Energy: Although gas supplies are 100% full, the specter of shortages still hangs over France

Energy: Although gas supplies are 100% full, the specter of shortages still hangs over France

While the Russian giant Gazprom is completely stopping its gas supplies to France this Thursday, the replenishment of gas supplies in France is being achieved. France will have fulfilled them before November 1st or even “before the end of the summer”, assured Elisabeth Borne in her speech to Medef on Monday. On August 25, according to the European platform Aggregated Gas Storage Inventory (AGSI), they were already at 90.06%. In detail, Teréga, one of the two managers of the gas transport network in France, had stock levels at 91.21% of its capacity, while Storengy, a subsidiary of Engie, was at 89.67%, according to the AGSI website.

The President of the Energy Regulatory Commission (CRE) also wanted to reassure: “In terms of supply and volumes, we are quite confident that we can winter in France without Russian gas,” she said on LCI on Wednesday.

However, it is time to save money, the prime minister reiterated before Monday’s gathering of business leaders. Households will also receive a series of tips in the coming days to increase “eco-gestures” and reduce their consumption. Because even if stocks will soon be full, this good news cannot hide the fear of energy and especially gas shortages this winter, which are weighing on the country.

Top up every day

As a reminder, France imports all the gas it consumes. Unlike electricity, this hydrocarbon can be stored. The country has 130 TWh of underground natural gas storage capacity across 11 sites managed by three operators, Storengy, Teréga and Géomethan. This is all the more important as natural gas is mainly used for heating and there are large fluctuations in consumption between summer and winter.

To ensure security of supply, the law requires suppliers to have a minimum utilization of 85% of their subscribed capacities on November 1st, the CRE states on its website. A target that has therefore been raised to 100% by the Executive due to the current tensions.

But even 100% full, the storage facilities only provide a little less than a third of the country’s annual gas consumption, which stands at around 450 TWh, the CRE points out. In other words, the country can get by on that amount of hydrocarbons for 14 weeks, according to a note from John Plassard, an economist at Mirabaud. This compares to 12 weeks for Italy when its warehouses are full, five for Spain or even three for Belgium.

“France imports the same amount of gas every day of the year through gas pipelines because those pipes are sized to hold a certain volume. In the summer, however, we do not need this amount. That’s why we stockpile the surplus, which is dismantled during the winter when the imported quantity is insufficient,” explains Jacques Percebois, economist and director of the Center for Economic and Energy Law Research (Creden).

But these three months of storage would not allow it to survive the whole winter. Especially when low temperatures are observed from the beginning of autumn, the French have to turn on their heating. “The government assures that our stocks will be full as in previous years, but we still have to buy gas on a daily basis,” he warns..

Sources other than Russia

While this was not a problem until the outbreak of war in Ukraine, the supply now poses a real challenge with the drop in deliveries from Russia, for France, but also for Europe as a whole.

“With only 17% Russian gas among all our gas imports, we are not in the worst position,” Jacques Percebois nevertheless points out. The CRE also wants to be reassuring, pointing out that France is betting on “access to Norwegian gas and liquefied natural gas (LNG) stocks, which allow the country to “approach the country with more composure than many of its neighbors who are starting to sell their stocks to fill “. Indeed, the Scandinavian country is the second natural gas supplier for Europe, which is pushing to increase its production and supply capacity for the old continent and increase the rate to replenish its stocks and make up for the announced loss. But last July Norway said it had reached the maximum of its extraction and export capacity to the European Union.

The government, aware of the need to diversify sources of supply, is increasing trade in hydrocarbons with other countries. Negotiations are underway notably between Engie and Algeria to increase supplies from the latter. According to Europe 1 last Sunday, this increase could be as much as 50% of current volume. Information that government spokesman Olivier Véran did not confirm, but indicated that “announcements will be made soon”. He also stressed that there had been “approachments in the framework of Emmanuel Macron’s trip” to Algeria last week.

So if France appears to be able to offset the drop in Russian supplies, a European neighbor is in a very bad position. Indeed, Germany, which was 55% dependent on Russian supplies before the conflict – now 35% – fears they will run out in the winter. “France is not doing badly because it has gas terminals for regasification and storage of liquefied natural gas (LNG) transported by sea. But the Germans don’t have any,” emphasizes Jacques Percebois. Berlin has therefore released an extraordinary amount of 1.5 billion euros in a hurry to launch five LNG terminal projects to import the resource directly from the sea, with the first being operational from this winter, but these alternatives are becoming insufficient in the short term stay.

European solidarity

So far, the country has managed to replenish its gas reserves by 83%. Once full, they can make it last ten weeks. Others are more complicated to use. Bulgaria is only at 60%, Hungary at 62%, while Latvia does not even reach 60%.

They therefore rely on European solidarity. This was achieved at the end of July with a plan adopted by the Twenty-Seven that stipulates that each country should do “everything possible” to reduce its gas consumption by at least 15% between August 2022 and March 2023 compared to the average of the last five years in the same period. The goal: to save around 45 billion cubic meters of gas, an amount that would be missing if Russia were to be completely demolished and the winter was particularly cold. And thus to establish solidarity between states when some encounter bottlenecks. Exceptions were also made for countries whose gas network is not connected to a European neighbor as they could not bring any benefit to the European Union.

For its part, France has already announced that it will ship a small part of its gas to Germany, as Elisabeth Borne explained in July. “We believe that Germany will ask to change the direction of gas supplies. It’s a matter of solidarity. If we are in a good situation, we can afford to send gas to support our German neighbors. The question is when and in what amounts,” the Energy Transition Ministry confirmed to La Tribune. Agnès Pannier-Runacher’s entourage had warned some time earlier that if there were bottlenecks on the global LNG market, France would not be able to fully play the game of European solidarity.

“If the Germans want gas, it is not certain that the requested amount will be available in France. We must already know what we will need this winter. However, it is still too early to say because it will depend mainly on the temperatures,” confirms Jacques Percebois. According to him, “if we are asked to show solidarity with Germany, we probably have to curb consumption in France”. “It will be solidarity, not because we have too much, but because Germany does not have enough,” he concludes.

Especially since the return of gas from France to Germany represents “a technical problem”, he emphasizes: that of odorization. In fact, this gas has no odor. It is therefore odorized to detect leaks. In France, this operation takes place during transport, i.e. before entering the territory. Conversely, in Germany it is odorized as it travels through the city network. So if France wants to send gas back to Berlin, it has to be deodorized according to German standards. “A process that we have mastered technically, but which generates additional costs,” says the director of Créden.