Europe faces winter of rolling blackouts and energy squabbles

A gift to Mr. Putin
European countries facing energy shortages will be bidding against each other for scarce energy supplies at times of peak demand this winter.

Leadership failure by the EU Directorate means there is no system to “share the pain” between countries when the Ukraine-led energy shortage bites. Belgian prime minister Alexander De Croo has warned Europe could face up to 10 difficult winters as a result of the standoff.

The UK government is considering a “revenue cap” on electricity generators in line with a similar move by the European Union. The UK budget announcement this week will contain a tax of 40 per cent on the “excess returns” produced by the sector above a certain price per megawatt hour, according to people close to the discussions. That threshold has not yet been decided. Energy prices for a typical UK family will have tripled between 2021 and 2023

The head of France’s electricity grid warned yesterday that his country is at risk of electricity shortages this winter, as problems with its nuclear power stations mount. Xavier Piechaczyk, president of the Reseau Transport d’Electricite (RTE), said it is in a state of “state of particular vigilance”,  in a warning that also raises questions for Britain’s power supplies this winter.

National Grid in the UK is hoping to be able to import power at times of peak demand if gas shortages mean not enough electricity is being generated domestically but it will be competing with every other energy provider on the continent to do so.

France typically exports electricity to other countries but is less able to do so given half of its nuclear power stations, which are owned and run by EDF, are currently offline, either for maintenance or as a result of corrosion problems. The widespread shutdowns add to the strain on the energy system caused by gas shortages, creating the risk that Britain and Germany will struggle to meet needs at peak times this winter. National Grid has warned there could be blackouts in the UK.

RTE is publishing a forecast of electricity supplies up to four days in advance, known as Ecowatt, to try and help manage the system. If supplies are looking tight, it will launch a “red alert” calling on users to cut consumption.

Early last week, French power prices for January surged above €1,000 per megawatt hour after EDF cut its electricity output for the fourth time this year. Prices have since fallen back, though remain far higher than in neighbouring countries.

Mr Piechaczyk said he was taking a “cautious” approach to nuclear plant availability in RTE’s forecasts, Bloomberg reported, given the risk of maintenance taking longer than planned.

France is one of several countries that trades electricity with Britain, helping balance out supplies on both sides. In its winter outlook published in October, Britain’s National Grid warned it may have to impose rolling power cuts if gas-fired power stations cannot get all the fuel they need and imports from Europe cannot plug the gap.

National Grid is running a scheme under which British households will be paid to cut demand if needed. It confirmed last week it would use this scheme to support exports to the continent in extreme circumstances.

There are major strains on gas supplies as a result of cuts in Russian supplies of gas to Europe amid its war on Ukraine.

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