France may face "some days" this winter when insufficient electricity supply could mean power cuts, the head of French energy regulator RTE said on Thursday, as the government briefed local authorities on how to manage any possible outages.
"The situation entails risks, but one must not think power cuts are inevitable," Xavier Piechaczyk told France Info radio.
Piechaczyk in the interview stuck with the watchdog's last supply forecast, which had highlighted risks of shortages in January.
"Today we have 35 gigawatt of available nuclear power as of Dec. 1, the aim is to reach between 40 and 41 on Jan. 1 and to end the month at around 43, compared to a total capacity of 61", he said.
Piechaczyk said the forecast was modeled on EDF's nuclear maintenance schedule, with some additional delays already anticipated.
EDF has faced an unprecedented number of outages at its fleet of nuclear reactors, pushing nuclear output to a 30-year low just as Europe scrambles to replace Russian gas.
In RTE's scenario, there is a risk of "some days this winter" when the country's electricity monitoring application Ecowatt will display a red signal, Piechaczyk said. This would trigger a need to load users partially off the power grid.
Ecowatt is an app designed to allow consumers and businesses to monitor the power situation in real time so they can reduce consumption and avoid power cuts if the watchdog gives a warning signal.
But Piechaczyk acknowledged that so far not enough people use the app.
"We have 470,000 thousand subscribers to the SMS alerts and our app was downloaded around 300,000 times. That's not enough, we have to do more advertising", he said.
PARTIAL LOAD SHEDDING
The French government has sent binding instructions to regional government officials, seen by Reuters, which provide details on how to prioritise power allocation. It also urges them to meet with local authorities and businesses to make sure all emergency power generators are working.
"Any scheduled outages should not affect more than 4 million users simultaneously", the government said in the instructions, adding that local load shedding measures should not last longer than two hours and will be flagged by RTE at 1700 local time the previous day.
Critical sites such as hospitals can be exempted, the instructions said, while schools should close on days when there are insufficient supplies.
The regional government officials also were asked to ensure people receiving vital medical care get three days notice of any power cuts so they can be transferred to other locations.
Separately, government spokesman Olivier Veran told BFM television that if January was a particularly cold month, power cuts could not be ruled out.
"(But) we are not announcing to the French people that there will be power cuts," he added. (Reporting by Dominique Vidalon, Benoit Van Overstraeten and Elizabeth Pineau. Writing by Tassilo Hummel. Editing by Jane Merriman)