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Covid-19 and guarantee of the correct functioning of the electricity and gas systems

TThe continuity plans of companies charged with a public service mission


In the context of the health crisis caused by Covid-19, electricity and natural gas supply security should be ensured. The companies in the sector are getting organised.

The confinement measures adopted by the Government following the televised address of the President of the Republic, reinforced by decree No. 2020-293 of 23 March 2020, and from which the orders implemented by virtue of the authorising law voted by the Parliament on Sunday 22 March (law No. 2020-290 of 23 March 2020) will draw the consequences, have significantly slowed down the consumption of energy in France.

For the continental metropolitan territory, RTE publishes the load curve virtually in real time. The drop has been substantial from one week to the next: between 15 and 20%.

In order to ensure security of supply of electricity and natural gas, it is essential to guarantee the perfect functioning of the electricity and gas systems. All the operators of the two chains had already started to put in place, over recent weeks, a new organisation making it possible, despite the exceptional circumstances, to continue to provide the core of their missions. These involve activity continuity plans (PCAs) for the regulated operators and competitive operators.

The plans of the operators of essential infrastructure

This firstly concerns the operators of transport (GRT) and distribution (GRD) networks, public service providers, the primary mission of which is to ensure the continuous functioning of the essential infrastructure they operate.

Since the start of March these network administrators have triggered and implemented their PCAs, then constituted crisis units in order to adapt them on a permanent basis. They must manage the drop in workforce, the move to remote working wherever possible, the reduction in interventions on the infrastructure and nevertheless meet the needs of consumers: the latter’s habits have been modified, leading notably to a modification in the load curves throughout the day.

For the electricity system, the Energy Regulation Commission (CRE) has published the RTE PCA (see our article: "Covid-19 et équilibrage du système électrique français – Plan de continuité d’activité de RTE - Covid-19 and balancing of the French electricity system – RTE activity continuity plan"). Enedis set up its national crisis unit on 1 March; the company has specified in particular that, "thanks to the digitalisation of the networks, initiated several years ago, the company will be able to carry out essential operations remotely, such as for example restoring supply to clients deprived of electricity".

The operators of the gas system are doing the same. This in particular involves GRTgaz, Teréga and GRDF for the networks, Teréga and Storengy for the storage of gas, and Elengy and Fosmax for the operation of methane terminals. These companies must both guarantee the supply by the networks, the destocking of gas during the |”gas winter” and the maintenance of the infrastructure.

Throughout this period the CRE incurs the same constraints to continue to ensure its essential regulator mission.

The plans of the energy producers and suppliers

The energy producers and suppliers have also triggered their PCAs.

The EDF company, for example, which is charged with public service missions for nuclear and hydroelectric production, has activated its PCA for its power plants. Thus those agents whose activity is indispensable for the security and safety of the facilities must come to work on site. The same applies to the other operators of hydroelectric plants.

Without waiting for the emergency law, voted on Sunday 22 March, both the historical operators and the new energy market players have been invited by the Government to ensure the continuous supply of their respective clientele, but also to participate in the national effort by extending the terms or by postponing the payment of energy bills. This is the subject of a letter sent on 17 March by the minister of ecological transition and solidarity, which has asked the energy suppliers to guarantee the suppliers of electricity, heat and gas both to households and companies and, above all, to the most vulnerable.

It goes without saying that all the operators must remain mobilised in order to guarantee the permanent correct functioning of the energy system. This involves, in particular, ensuring continuity of supply to the most sensitive sites, such as hospitals, but also facilitating the successful implementation of the confinement: an interruption to the electricity supply would, for example, render the conservation of food in refrigerators impossible; a break in the gas or electricity supply would also pose a problem in the event of a return of a period of cold weather.

The activity continuity plans will be, by definition, adapted in order to cope with changes in the situation as efficiently as possible.

The gradual introduction of competition in our energy systems over the last twenty years or so must not impair the execution of missions of general interest, even if the integrated public services have split into a large number of activities operated by a plurality of players with highly diverse statutes. In this regard, the health crisis constitutes a robustness test for the European energy system undergoing liberalisation directives, at a time when its coordination is substantially transformed by digitalisation.

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