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French Industrial Power Use Fell Last Year Amid Economic Slump

22 Jan 2013

French industrial power demand fell 4 percent last year as car and steel factories slowed output amid an economic slump, the country’s grid operator said.

The decline may also signal that French industry is growing less power-hungry, according to a statement from Reseau de Transport d’Electricite, a unit of Electricite de France SA. Total demand rose 2.1 percent to 489.5 terawatt-hours as the coldest weather in three decades drove up use of home heating.

French President Francois Hollande, confronting a stalled economy and sliding popularity, has rejected calls for “shock”measures to revive growth. The country’s economy, Europe’s largest after Germany, has been more or less flat since the first three months of 2011, which was the last time it had a quarterly gain of more than 0.2 percent.

EDF, Europe’s biggest power generator, lowered atomic output last year by 3.8 percent to 404.9 terawatt-hours, missing its target as reactor maintenance was extended, the grid said.

EDF has struggled to raise output from its 58 reactors inFrance as they age and undergo safety reviews to obtain approval to continue operating. Last year’s decline in nuclear production follows a pledge by Hollande to lower reliance on atomic energy and raise investment in renewables. An energy debate is due to culminate this year with a law outlining the future energy mix.

Renewable-energy output rose to a five-year high in 2012, making up 16 percent of the total, according to RTE. When hydropower is excluded, it accounted for 4.6 percent. Installed wind capacity was close to 7,500 megawatts at the end of the year, while solar capacity reached 3,500 megawatts, RTE said.

Imports, Exports

France was a net importer of power from Germany last year, experiencing a drop in net exports to 44.2 terawatt-hours from 55.7 terawatt-hours in 2011. It relied on imports on 20 days, especially during the cold spell, while remaining a net exporter over the year to Belgium, Italy, Switzerland and the U.K.

Electricity consumption peaked at a record 102.1 gigawatts on Feb. 8. The country’s reliance on electric heating makes the grid vulnerable to colder-than-usual weather.

RTE plans to invest 1.44 billion euros ($1.9 billion) this year, compared with 1.36 billion euros in 2012. EDF and RTE are boosting spending to meet rising peak power demand, fund planned offshore wind farms and increase energy trading with other European countries.