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Despite heavy imports, France still biggest electricity exporter in Europe

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France maintained its position as the biggest net exporter of power in Europe in the second half of 2021, despite an extreme reliance on imports at the beginning of winter, a new report on the European electricity market by energy data analyst EnAppSys showed on February 8.

The French situation caused additional stress on European power prices, whereas during the summer, French exports mitigated the impact of the gas crisis.

The report describes the value of imports and exports in Europe during the last six months of 2021. It found that France’s total net exports amounted to 21.5TWh, with most of the power flowing to Italy (7.5TWh) and Great Britain (6TWh).

“Although France remained the biggest net exporter of power in Europe since the start of 2021, activity on the interconnectors changed significantly between autumn and winter,” EnAppSys Director Jean-Paul Harreman said, adding that in the third quarter exports from France to neighboring countries remained consistently high, reaching an all-time largest export volume of 21.6TWh. The fourth quarter was much more variable, and France became a major importer moving into winter as day-ahead prices rose on the continent and high French electrical heating demand pushed up prices relative to neighbouring countries over much of November and December, incentivising more flows into France, he added. Even structural importers of French power such as Italy and Great Britain at times reversed their interconnector flows to alleviate the tightness in France.

“This cold December for France came alongside high demand, low wind and hydro generation, followed by a series of nuclear maintenance outages toward the end of the year, which contributed to the lowest nuclear availability levels in recent history,” Harreman said. “During this time, France mainly relied on imports from Belgium and from Spain, which switched from being a net importer to a net exporter during the last six months of the year. Peak French imports were as high as 13 GW.”

The second largest net exporter across the period was Sweden with 13.8TWh, and Norway was in third place with 8TWh. This comes despite Scandinavia being hit by the coldest seasonal temperatures in 50 years from November to December, the effect of which was further amplified by the heavy electrification of heating systems in Norway, EnAppSy said.

When net exports as a percentage of demand were taken into consideration, France only exported 9.8% of its energy demand. In comparison, Bosnia ranked first with a net export of 35%, followed by Bulgaria (31%) and Czechia (24%). As a result, Sweden, which in the first half of the year was the second largest net exporter at 16% of demand, fell to fourth place in the second half of the year despite net exports increasing to 23% of demand.

Italy remained the biggest net importer during the last six months of 2021, sourcing 20TWh from outside the country, of which 9.4TWh came from Switzerland and 7.5TWh from France.

Britain remained Europe’s second biggest net importer, recording a net import of 12.9TWh, up slightly from 12.3TWh in the previous six months. This was sourced mainly from France (6.05TWh), with 3.47TWh imported from the Netherlands and 3.41TWh from Belgium.

Potential import capacity in Britain increased by 1.4GW as the North Sea Link (NSL) came online on October 1. This is the first direct link to Norway, which generates the vast majority of its electricity from hydropower and is therefore less sensitive to carbon (EU ETS) prices.

 

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Co-founder / Director of Energy & Climate Policy and Security at NE Global Media

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