electrical failure

Possible power cuts in France: why and how to deal with them?

In recent weeks, we only talk about that… The famous power cuts that could occur this winter! Even if the risk of power cuts seems to be receding with the mildness of the current winter climate, it is sometimes difficult to navigate in front of all this information. And above all, it can be worrying not to know how best to protect ourselves from the immediate effects of these cuts on our mode of consumption which is very dependent on electricity.

This article is therefore intended to be an assessment of the situation, but above all, a source of proposals to get through the winter with more serenity if the announced situation were to take place in the coming months.

But what are the technical causes of these cuts?

To understand the origin of any cuts announced for this winter of 2022, it is interesting to take stock of current electricity production in France. Indeed, on closer inspection, we realize that nearly 70% of the electrical energy produced is of nuclear origin (68.4% to be precise). These numbers are given by the ORE agency (Energy Network Operators) which federates all the French players in the distribution of energy and gas.

However, France is currently facing a technical problem with part of its nuclear power plants. The French fleet has 56 plants the map of which you can find below. Of all these plants, about fifteen are still at a standstill in mid-December 2022. A time of year when, particularly because of the cold, the demand for energy is often the strongest. Some of these plants are undergoing planned and scheduled maintenance. Others are shut down following the discovery of micro-cracks affecting the main cooling pipe of the nuclear core. A stress corrosion phenomenon, which could have led to a nuclear accident if it had not been discovered in time. A good thing, then, that the maintenance operations in question. The problem is rather located in the still too low diversity of our sources of electricity supply.

Map of nuclear reactors present on French territory
By Sting and Roulex_45 and Domaina, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikipedia link

Good to know:

  • This corrosion phenomenon was discovered for the first time on the Civaux plant in autumn 2021.
  • It seems to affect the most recent power plants, and has since been discovered on 7 reactors at the Civaux, Chooz and Penly power plants.
    The longer pipe segments of these plants would have resulted in greater mechanical stresses on them.
  • Cracks can be up to 5.6mm deep and over 1m long.
    They required the call to 500 French subcontractors, as well as reinforcements of American and Canadian welders!!
  • Source: "  Record number of power plants shut down: the causes of an unprecedented case, Article from France inter « 

Possible power cuts, by whom and under what conditions will they be implemented?

In France, the electricity supply can be schematized as follows:

diagram representing the electricity supply in France
Diagram inspired by the one posted online by Total Energy

Un delestage is a voluntary and momentary interruption of the electricity supply on part of the electricity network (Enedis definition). This can happen when the demand for electricity is too high. Load shedding is then organized by the electricity distributor (Enedis) in order to avoid a general cut to the entire electrical network. Such cuts are of course not without consequences. Thus, very specific conditions have been defined to organize them:

  • The cuts should not last more than 2 hours in the same day
  • They would be organized during hours of high demand for electricity, i.e. during the following time slots:
    Between 8 a.m. and 13 p.m. and between 18 p.m. and 20 p.m.
  • Users would then be notified the day before from 17 p.m. the occurrence of a power outage in their geographic area the following day.
  • Outages should not normally affect the same users repeatedly.
  • Will be excluded from all cuts: fire stations, police stations, police stations, hospitals, as well as certain sensitive industrial sites.

However, it seems important to remember that these power cuts should only occur in the worst case scenario. Once all other possibilities have been exhausted. Among these other possibilities, it seems interesting to us to cite the purchase of electricity from neighboring countries from France. Indeed, the French electricity network is connected to those of the following countries:

Following Brexit, a connection project is also underway with Ireland.

Organization: the key word to live with possible cuts in all serenity!

As we will see later in this article, some investments may prove interesting to simplify your life in the event of power cuts in your home.

However, without having to go through the “payment” box, a number of tips can already help you get through a cutoff episode without disasters. The first being from you organizer before the cut occurs. In effect, RTE, the electricity transmission manager uploaded its application ecowatt.

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The latter offers to subscribe to a notification service allowing you to be warned of power cuts the day before they occur. It does not stop there, also offering a " electricity weather » day by day and hour by hour allowing users to optimize their electricity consumption according to demand. This “weather” takes the form of signals of different colors:

  • green signal: no overconsumption of electricity
  • orange signal: voltage on the electrical system, without effort, risk of switching to the red signal triggering power cuts
  • red signal: high voltages on the electrical system, implementation of load shedding to avoid a complete blackout

For the moment on January 9, 2023 and to our knowledge, there has been no Orange ecowatt alert: a few reactors have restarted since the beginning of December 2022 and the mild winter explains this. Other reactors will restart in January 2023 and in February 2023 which should, barring a sudden and intense cold snap, reduce the risk of cuts.

