Full storage in France, the guarantee of a quiet winter?

Full storage in France, the guarantee of a quiet winter?

Build a new LNG terminal in front of Le Havre, with the aim of reducing our energy consumption by 10% in two years… Two levers activated by France to avoid gas shortages in the coming winters, in this new geopolitical context for the war in Ukraine. A third is added: fill our gas storage capacities to the maximum. “We are aiming 100% at the beginning of the fall”, launched Elisabeth Borne, the Prime Minister, on June 23, during a visit to the national gas control center in Ile-de-France.

This Wednesday October 5th we are there. After Belgium and Portugal, France becomes the third European country to have its gas storages 100% filled, the Energy Regulatory Commission (CRE) announced in a press release, but also Storengy and Teréga, which operate the sites. storage in France. They are eleven in number, all underground cavities with a total capacity of 130 terawatt-hours (TWh).

Very useful reservations

This covers a third of our annual gas consumption. Even more so if we look only at the gas winter, between November 1 and April 30, a period in which our gas consumption is greater and in which stocks run out. “In these five months, around 300 TWh are consumed in France”, specifies Estibaliz González Ferrer, director of Strategy and Sales at Storengy. “Gas storage contributes to more than 50% of our daily needs during cold winter spells*,” she adds.

This shows the strategic importance of these reserves, during a “classic” winter, but even more so for the one that arrives. Because we will have to do without Russian gas, which represented approximately 17% of French imports before the outbreak of the war. It is not the first time that we entered winter with almost full reserves. “This has already been the case in recent years with fill levels above 90% in mid-October,” specifies Gilles Doyhamboure, Director of Trade and Regulation at Teréga. “What’s new this year is that we reached these very high levels earlier than usual,” he continues. It is very positive to be calm about the state of our stock well before winter. »

But they do not shelter us from a complicated winter

What to be a little more serene then… However, neither Estibaliz Gonzalez Ferrer nor Gilles Doyhamboure tell us that they are safe from a difficult winter. None other than Anna Creti, professor of economics at Paris-Dauphine University and director of the Climate Economics Chair. “These stocks are not emergency reserves that we would draw on only if we really needed them,” she says. We know that we will have to use them, not only to cover French needs, but also, possibly, those of our European neighbors in the name of the principle of European solidarity. »

In other words, these 100% filled deposits should not be considered a “bonus”. GRT-Gaz, France’s main gas carrier, and Teréga (which also transports it), counted on him in their outlook for this winter, published on September 14. Whether the winter is very cold or medium, without marked cold spells*, all gas supply sources will have to be mobilized, both companies conclude. There are three: the interconnections with the gas pipelines of neighboring countries, the LNG terminals (delivery of liquefied natural gas by ship) and finally storage.

Reserves to conserve as much as possible

The whole challenge then, stresses Anna Creti, is to use these 130 TWh stored as finely as possible, “in support, as far as possible, of the other two sources of supply”. With this difficulty, specific to gas, “we cannot draw on reserves with the same ease as we can with oil”, continues the professor of economics. A matter of pressure, explains Gilles Doyhamboure. “The more these reserves are emptied, the lower the pressure and the lower the extraction power, which then reduces the capacity we have to quickly mobilize this resource in the event of consumption peaks”, he specifies.

This is not a detail, especially if we experience late cold snaps next year, as is not uncommon in April, and gas storage is already underway. Hence the imperative to preserve reserves as much as possible. It doesn’t depend so much on Storengy and Teréga. “It is the gas marketers – who also fill these stocks – who decide when to resort to these reserves”, recall Gilles Doyhamboure and Estibaliz González Ferrer. The problem, specifies the latter, is that these suppliers may have no choice but to use these stocks very soon, “in the event of early cold waves for which the other sources of supply would no longer be sufficient to meet the demand for gas.” . .

This is all the call that Storengy and Teréga reiterated this Wednesday: even with the storage at 100% full, “in no case should we relax the efforts of sobriety”, reacts Pierre Chambon, General Manager of Storengy France. Elisabeth Borne should say it again this Thursday morning, presenting the energy sobriety plan that the Government has been preparing since this summer.

* For the cold wave of January 5 and 6, 2021, 66% of the gas consumed came from storage, Storengy illustrates. The latter provided these days 40% more energy than the French nuclear fleet.

**GRT Gaz and Teréga had worked on two scenarios. That of an average winter without a marked cold wave shows a globally balanced system, without a gas deficit. “However, there is little room for manoeuvre, especially on days of greatest consumption,” specify the two gas carriers. In the second, that of a very cold winter, “the winter deficit can reach 16 TWh, which represents 5% of winter consumption, a level that can be absorbed by achieving the sobriety objectives set by the public authorities.

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