November 30, 2010 / 2:15 PM / 9 years ago

France sees record electricity use on big freeze

* RTE predicts record power demand of 94,200 MW on Thursday

* French power imports at full capacity

PARIS, Nov 30 (Reuters) - Electricity consumption in France is likely to reach an all-time record on Thursday, as forecasts show temperatures will dive by 10 degrees Celsius below average.

French homes rely heavily on electric heating with around a third of domestic users equipped, against only around 5 percent in Germany, Europe’s largest economy.

French power grid RTE predicts electricity consumption will reach a record of 94,200 megawatts (MW), up 2 percent on the previous record in February of 93,100 MW as a result of a cold snap gripping the country.

The grid predicts temperatures will be 10 degrees below the average of 7 degrees for this time of year.

A one degree fall in temperature triggers additional demand of 2,000 MW, twice that of Marseille.

France decided after the first oil shock of 1973 to boost its energy independence, which led it to launch a vast nuclear energy programme which was not halted after the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 unlike in many other countries such as Germany.

France, also Europe’s largest electricity exporter, produces 80 percent of its electricity from 58 nuclear reactors and is building one new-generation reactor at Flamanville on the Normandy coast which is expected to start producing in 2014.

But some critics say this heavy reliance on nuclear energy weakens the French power/supply balance.

Nuclear reactors in France are designed to produce a steady amount of electricity for every day use, but not for peak demand as it takes several days to start a reactor.

French homes consume the most between 1800 and 1900 GMT during the winter when users return from work and between 1100 and 1200 GMT during the summer when air conditioning demand is in full swing.

During these peak demand periods France imports electricity generated by fossil-fuel plants, especially from Germany.

RTE said imports would reach over 9,000 MW in imports between 1800 and 1900 GMT on Tuesday, the maximum import level.

This supply situation forces France to import heavily during strong consumption periods as it lacks production facilities to produce peakload electricty. (Reporting by Muriel Boselli)

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