A plunge in nuclear power output related mostly to inspections and repairs for stress corrosion that left nearly half of France’s atomic generation fleet idled for much of last year has cost EDF €29.1bn ($30.99bn), pushing the embattled state-owned utility into a massive loss.

Forty-three of the company’s 56 reactors are currently operational again, up from only 30 at the beginning of November 2022.

But last year’s decline in nuclear output – which the company had to compensate for with power purchases at a time when market prices were very high – linked to the impact of price caps for French consumers last year, triggered a loss in generation and supply segment earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation (Ebitda) of €23.14bn. Gains in other areas, such as regulated activities or renewables were not able to compensate for the nuclear drain on finances.

That was the main cause of a €17.94bn net loss for the entire group, compared to a €5.11bn net profit in 2021.

Despite the massive losses at EDF, as well as dozens of billions in cost overruns and decade-long delays at the construction of a new EPR (European Pressurised Reactor) at Flamanville, French President Emmanuel Macron last year launched a programme to build six further EPRs in France, with the option for eight more at later stage.

“The 2022 results were significantly affected by the decline in our electricity output, and also by exceptional regulatory measures introduced in France in difficult market conditions,” EDF chief executive Luc Rémont said.

“2022 also confirmed the new impetus for nuclear in France and accelerated expansion for renewable energies.

“The French President, during its speech of Belfort announced a clear, coherent energy plan and the EDF group’s strategy is part of it.”

The government via a public tender offer also increased its stake in EDF to 95.82% of shares and 96.53% of voting rights. The tender offer may reopen in an attempt by the state to take 100% control of the loss-making nuclear giant without having to opt for a squeeze-out of remaining minority shareholders.

The troubles at France’s nuclear fleet last year also contributed to drive up power prices across much of Europe, which had already been under severe stress due to the curtailment of Russian energy flows in the wake of the war on Ukraine. To keep France from blackouts, the country actually became a net importer of electricity last year, with large flows coming from German renewable electricity.

Rising renewables earnings

Renewables actually were a bright spot in EDF’s annual results, with Ebitda in the segment rising by 5.8% to €909m last year compared to 2021, despite an increase in development expenses. The increase was mainly driven by a 21%-rise in renewables output. Also, in 2021 there was an extreme cold snap in Texas, with an estimated impact in Ebitda of -€95m, which had no equivalent in 2022.

EDF’s wind and solar portfolio grew by 12% last year to 85GW gross, including the auction in the 1.5GW New York Bight offshore wind project developed in partnership with Shell.

The company last year commissioned France’s first offshore wind farm, the 480MW Saint Nazaire array in the Atlantic Ocean.

EDF also saw the first megawatt hour of green electricity produced at the world’s largest solar plant, the 2GW Al Dhafrah PV array in the United Arab Emirates.