Wholesale electricity prices on the EU market are also becoming much more reasonable, yesterday morning at 4am, they were even negative in Belgium :

SPOT eco2mix price negative Belgium January 8, 2023
Very low wholesale electricity prices on January 8, 2023 and even negative in Belgium, a shame! Source : eco2Mix TEN

In the event of a power outage, one of the first elements affected in your home is of course lighting and all your household appliances.

A crucial point is heating: no heating appliance, except the log wood stove, can currently operate without electricity. And the risk of power outage is strongly linked to low temperatures due to the extremely present electric heating in France (convectors but also heat pumps…which are much less ecological than we are led to believe…).

A widely circulated fake news for a few weeks makes you believe that we can heat a home with a few candles and flower pots : this is completely false, the calorific power of a candle is a few tens of watts and it takes thousands of Watts to heat a home when it freezes, with the exception of the all too rare passive houses. However, this solution can warm your hands…

On lighting, and depending on the cut-off times, it will sometimes suffice to take advantage of natural lighting. However, for more comfort in the early morning or late afternoon, artificial lighting will undoubtedly remain essential. The first opportunity to get out of your cupboards candles and battery lamps. With a few tips though. As for battery-powered lamps, providing a stock of rechargeable batteries can save you successive purchases that are not very economical or very ecological. Candlelight has a certain charm to it, but be careful, you have to think about safety first!

So you should avoid:

  • To risk poisoning with the gases emitted by your candles, depending on the size of your home, limit between 10 and 20 candles (no, that will not be enough to heat you anything other than your hands…and possibly your toes…)
  • Placing your candles in unsuitable containers, the risk of bursting in the event of heated glass can, for example, be particularly dangerous.
  • Place your candles near flammable surfaces! In particular, be careful not to place them too close to the walls, or under a surface that could heat up and then catch fire (in a shelf, for example).
  • You will also have to be careful of various elements such as curtains, hair, plants or even your children and pets who could knock them over or burn themselves. Of course, candles and Christmas trees do not (still) go well together…
  • Needless to say that you should never leave such a light source on in your absence!
  • Once these elements have been checked, you will be ready to rediscover the charm of the lighting of our ancestors. An interesting solution: the garden torches sold in many decorative articles stores. They can easily be moved around the house to follow your movements. They can also be inserted very well into the interstices of a majority of radiators, which provides a stable means of installing them provided that the walls of your home are made of materials that are difficult to ignite.

garden torch, candle lighting

  • Remember to check that you have lighters or matches available, otherwise lighting may quickly become complicated, especially if it has to be done in the dark. A little splash of water on the match before throwing it in the trash will also prevent you from accidentally setting fire to this one 😉
  • However, some of you will probably not be ready for this nostalgic solution but let's face it, sometimes lacking in practicality. We invite you to continue our article for a task lighting solution to install very simply!

Another element that today seems impossible to do without: mobile phone. The most important thing here, it seems to us, would be to remind you of the global emergency number which will probably be the only one accessible in the event of power cuts: thus, from your mobile phones, you will need to dial 112.

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Do not hesitate to relay it around you, see to display it in your shops, on your social networks, or even in the premises of your company, a little reminder of the safety instructions never hurts. And for the most of you who are probably wondering above all how to continue to enjoy their device in a fun way, here are some simple tips to put in place:

  • Again, organization matters. Thus, being warned in advance in the event of a power outage, you will have to think about recharging your devices outside of these. This is of course valid for your phone. Even if for the most airheads among you, we will have to offer some backup solutions a little later in this article in case you forget.
  • It is also possible to anticipate cuts by downloading offline content in advance. Thus, if your favorite games may not be able to be used off the network, other applications, in particular video on demand, or even music streaming offer the possibility of downloading one or more content to your device in order to be able to access it. then without using the internet.
  • If you can't stop communicating by SMS with your family or neighbors, this may be the opportunity to test one of the relatively unknown Bluetooth communication applications. These applications, operating in "peer to peer", allow communication with other devices located nearby and also having the application. All this without using the telephone network or the Internet. This is the case, for example, of Bridgefy or Briar applications. The main disadvantages remain the reduced range, and the need for the application to have been installed by the user who is to be reached.
  • Finally, the "energy saving" mode of your smartphone can allow it to last longer without having to be recharged. Indeed, this mode generally lowers the brightness of the device, and cuts certain applications (such as Messenger for example) which are constantly running in the background.

Finally, it is also possible that you are worried about storing your food. Indeed refrigerators and freezers are quite energy-intensive and supplementing them with electricity in the event of a power cut will very quickly be expensive. But rest assured, there are solutions despite everything:

  • First of all, avoid opening the doors of your appliances at all costs all along the cuts, as well as just after these. Indeed, these devices are designed to be able to keep their freshness in the event of short cuts (a few hours) provided they remain hermetically sealed. It will then suffice to check afterwards that the food has not been overheated or defrosted too much, but this should not be the case for the majority of your stock.
  • Good to know: you should never refreeze food that has been thawed as is, but it is quite possible to cook it and refreeze the preparation after cooking!
  • Here again it will be interesting to anticipate the cuts: by taking out in advance the food to be consumed during the hours of cuts for example. A good solution given the current temperatures, can then be to simply store them outside. Placed in airtight containers, and in a box installed neatly on your balcony or terrace, your food will not be at risk for the few hours that could separate it from leaving the refrigerator and its consumption.

