-300 TWh , though EDF has said it expects generation to come out at “ the lower end ” of the range .
“ Market players have always been used to a difference but this year it is incredible . It would be an absolutely extraordinary performance for them [ EDF ] and I ’ m surprised that they are still saying they are confident without communicating what they have put in place to achieve such an incredible performance ,” says De Vigan .
It is “ quite unlikely ” that EDF would restart reactors as planned in the December-March period , he says , adding “ at least not all will come back ”. EDF declined to comment on the accuracy of its Remit forecasts , although a spokesman said they were “ sticking to the planning ” but that it would publish any changes on its web pages .
The firm was targeting a doubling of French nuclear capacity to 50 GW by early January , its outgoing CEO Jean-Bernard Levy said on 14 September . “ Our aim is to have the same production this winter as last winter when there was no particular [ supply ] problem ,” he added . Meanwhile , the firm should improve its “ planning practices ” ahead of outages as they were below the standards of other industrial sectors , according to an audit commissioned by the government .
However , De Vigan says the status quo is untenable . “ We are facing a communications crisis because , yes , it ’ s political , ministers and CEO ’ s can make statements but then you have the real world where there ’ s a market with rules where consumers must go and buy their power for next year and now , they are flying completely blind . They have no idea what could happen .” n 17