Renewables Helped France Avoid Freezing in the Dark

By Paul Gipe

French Wind Offsets Down Nuclear Reactors

& German Wind Likely Made the Difference during Arctic Cold Spell

In a startling development widely reported across Europe in the English-, French-, and German-language press, France imported electricity to meet peak demand during a brutal cold snap February 7, 2012.

And one of the countries France imported electricity from was Germany.

Post Fukushima, Germany closed two-fifths of its nuclear reactors and there were fears that Germany would not be able to meet its own demand let alone export electricity.

Nuclear reactors provided one-fourth of Germany’s electricity before Fukushima.

Available French nuclear capacity was operating flat-out with three reactors off line. However, France’s famed nuclear fleet delivered only 60% of the 100,000 MW of peak load experienced at 7:00 pm (19:00 hours) as millions of French homeowners switched on their electric heaters.

The remainder of demand was met by oil, coal, hydro, imports from neighboring countries, and renewables.

French wind turbines produced 3,600 MW at the time, or 3.6% of demand. There is 6,600 MW of wind capacity installed in France. Thus, wind delivered 55% of its installed capacity during peak demand, indicating good but not exceptional wind in parts of France.

The amount of wind generation during peak demand was roughly equivalent to the three nuclear reactors that were not available at the time.

France imported 1,800 MW or 1,8% of peak demand from Germany. (Note that the following table is subject to change as more information becomes available.)

Both French and German grid operators noted that there was never any danger of a blackout as operators held some hydroelectric capacity on standby as an emergency reserve.

German Supply during French Peak Demand

Meanwhile, Germany was enduring the same Arctic weather as France. The sun had set so Germany’s solar photovoltaic capacity was not contributing to supply.

Winds were lighter in Germany than in France, but Germany’s fleet of 29,000 MW of wind turbines was generating 6,300 MW at the time for about 22% of their potential.

Nevertheless, German wind turbines were providing 9% of total German demand, more than enough for Germany to export electricity to France.

Earlier in the day, wind and solar in Germany met nearly 12% of German demand.

It is likely that German biogas and biomass plants also contributed significantly to supply. However, the public data source, EEX Transparency Platform, does not report biogas and biomass separately from conventional generation.

  • Craig Morris: French power consumption exceeds 100 GW— Eleven months ago, when Germany shut down 40 percent of its nuclear power capacity, some experts warned of blackouts in the winter, but it turns out that the German grid is one of the most stable in the region. . .
  • Liberation: Le Grand Froid Met Le System Electrique en Haute Tension–Un pic passé toutefois “même pas mal”, dit-on du côté d’EDF et de sa filiale RTE chargée de veiller à l’équilibre entre consommation et production. Les moyens disponibles et programmables pouvaient assurer 95 GW, auquel on pouvait ajouter 5 GW de moyens diffus et une prodution éolienne réelle de 3,6 GW. Du coup avec 7 GW importés, soit 7% de la consommation, les marges de sécurité, avec plusieurs GW d’hydraulique mobilisables rapidement étaient conservées. . .
  • Brutal cold triggers reserve power plants–“We do not have a problem of supply, of quantity, it’s principally a question of stabilising the network,” a spokeswoman for the Germany electricity market regulator said. . . A recent study showed that Germany is now compensating for the off-line nuclear stations primarily with renewable energy: around three-quarters of the atomic gap. So although it’s been extremely cold recently, sunny weather in Germany helped fill France’s power shortfall caused by the country’s heavy dependence on nuclear energy. . .