In a significant boost to its energy sector, France reported a remarkable increase in nuclear power production in early January 2024, reaching its highest levels in three years. This 18% jump in nuclear generation, compared to the same period in 2023, was highlighted in data compiled by LSEG. The surge in France’s nuclear power comes at a critical time, coinciding with a cold snap across the Nordic countries, escalating the regional heating demand.
Europe’s largest electricity exporter, France, has leveraged this increase in nuclear power generation to augment clean power flows to neighbouring nations, as per the International Energy Agency (IEA) data. This development is particularly significant as it can limit fossil fuel use in power generation across the region during the winter months. Consequently, this could reduce the usual spike in power pollution typically associated with increased heating-related generation.
In 2022, France’s nuclear generation hit a 34-year low due to extended maintenance issues at key but ageing reactors. This shortfall compelled power companies to ramp up fossil fuel use in electricity generation within Europe’s most nuclear-dependent power system. The shortage also led to instances where France, traditionally a net exporter of power, had to import electricity, exacerbating the regional power price crisis following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
However, 2023 recovered, with engineers successfully increasing total nuclear generation by nearly 15% from 2022’s diminished levels. As of early 2024, France’s main power company, EDF, has exceeded early 2023 and 2022 output levels, although it is still trailing behind 2021’s total by about 10%.
Despite needing further maintenance work on several key reactors due to corrosion issues, EDF targets a total nuclear output of 365 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2025, up from just under 320 TWh in 2023. The company has set an ambitious goal of 400 TWh of nuclear output by 2030.
France’s ability to maintain high levels of nuclear generation could have significant implications for regional emissions. As of January 9, France has been a substantial net exporter of power, with significant portions directed to countries like Germany, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and Italy. This starkly contrasts the same period in 2023, when France was a net importer of power from Spain and was constrained in its export capabilities.
The influx of clean nuclear power into regional grids could reduce the reliance on high-polluting power sources, such as coal plants, which have been major contributors to Europe’s CO2 emissions. In 2023, coal accounted for around half of the European power sector’s 1.42 billion metric tons of CO2 emissions despite generating only 14.2% of the region’s electricity.
The start of 2024 is hopeful for France’s nuclear power sector and its role in controlling regional power emissions. The sustained high output of nuclear energy positions France as a crucial player in Europe’s energy landscape and as a key contributor to the broader goal of reducing reliance on fossil fuels and curbing CO2 emissions. This development is especially crucial during the winter months when Europe’s power emissions typically peak due to increased energy consumption for heating. If France’s nuclear power firms can maintain this momentum, it could significantly aid in keeping regional coal generation and associated pollution levels in check.