What impact are the recent French nuclear outages having on the UK power system?

As the days grow shorter and temperatures drop throughout winter, demand for energy increases, along with costs. However, energy prices are not influenced by weather only. Currently, issues with French nuclear power is putting a lot of pressure on UK power prices.

At the moment, France is experiencing a major shut down of nuclear power after 5 power plants have been found to be at risk of failure, and in total another 20 power reactors are currently under heavy maintenance. The French power system is currently under much pressure, as two thirds of French power generation is normally made up of nuclear power. The current nuclear outage has impacted massively on generation, decreasing supply and storage for winter.

So what does this mean for the UK? The French IFA Interconnector imports around 2 Gwh of electricity per day to the UK, however due to the recent shutdown of nuclear power in France, imports have partially ceased. In fact over the last few weeks the IFA Interconnector has been running in export mode to France at reduced capacity during the day, then returning to import mode when UK demand reaches its daily peak each evening. The impact this is having on UK power prices has already been dramatic. The immediate front months have seen the most activity, where power prices have increased over the last month by around 20% for November 2016. These nuclear outages are expected to last for at least three months, but extensions to the various outages may be put in place if further maintenance is required.

French nuclear power is at its lowest production levels in 18 years, and as a result, coal is beginning to increase in price as various European countries are attempting to replace the lack of nuclear power with coal fired power. Consequently, National Grid has confirmed they will be encouraging ten coal and gas-fired power plants, including Eggborough coal power station, to remain on stand-by to provide spare capacity for the UK in the event that the power system becomes extremely under supplied. Eggborough power station was due to be shut down permanently, however given the recent power supply issues, this has been postponed.

For the foreseeable future the UK power system will remain tight, despite being able to rely on coal and gas-fired power to meet UK power demand. EDF Energy have outlined they are aiming to get the major 5 nuclear power stations back up and running before the end of the year, however until then, market power prices for the upcoming winter months will most likely continue to be unpredictable.



Sources: Npower (RWE), National Grid, SSE, Gazprom Energy, Engie