is a symbol of “European solidarity” to overcome the energy crisis. For the first time, France began shipping gas directly to Germany on Thursday, October 13. These deliveries materialize a mutual aid agreement formalized at the beginning of September between Emmanuel Macron and the German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, whose country is suffering from the drop in Russian gas exports to Europe.
For its part, Berlin has pledged to provide more electricity to France, which is suffering from the effects of nuclear production at an all-time low. Current energy exchanges within Europe that are seen, this year, reinforced by the strong supply tensions, linked to the war in Ukraine. How does this system work? What benefits does France derive from it? explanations.
Why are European states connected by interconnections?
European countries exchange gas and electricity through interconnectors, transmission lines that connect networks and are the support for commercial energy transactions, as explained by the Energy Regulatory Commission (CRE). In the electricity grid, for example, more than 400 interconnections link the European states to each other. They are essential to guarantee the security of energy supply, in the event of a geopolitical crisis, or when a country faces a technical incident in its national production.
Thanks to the interconnections, the States they can also exchange energy permanently on the European market according to their needs. “The profiles of energy consumption are different within the countries of the European Union”recalls Nicolas Goldberg, an energy expert at Columbus Consulting.
This observation is particularly true for electricity. Throughout a year, Spain, for example, consumes more electricity in summer than in winter. It is the opposite for France, which therefore exports to its Spanish neighbor during the summer period, “which allows us to make our nuclear park profitable, even when national consumption is lower”highlights Thomas Pellerin-Carlin, director of the Europe program at the Institute for Climate Economics (I4CE). According to the expert, this system “win win” therefore, it is also beneficial for French energy providers, such as EDF, who can sell part of their production abroad.
In return, France can count on the production of its neighbors to meet its needs during the colder months. These flows are also intended to respond to variations in energy consumption on the same day. “Without this system of interconnections, we would have permanent load shedding”, valued Thomas Pellerin-Carlin.
With which European countries does France exchange energy?
France has about 50 cross-border links, which allow it to exchange electricity with Great Britain, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, Germany and Benelux (Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg) . Until last year, France was Europe’s leading net exporter of electricity.
In 2021, the country delivered more electricity to its neighbors (87.1 terawatt hours) than it imported (44 TWh), according to the balance sheet of the French electricity transmission network operator (RTE). The main exports went to Switzerland (21.7 TWh), Great Britain (19.7 TWh) and Italy (18.8 TWh). In contrast, France received electricity mainly from the area comprising Germany and the Benelux (22.2 TWh) as well as from Spain (8.7 TWh).
In gas, the situation is completely opposite from France “it imports almost all the gas that is consumed in its territory”, points the CRE in a report on French interconnections. In 2020, around a third of imports came from Norway, routed through an interconnection located in Dunkirk (north), according to data from the Ministry of Ecological Transition. These interconnections also allow gas to be received from non-European countries, among which Russia (17% of imports before the start of the war) or Algeria (8% of French imports) stand out. “The gas connection with Spain is a supply route so that Algerian gas can reach France”says Thomas Pellerin-Carlin.
How are gas deliveries to Germany a turning point?
This is the first time that France will deliver gas directly to Germany. “Until now, we sent gas to our neighbor through Belgium”Thierry Found, chief executive of GRTgaz, the administrator of the French gas transmission network, recalled on Thursday. Work was needed to reverse the direction of traffic at the interconnection point on the Franco-German border, at Obergailbach (Moselle), which had been designed to operate from Germany to France.
These deliveries must help the neighbor to cross the Rhine, highly dependent on Russian gas, to face the drop in deliveries decided by Moscow, in the context of the war in Ukraine. However, France currently has more gas than Germany because it benefits from massive inflows from Norway and liquefied natural gas (LNG), particularly from the United States. These deliveries have also allowed France to fully fill its stocks for the winter.
In concrete terms, the amount of gas sold to Berlin through this interconnection can reach a maximum of 100 gigawatt hours per day. In order of magnitude, this corresponds to the power of four nuclear units or the equivalent of 10% of what France receives each day in LNG at its four LNG terminals, according to GRTGaz, which estimates that it will be able to serve Germany all winter. . .
For its part, Berlin has agreed to supply electricity to France, weakened by nuclear production at its lowest point. Currently, of the 56 French reactors, about thirty are still stopped, for reasons of maintenance, control or corrosion problems.
“France has gone from being a net exporter of electricity to a net importer of electricity.”Thomas Pellerin-Carlin
Therefore, the German deliveries are intended to compensate for the lack of electricity in situations of peak consumption, who put under strong pressure the hexagonal net.
What is the “European solidarity” that Emmanuel Macron mentions?
With this political agreement between Berlin and Paris, “We will contribute to European gas solidarity and benefit from European electricity solidarity in the coming weeks and months”, launched Emmanuel Macron in early September, after his meeting with Olaf Scholz. This declaration is a continuation of the agreement signed on July 26 between the European Heads of State, which recalls the “indispensable principle of solidarity” Between the countries.
East “spirit of solidarity” it already appears in the Lisbon Treaty of 2007. It has been supplemented by various “European Directives and Regulations”, accurate Thomas Pellerin-Carlin. Its objective is, in particular, to maintain cooperation on the European market in case of tension in the gas or electricity supply. Because “In a crisis situation, there may be political temptations to return to national controls and export bans,” remember the expert.
It is also energy solidarity that this summer led the Twenty-seven to agree on the principle of reduction “volunteer” 15% of natural gas consumption until March 2023. However, the agreement provides that this objective may become binding assuming “of a substantial risk of a severe gas shortage” Where “in exceptionally high demand”.
For the specialists interviewed by franceinfo, this solidarity in terms of energy is essential for such interdependent countries. “YesIf ever German industry collapsed due to lack of gas, the first victim would be Germany and the second would be France.”points out Thomas Pellerin-Carlin, who recalls that Berlin is “both the best customer and the best supplier in French industry”. An analysis shared by Nicolas Goldberg: “YesIf everyone reasons with their national interests, in the end, we will all be losers.”
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