The French government has warned that the country may face “some days” this winter when insufficient electricity supply could result in planned power cuts.
Head of French energy regulator RTE, Xavier Piechaczyk, stressed in a recent government briefing to local authorities that power cuts are not inevitable, but explained that the aim was to reach between 40 and 41 gigawatt of available nuclear power by the beginning of January 2023 and end the month with around 43 – significantly less than the nation’s 61 gigawatts of total capacity.
Why doesn’t France have enough power?
In recent months, European nuclear power providers have been scrambling to bridge the deficit created when Moscow cut off gas supplies in retaliation for sanctions imposed by the European Union over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. During this same period, French power supplier EDF experienced an unprecedented number of reactor outages that reduced nuclear output to a 30-year low.
What will happen if electricity supply becomes too low?
Piechaczyk explained that if the country’s electricity monitoring application, Ecowatt, displays a red light in response to dwindling electricity reserves, there would be a need to load users partially off the power grid.
Partial load shedding is a term used to describe the prioritisation of power allocation. The government has issued binding instructions to regional government officials on how to prioritise power if the app displays a red right. In addition, these instructions urge local officials to meet with local authorities and businesses to make sure all emergency power generators are working.
This is an important message for all businesses that want to remain operational during planned power cuts – make sure you have access to a generator, and more importantly, make sure that generator is in full working order. Generators are an emergency energy source, so by their nature, they spend large amounts of time unused, increasing the risk of failure when you need that emergency power most. Testing generators now, before any planned power cuts will ensure that should your business be partially offloaded from the grid, your business will remain operational.
How should French local authorities and businesses check the performance of their generators?
Having a generator in place is the right first step to ensuring your business can remain fully operational during a planned power cut, but this does not guarantee power resilience.
Before the planned power cuts, businesses should conduct thorough testing to validate the reliability and performance of backup power under the types of loads found in real operational conditions. The only way to do this is to use a load bank to simulate the operational load that a generator would encounter. This process “tests” the generator – including fuel, exhaust and cooling systems, and alternator insulation resistance – to ensure that it is fit for purpose in the event that it is called upon.
Ideally, generators should in fact be tested at least annually using a resistive-reactive 0.8pf load bank, to ensure they can perform in real-world emergency conditions. If multiple gensets are run in parallel, they should be run in a synchronised state, ideally for 8 hours but for a minimum of 3. Where a resistive-only load bank is used (1.0pf), testing should be increased to 2-4 times per year at 3 hours per test minimum.
A robust testing regime ensures that generators are effectively tested and system issues can be uncovered in a safe, controlled manner without the cost of major failure or unplanned downtime.
Test now before planned power cuts commence
In reality, not many maintenance engineers uphold a regular testing schedule to ensure the performance of their generators. This puts the generator at risk of failure – with the fuel, exhaust and cooling system untested, along with the potential for embedded moisture, putting the system in the very high-risk category.
For businesses in France, now is the time to rectify this. By using a load bank now to test back up power systems, there is still time to make many essential repairs before the anticipated planned outages. Power resilience is an increasing concern, and the difficulties faced this winter are unlikely to be a one-off. Using a load bank to prepare for the planned outages this year will provide a sound foundation for the development of an ongoing maintenance regime into 2023 and beyond.