The Fight Against Electric Standby Completely Neglected

To reduce the risk of load shedding, it seems to us that we do not communicate enough about unnecessary consumption and that of the day before. Thus a small table corner calculation makes it possible to estimate that the production of a 1 GW nuclear reactor corresponds to approximately and only, 30W for each of the 30 million French households.

And 30W is the standby power of less than 10 household appliances!

In this period of tension on electricity production, it is more than useful that everyone unplugs the devices they don't use, especially when they're away. Why leave your internet box on when you are at work, for example?

A good habit to adopt for the future because this period of tension on the electrical network could become the norm in the coming years...

Some good technology tips can also help you:

If despite the advice given above, the fear of power cuts remains a source of concern for you, several slightly more technical solutions (while remaining largely affordable and easy to use) are possible to deal with it. First of all, we mentioned battery-powered devices above, in the same concept, it is possible to think… to batteries.

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Thus, as we explained in more detail in a previous article dealing with the choice of batteries for a solar installation, the battery is a device for storing and then reusing energy in the absence of any connection to the electrical network. On the market, it is now easy to find small, light batteries, called Powerbanks, and easy to use in the "accessories for smartphones" section.

In the event of a power outage, having this emergency solution available for only around twenty euros could allow you to:

  • Charge your smartphone (or any small energy-efficient and rechargeable device using a USB cord)
  • But also to power an auxiliary lamp, provided that it is equipped with a USB power supply. Here again you will find your happiness quite easily in the "electronic gadgets" section. For do-it-yourselfers, it is also quite simple to manufacture this type of lighting using LED strips sold in the majority of stores today.
  • Note that LED lighting is generally quite powerful, while consuming very little energy. An LED ribbon connected to an external battery can easily last several hours! It remains to remember to recharge the batteries before and after the cuts.

In the same vein, a 230V inverter on battery power can be used to supply auxiliary lighting for several hours provided that low-consumption LED bulbs are used and electric heating is kept to a minimum, including cooking. With the advantage, this time, of allowing a power supply with a mains plug. But let's see here what an inverter is, and the other services it can provide you. Indeed, it represents an investment of around 50 to 100 euros for a basic model, it would be a shame to only use it once...

  • To explain what an inverter is, we must first recall the notions of direct current (DC) and alternating current (AC). Direct current is the current that can be supplied by an energy source, such as a battery, or solar panels for example. Alternating current is the one used by our household appliances. This is the one supplied by our standard socket outlets.
  • The inverter is a device that comes in the form of a box equipped with several connection interfaces. It converts direct current from a battery into alternating current that can be used as a back-up network. It must therefore be placed between the direct current source and the device to be supplied with alternating current. In reality, some inverters have an integrated battery.
  • A few years ago, pure sine or true sine inverters were very expensive but this is no longer the case, so this version of inverter should be preferred because first-price modified sine wave inverters can damage some of your devices, such as refrigerators or heating circulators.
  • On the other hand, if you work on a desktop PC, the UPS can also do you some favors. Although the basic models do not allow a laptop to run for more than a few minutes, it is nevertheless sufficient to allow, in the event of a power cut, to save your work and to properly shut down your machine.
  • Finally, if you want to power more powerful devices using an inverter, this is still possible. However, you will have to invest in much more expensive equipment!

If your budget allows, other solutions can also provide energy without connection to the Enedis network. Here again, they are for the most part not very affordable if it is a question of using them only within the framework of episodic power cuts. But if you are passionate about the subject of electric autonomy, then electricity generators ou solar installations may be of interest to you. Good to know :

  • A solar installation is no longer strictly reserved for the happy owners of a house. Solutions now exist so that your solar installation can be adapted to the owners of an apartment (or to tenants with the agreement of their landlord). The feasibility of the installation will however strongly depend on the specificity of the premises (presence of a balcony, access to the roof, etc.)
  • There are portable electricity generators that can be found from 300 euros. However, they will only allow energy-efficient devices to run. But this can for example allow the use of a laptop computer, or a hair dryer in the event of a cut. For camping enthusiasts, they can turn out to be a good investment that can be reused on sunny days...

Do you have any other ideas or tips to share? Feel free to do so in the comments, or on our forum energies !

Finally, it is possible thatno cuts will take place this winter (which we all hope for). But the advice given above can also prove useful in the event of accidental power cuts not linked to an overload on the network.

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