Russian gas: what is France really risking if cut?

Relief and pride, but already a form of concern. When TotalEnergies employees arrived at the site of the brand-new gas-fired power plant in Landivisiau on Thursday, there was hardly any time to congratulate themselves on the commissioning of the plant after twelve years of dispute and resistance. Some of them had already cast their eyes on Russia after Vladimir Putin was shot in the chin again at the beginning of the afternoon. A big week ago, the head of the Kremlin imposed a new balance of power on Europeans, forcing importers of Russian gas to pay for their purchases in rubles. On March 31, the Russian President upped the ante, hinting that his country would stop supplying gas to “unfriendly” countries that refused to foot the bill in the required currency. And that from this Friday, April 1st. Could the Landivisiau power plant, barely open, run out of fuel?

In the last few hours, as the Kremlin gradually clears the device, the threat of a sudden supply disruption appears to be dwindling. It prevents. Given the Russian leader’s unpredictability, France can no longer ignore the black scenario of a faucet cut. According to Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire on Thursday, France is even “preparing” for this. A fuss justified by a specific vulnerability? “We are in continuity with the resilience plan presented in mid-March, the Minister’s words do not in themselves constitute an announcement,” replies a source from the Energy Transition Ministry.

situation under control

In fact, the situation in France is more enviable than on the other side of the Rhine. While Germans imported 55% of their consumption from Russia in 2021, this figure drops to 17% for France, whose main partner is Norway (36% of consumption). In addition, our country has about fifteen deposits that it can count on in the event of a hard blow. These are now filled to 22.2% of their capacity. The seasonal gas consumption is finally reduced with the arrival of fine weather. Also, the manager of the gas transmission network GRTGaz indicated earlier in the week that the stock replenishment campaign had started. “The cold spell that the country has been experiencing in recent days could finally lead to some more shooting, but there is nothing to worry about,” explains an industrialist. “Between the end of winter, storage and the regular inflow of gas from other suppliers, especially in the form of liquefied natural gas (LNG), the situation is under control for the next few weeks,” confirms Phuc-Vinh Nguyen, energy expert for the Jacques Delors Institute.

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On the other hand, the alert level for next winter will be raised significantly. Laurence Poirier-Dietz, head of gas distributor GRDF, indicated earlier last week that the group was preparing for an “unprecedented scenario”. A tense situation, exacerbated by the alarmingly low availability of French nuclear power for next winter, which will require gas-fired power plants like Landivisiau to be run at full blast to ensure the balance of the electricity grid. Regardless of whether Putin turns off the tap or not, the French strategy is based on diversification of supply, thanks in particular to LNG, greater use of storage and energy savings.

It also provides for the voluntary disconnection of major customers in the event of a voltage failure, as well as load shedding – namely the temporary and gradual removal of gas supply to some. A decree will be published by the ministry in the coming days. Objective: To identify, by next winter, the major consumers (the Ministry estimates their number at 5,000) for whom a temporary interruption in supply would be possible without too many problems. “Gas prices will be very high next winter. Like this year, some industrialists might be tempted to curb their consumption anyway to avoid producing at a loss, which would do the grid a service,” notes Phuc-Vinh Nguyen. .



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replenish stock

This is a last resort anyway. In the near future, the urgency is to replenish gas supplies. If possible, beyond the legal lower limit of 85% of the capacity. Above all, however, “coordinated with Europe”, judges our expert. Beyond supporting the ruble, Vladimir Putin’s threats of breaching the treaty aim to divide Europeans. “Competition between member states to buy LNG would artificially increase the price. All this when it is already four to five times higher than Russian gas. Europe must act together,” he explains. Another lever on the supply side, GRDF explains that by lifting some administrative barriers to methanation, France could recover the equivalent of 500 GWh of production.

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A sufficient catalog of measures? Some are convinced that France cannot do without measures aimed at individuals. It would even have an interest in doing so, on the one hand for climatic reasons, but also to strengthen its energy autonomy from suppliers who, in the event of a cut, would replace Russia tomorrow, with the USA and Qatar at the top. Lowering heating by one degree over 12 months can reduce overall gas bills by 7% and recover up to 10-15 TWh for security of supply. Put on a sweater or two next winter, an option to remember…



Nicholas Bouzu


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