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French power supply seen rebounding, but still below average

View shows Electricite de France nuclear power plant near Fessenheim

By Forrest Crellin

PARIS (Reuters) - French power supply is set to rebound from low nuclear output in 2022, returning the country to the role of a net exporter, though a long maintenance schedule and current low hydropower availability are concerns heading into warmer months.

French nuclear supply is expected to total 290 to 320 terawatt-hours (TWh) in 2023, which should reduce import needs enough to return the country to a net exporter of about 15 TWh to neighbours at the top end of estimates, analysts said.

Last year saw nuclear supply in France drop to a 34-year low at 279 TWh due to a record number of outages at its fleet of reactors, run by power giant EDF.

As a result, France became a net importer of electricity for the first time since 1980 while neighbours scrambled to find gas supply following Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Availability this spring is expected to be only slightly higher than what was recorded last year as reactors go offline for planned maintenance, but improvements should show towards the end of the second quarter and into the autumn.

The recovery should bring the country back to net exports from May to October, and overall imports are also set to be lower than in previous years, Refinitiv analyst Nathalie Gerl said.

She added that in the fourth quarter, France should turn back to moderate net imports but remain a net exporter over the full year.

French nuclear availability is expected to surpass last year's

level, but will remain low

EDF has pegged its nuclear output estimate for the year between 300 and 330 TWh, lower than the current 370 TWh from the maintenance schedule after it adjusted for unplanned or extended outages.

However, while nuclear availability is set to improve, hydro power stocks are currently at their second lowest in two years and 5 TWh lower than last year at this time, which was also dry.

The driest winter in 64 years is also pushing the country to unprecedented measures, as restrictions on water use in parts of the country are set to be introduced from March.

Cumulative effective precipitation in France shows hydro levels

well below average

While current hydro stocks are low, the quantity of snow in the Alps is also down in comparison with 2022, which was a particularly dry year.

Snow melt from the Alps in the spring and summer helps replenish hydro reservoir levels, and can be an indicator as to how stocks are looking going into normally drier, warmer months.

Low levels of snow pack stretch throughout the alps

A dry summer could have a double effect on French power supply, as it would mean a low level of hydro production as well as causing potential issues with limited cooling water for nuclear and coal plants.

Looking forward, there is no strong signal of replenishment for the hydro reserves, as both seasonal and monthly forecasts point to significantly below normal levels of inflow, Refinitiv analyst Stefan Soderberg said.

Hydro forecasts are, however, weather-based, which makes them difficult to predict accurately over a long period.

(Reporting by Forrest Crellin, editing by Silvia Aloisi and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)