Like consumers, businesses are preparing for the possibility of power cuts this winter. In a circular sent to prefects on November 30, the government issued instructions concerning possible load shedding, the aim of which is to reduce consumption in order to avoid a blackout. We take a closer look at this new constraint and the associated concerns.
Businesses unprepared for likely load shedding in January
While electricity supplies are expected to be sufficient to avoid blackouts between now and the end of the year, the risk of shortages is higher at the start of 2023, due in particular to the reduced production capacity of EDF's nuclear fleet.
This production, initially estimated at 48 GW on January 1, may in fact not exceed 40 GW, due to maintenance operations on several reactors. To avoid a blackout, i.e. a widespread power cut across all or part of the country, scheduled power cuts, known as load shedding, could be implemented as early as January.
Businesses, just like private individuals, are affected by these load shedding measures, which could confront them with unprecedented situations. Maintaining the cold chain is one of the challenges to be met in the event of load shedding, both in supermarkets and pharmacies, as is maintaining production lines in factories.
This is all the more true in the event of a power cut, since nothing has really been agreed on the rules for compensation. For the time being, responsibilities are not clearly defined, and companies do not know who will be responsible for making up for lost profits due to loss of goods or delivery delays.
Although many companies have asked for quotes for the purchase of generators, few have taken the plunge. Currently, there are between 9 and 10 GW of gensets in France, many of which are connected to infrastructures considered critical (hospitals, for example), and therefore spared from load shedding.
Reduce electricity consumption to avoid power cuts
For the moment, the government is asking companies to focus on energy-saving measures. In addition to reducing bills, lowering electricity consumption also relieves pressure on the grid and could help avoid blackouts. According to RTE, the French grid operator, a reduction in consumption of between 1% and 5%, or even 15% in tighter times, would be enough to avoid blackouts.
Businesses and private customers will have 3 days to reach this target in the event of a power cut. Thanks to its Ecowatt online platform, RTE informs users of the state of the network by means of a color code. When the situation is tense in a given region, the color changes to orange, and all users are invited to reduce their consumption to avoid blackouts. To enable them to plan ahead, information is given 3 days in advance.
To date, around a hundred companies have said they are ready to relay this information to their employees, and to implement emergency measures to reduce their electricity consumption. Some, such as La Poste, are planning to recharge their electric vehicles at a later date in the event of major tension on the grid, while others (FNAC-Darty) are turning off the heating in 2-hour increments, or reducing it to 17°C (Kingfisher and Unibail).
To limit the risk of power cuts on the grid this winter, Aluminium Dunkerque makes a commitment to RTE: pic.twitter.com/JI7hiJiVcT- RTE (@rte_france) December 5, 2022
However, according to Xavier Piechaczyk, Chairman of RTE's Executive Board, efforts are insufficient in the tertiary sector, particularly in retail outlets and corporate offices. The industrial sector, which has been hardest hit by rising energy prices, is also the one that has reduced its electricity consumption the most, by around 15% in factories.