Secret Electricity Imports

Florian Bamberg has posted again to his new anti-renewable propaganda blog, with the title “Germany’s dirty nuclear import secret”.

There he pushes the standard talking point that Germany, by phasing out nuclear energy, needs to import nuclear energy from France.

These imports from France that Bamberg has discovered are so top secret that everybody else reports “record electricity exports from Germany” right now. Germany has exported 12.3 TWh in the first three quarters of this year, since renewable energy reduces wholesale prices. Electricity flows from lower priced markets to higher priced ones, just like everything else.

But maybe that will change in the coming winter season. On cold winter nights there is no solar energy, and wind, while increasing in the winter season, is also intermittent. So that’s when Germany will need those top secret imports of nuclear from France.

We don’t know what exactly will happen next winter. But last time around, it was exactly the other way. France needed to import electricity from Germany, since demand goes way up there in winter as a result of many French using electricity for heating.

It may be open to question if Germans should buy nuclear electricity from France. But the way the European Union market works, there is no way to avoid that. If prices are cheaper in France at any particular time slots than in Germany, these imports will happen. And Article 194 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU has this to say:

Such measures shall not affect a Member State’s right to determine the conditions for exploiting its energy resources, its choice between different energy sources and the general structure of its energy supply, without prejudice to Article 192(2)(c).

German citizens may not like the fact that France keeps its nuclear capacity, but they have no say in the matter. It is for the French and their democratically elected government to “choose between different energy sources”.

Of course, it is a free market also in Germany, and customers can buy from an utility that pledges not to use electricity from nuclear plants in neighbor states.


Update: jmdesp helpfully points out in a comment to this post that while Germany is in a phase of record electricity export, in the bilateral relation to nuclear power rich France there is actually a deficit of around 8 TWh for this year, so Bamberg actually has discovered secret imports, contrary to what I had thought.

All the more the question is if there is any reason to object to this, and my point above stands unchanged. In an open market as the European one, there is no way to stop nuclear electricity from flowing into Germany, except for individual costumers asking for a nuclear free electricity supply.

On the other hand, it is certainly not true that Germany could not manage without these imports from France, which amount to about 1.3% of yearly production. The question if generation capacity is sufficient without the nuclear plants already phased out is not decided by looking at the long term relation of import to export. It is decided in the moment where electricity use peaks in a winter night without much wind available.

And I understand that in such a situation Germany could not count on the French for a bailout, since France uses much electricity in winter for heating.

The latest Prognos study on the point has a nice map for the last yearly peak in Germany in 2011, and it shows that there was not much extra power available in the neighbor countries at well (page 22). It does show that France was working at only 93% of load at the time, which was the lowest number of all surrounding countries.

But in planning capacity, Prognos is expecting zero contribution from neighbors at the yearly peak (page 23), and I think that is the responsible thing to do.

Published by kflenz

Professor at Aoyama Gakuin University, Tokyo. Author of Lenz Blog (since 2003,

2 thoughts on “Secret Electricity Imports

  1. According to ENTSO-E, the total exports of France are much larger than the one of Germany.
    The data is in GWh for
    Germany France
    Jan : -2000 -5472
    Feb : -3491 520
    Mar : -2733 -4987
    Apr : -1438 -3489
    Mai : -2 -4474
    Jun : -453 -3683
    Jul : -243 -3231
    Aug : -1367 -3604

    France was importing in February (positive number), but EDF says that’s mostly because it’s cheaper to buy electricity from Germany than to produce it locally when there’s high demand. Opposite to Germany, we don’t have cheap lignite for production so when all nuclear and coal/gaz is used, we need to start expensive oil based production.

    The direct exchange between France and Germany appear to be even more strongly in favor of France, with from January to August 8745 GWh of export, and only 580 GWh of import, net deficit of 8165 GWh (data from )
    However I still need to definitively confirm if this is the direct physical exchange or the commercial ones, there can be significant differences between the two, the electricity that is sold from Germany to France may end up physically coming from Belgium, or maybe even Switzerland. The data with Czechs also support strong export.

    I extracted the data from ENTSO-E about the exchange of Germany with each of it’s neighbor between 1/1/2012 and 31/8/2012 and calculated the net result. Here it is :
    5645 5075 -4302 -4866 -8165
    LU NL PL SE Total
    3059 13497 4052 -2364 11631

    It appears that without Nederland, there would not be any export. Most of electricity in Nederland is generated by burning the local gas production, which it is definitively more profitable to keep and export instead.When the neighbors have a lot of either nuclear, wind or hydro they are net exporter to Germany. I suspect that Switzerland would also be net exporter if it wasn’t more profitable to sell to Italy instead.

    I’ve heard that usually France imports cheap solar between 12 and 14, and export most of the rest of the time, but I’d need to find a detailed graph of that. The fact that Germany actually seems to not have exported a lot in Mai appears to contradict it.

    What makes things complex is that you can be exporting both because you have too much electricity and need to do something with it, even export at low price, or because of neighbor is missing some, and needs to import at expensive price. So studying a detailed daily graph of when Germany was importing electricity with the price curve would still be useful.

    But as for now, the case that Germany is heavily importing energy from it’s nuclear friendly neighbors and exporting it only to those who have a lot of fossil is very strong.


  2. I have not looked into this at this level of detail, but assuming your figures are correct, Germany indeed has probably imported nuclear electricity from France, at a pace of about 1.3% of annual production of 600 TWh, assuming that all the imports came from nuclear.

    This is not what I had assumed from the more general reports of 12 TWh record export, so thanks for bringing this up. I will update the article above accordingly.


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