The construction of a new LNG terminal at Le Havre with the aim of reducing energy consumption by 10% within two years… Two levers activated by France to avoid gas shortages in the coming winters, in this new geopolitical context of the war in Ukraine. A third is added: the maximum filling of our gas storages. “We are aiming for 100% by early autumn,” Prime Minister Elizabeth Bourne said on June 23 during a visit to the national gas control center in Ile-de-France.
This Wednesday, October 5, we are there. After Belgium and Portugal, France becomes the third European country with 100% gas storage capacity, the Energy Regulatory Commission (CRE) and French storage operators Storengy and Teréga announced in a press release. There are eleven of them, all underground voids with a total capacity of 130 terawatt hours (TWh).
Very useful supplies
This covers a third of our annual gas consumption. Especially if we look only at the gas winter, from November 1 to April 30, the period when our gas consumption is the highest and when reserves are used. “About 300 TWh have been consumed in France in these five months,” explains Estíbaliz González Ferrer, Strategy and Commercial Director of Storengy. “Gas storage provides more than 50% of our daily needs during the winter cold*,” she adds.
This shows the strategic importance of these reserves, during the “classic” winter, but even more so for the one that is coming. Because we will have to do without Russian gas, which before the war made up about 17% of French imports. It is not the first time that we enter the winter with almost full supplies. “This has already been the case in recent years with an occupancy rate of more than 90% in mid-October,” explains Gilles Doyambour, director of commerce and regulation at Teréga. “What’s new this year is that we hit these very high levels earlier than usual,” he continues. It is very good to be sure of the condition of our stocks well before winter. »
But which will not protect us from a difficult winter
What then to be a little more calm… However, neither Estíbaliz González Ferrer nor Gilles Doyambour tell us that they are safe from a difficult winter. None more so than Anna Creti, professor of economics at the University of Paris-Dauphine and director of the Department of Climate Economics. “These stocks are not emergency reserves that we will use only if we really need them,” she says. We know that we will have to use them not only to cover the needs of France, but perhaps also of our European neighbors in the name of the principle of European solidarity. »
In other words, these 100% filled vaults should not be considered a “bonus”. GRT-Gaz, the main transporter of gas in France, and Teréga (which also transports it) counted on this in their forecast for this winter, published on 14 September. Regardless of whether the winter will be very cold or moderate, with no noticeable cold*, all sources of gas supply must be mobilized, the two companies concluded. There are three of them: interconnections with pipelines of neighboring countries, LNG terminals (delivery of liquefied natural gas by boat) and, finally, storage facilities.
Reserves save as much as possible
So the whole challenge, Anna Cretti emphasizes, is to use those 130 TWh saved as accurately as possible “to support the other two sources of supply as much as possible”. With this difficulty inherent in gas, “we cannot get reserves as easily as we can do with oil,” continues the economics professor. A question of pressure, explains Gilles Doyambour. “The more these reserves are depleted, the more the pressure is reduced and the more the selection capacity is reduced, which then reduces the ability for us to quickly mobilize this resource in the event of consumption peaks,” he clarifies.
It’s not a detail, especially if we face late cold snaps next year, as we often do in April, and gas storage is already in full swing. From here it is necessary to save stocks as much as possible. It doesn’t depend so much on Storengy and Teréga. “It is the gas suppliers, who also replenish these reserves, who decide when to use these reserves,” remind Gilles Doiambour and Estíbaliz González Ferrer. The problem, the latter clarifies, is that these suppliers may have no choice but to use these reserves very early, “in the case of early cold, for which other sources of supply will no longer be sufficient to meet the demand for gas. .
This is the whole call that Storengy and Teréga then reiterated this Wednesday: even if the storage is 100% full, “in no way can the effort of sobriety be weakened”, responds Pierre Chambon, managing director of Storengy France. Elizabeth Bourne is due to do so again on Thursday morning when she unveils the government’s energy sobriety plan from this summer.
* During the cold snap on January 5 and 6, 2021, 66% of gas consumption came from storage, according to Storengy. The latter provided in those days 40% more energy than the French nuclear fleet.
**GRT Gaz and Teréga worked on two scenarios. An average winter without noticeable cold indicates a globally balanced system without gas deficit. “But there is little room for maneuver, especially on the days of the highest consumption,” the two gas transport operators clarified. Second, in a very cold winter, “the winter deficit can reach 16 TWh, which is 5% of winter consumption, a level that can be absorbed by meeting the sobriety targets set by public authorities.