France will for the first time import more electricity from Britain than from its long-standing partner Germany at peak time on Monday as the Germans are forced to retain spare generation during icy weather, the French energy minister said on Monday.
For the first time, the United Kingdom and not Germany is the main country which provides us with electricity imports, Energy Minister Eric Besson told reporters at the French electricity network control centre.
Germany shut down eight of its oldest nuclear reactors last year in the aftermath of Japan's nuclear crisis and the current cold weather is putting Germany's tighter supply balance to the test for the first time since then.
At 1800 GMT on Monday, when French electricity consumption is forecast to reach a new record high as users return home and switch on electric heaters, lighting and cooking equipment, France is expected to import 200 megawatts (MW) more from the UK than from Germany, data from grid operator RTE showed.
The worst case scenario would be if the German network encounters problems, but this is unlikely as Germans mainly use gas for heating, Besson added.
France, the world's most reliant country on nuclear energy, is forecast to import around 6,500 MW on Monday evening, after subtracting exports to Switzerland, including 2,000 MW drawn from Britain and 1,800 MW from Germany.
French power traders said this was an unusual situation but explained that when electricity prices fixed on the EPEX Spot exchange for certain hourly blocks are at the same level, transmission flows drop.
The German and French power prices on the exchange were the same in those hours - hence the German exports were lower - but for the rest of the day French prices were above Germany, one power trader said.
Last year, overall French power imports from Germany nearly halved, while those from the UK rose by 90 percent.
French power demand is expected to reach a new record high at 97,900 MW on Monday evening and soar to 98,000 MW on Tuesday, 1.3 percent above the previous record reached on December 2010.
French baseload power prices surged to a high of 155 euros per megawatt-hour (MWh) for delivery on Tuesday, with peakload prices trading as high as 200 euros.
Two thirds of French power production on Monday evening is forecast to stem from nuclear plants, while hydroelectric facilities will cover 14 percent and coal and gas plants each 5 percent, RTE said.
French electricity demand is sensitive to changes in weather conditions as a one degree Celcius drop in temperatures causes a 2,300 MW rise in demand, driven by the fact that around 30 percent French homes use electricity for heating.
RTE said overall European power demand rises by 5,000 MW following a one degree Celcius drop. With France in first place, UK demand is the second most susceptible to changes in temperatures with a 600 MW rise per one degree drop.
Besson also reiterated that France depended less than other European countries on Russian gas thanks to its use of electricity in heating systems.
The dependency on Russian gas is becoming a real problem for Europe, he said, in an apparent reference to comments made by major natural gas exporter Russia last week that it needed more gas internally to satisfy high domestic demand.
Gas supplies to the frozen European Union from Russia improved at the weekend but have not fully recovered, the European Commission said on Monday, as Italy convened a crisis committee to handle what it called critical shortages of Russian gas.
(Reporting by Karolin Schaps and Muriel Boselli; Editing by Anthony Barker)