December 1, 2014 / 4:14 PM / 4 years ago

Belgium power situation critical all winter if cold snap

PARIS, Dec 1 (Reuters) - Belgium will have to import electricity every week this winter because of its offline nuclear reactors if there is a cold snap and low wind and solar energy output, Europe’s power grids group said on Monday.

Belgium’s power supply security became a concern after three reactors, accounting for about half of its nuclear capacity of 5,700 megawatts (MW), were taken offline because of cracks in their steel reactor casings.

Electrabel, which operates Belgium’s seven nuclear reactors and is part of France’s GDF Suez, temporarily shut a fourth on Sunday after a fire, with no restart date yet.

“The situation in winter 14-15 will potentially be very stressed for the Belgian system,” the European Network of Transmission System Operators for Electricity (ENTSO-E) said in its winter outlook.

It said even with normal weather and renewable energy production, Belgium will probably be structurally dependent on imports to cover evening peaks on weekdays for some of the winter, with a need of 800 MW.

In the case of a cold snap, temperatures that occur once every 10 years on average, and if wind and solar power production are low, Belgium’s import need will jump to 3,600 MW, even after strategic reserves are used.

“Apart from the holiday period, all weeks can potentially be critical,” ENTSO-E said.

The power grid group based its scenarios on the assumption two of Belgium’s nuclear reactors would be offline throughout the period from Dec. 1 to April 20 while a third would resume production at the start of 2015. The report was compiled before the fourth reactor shut at the weekend.

Weather Services International (WSI) said last week that while above-normal temperatures are expected across Europe into December, northern and western areas will likely experience colder weather after the New Year.

ENSTO-E also said in case of severe winter conditions, all power interconnections between a bloc comprising Belgium and France on the one hand and neighbouring countries on the other would be saturated.

“Under such circumstances, the use of contracted strategic reserves in Belgium and contracted emergency load reduction measures in France will be quite probable for next winter,” the report said.

The French power grid, RTE, said last month it would be able to export power to Belgium all winter.

Overall, ENTSO-E said supply in Europe would be sufficient to meet 2014/15 winter demand even under severe conditions.

For a link to the complete report, click on: here (Reporting by Michel Rose; additional reporting by Robert-Jan Bartunek in Brussels)

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