Energy crisis: how our European neighbors are preparing for potential power cuts

It’s not just France that is at risk of power cuts this winter. Our European neighbors are also worried about the availability of electricity in the coming months. In question, the energy crisis linked to the war in Ukraine and the explosion of gas prices. Faced with the risk of cuts, strategies have been put in place. In France, the government sent an action plan to the prefects on December 1st. But the threat of a shortage of electricity is not the same according to the European countries.

A report by the European Association of Electricity Transmission System Operators published in early December thus places France in first place among countries at risk. France is followed by Ireland, in second position. Sweden and Finland could also experience inconveniences, in particular due to the unavailability of certain nuclear power plants. Outside the European Union (EU), Switzerland, dependent on France in winter, and the United Kingdom, which heats largely with gas, are considered vulnerable.

Countries under tension

London has also prepared a plan, similar to that of France, presented at the end of November. The National Grid (the British equivalent of RTE) has thus warned that cuts could be imposed on certain households in the country “from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.” in January and February, alternatively, “if gas resources from Europe are insufficient”reports The Independent*. Public services and companies should not be affected by these measures.

Like in France, power cuts are considered “like the worst-case scenario” United Kingdom. If the situation becomes critical, the country first plans to reopen several coal-fired power plants, reports Reuters. Ireland, very dependent on gas, could also suffer blackouts. But the government has not prepared a plan, even if the authorities encourage the inhabitants of the country to reduce their consumption during peak hours.

Switzerland, which could also be affected, is betting on energy sobriety. At the end of November, the Federal Council presented a plan in the event of an imminent shortage of electricity”reports RTS. Several levels are thus provided, the first comprising “urgent calls to reduce consumption” but also a limitation of the maximum temperature of washing machines or “the ban on advertising lighting between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m.”. At the highest alert level, Switzerland could ban “to operate sports facilities or hold cultural events”, but also force the biggest consumers to reduce their consumption. Load shedding would not be implemented “as a last resort”.

Will consuming less be enough? ?

Like Switzerland, Germany is betting on reducing its consumption, after choosing to postpone the closure of its last three nuclear power plants. The Civil Protection Office thus considers “that a large-scale blackout in Germany is particularly unlikely”although targeted cuts could take place in certain regions, reports the site TheLocal.de*. The German authorities have nevertheless prepared an emergency cash delivery plan, in the event of cuts, to “that the economy continues to function”reports Reuters*.

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While not all EU countries face the same risks, all have committed to reducing their electricity consumption. At the end of September, the EU-27 reached an agreement with the Commission to reduce their electricity consumption by 10%, and by 5% during peak hours. Most States have therefore implemented incentive measures aimed at consumers and businesses. Italy, for example, has made it compulsory to adjust the heaters* at a maximum of 19°C instead of 20 previously.

These policies seem to be bearing fruit. In October, the drop in consumption by households and businesses has been exceptional in the EU : around 25% compared to 2019-2021, according to calculations by the Brussels economic think tank Bruegel. In France, electricity consumption fell by 10% in November compared to 2021. A result “beyond” expectations of EDF, which may announce a winter without power cuts.

* Links followed by an asterisk refer to articles in English.

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