Get in touch

The Euro 2024 Energy Championship: Netherlands vs France

June 18th, 2024
The Euro 2024 Energy Championship: Netherlands vs France

In the latest blog forming part of Euro Energy Championship series, Market Experts for the Netherlands and France, Jean-Paul Harreman and Clement Bouilloux, explore how intermittency on the Dutch power grid contrasts with the stability often seen in France - much like the two nations' football teams.

With the Netherlands versus France on the schedule of the Euro 2024 this Friday, we are seeing a clash of cultures. This reflects on the football pitch as well as on power markets.

Where in France, a huge stable baseload of nuclear capacity form a solid base under the power markets, the Netherlands depends on more volatile power sources, like wind, solar and gas generation.

Dutch Intermittency and Reliability Issues

The intermittent nature of those power sources can be seen also in its football history, where the availability of super stars has always been an issue around the big football tournaments. Artists like Cruyff, Van Basten, Robben, Bergkamp have missed large tournaments for many different reasons. Arjen Robben even had a website monitoring how long he had been injured for.

The qualifying history of the Dutch football team has not been as stable as that of the French either. When comparing the two countries, it is interesting that the outcome of matches at Landsdowne Road have proved a good predictor of the qualifying fortunes of both countries.

For the 2002 World Cup, the Dutch failed to qualify thanks to a match Ireland with what was probably the strongest team not to qualify for the World Cup in history (Van der Sar, Stam, De Boer, Bogarde, Reiziger, Davids, Seedorf, Jonk, Overmars, Bergkamp, Kluivert). I'm still not over it - can you tell?

French Stability

Thierry Henry once decided a World Cup Qualifying match in 2010, in the same stadium, with a famous handball. Sending France to the South Africa World Cup, which ended in disaster.

After a severe downturn at the 2010 World Cup in Knysna—an event that could be likened to an oil shock—the French Football Federation appointed Didier Deschamps to manage the national team. At the core of his leadership were values such as honour, patriotism, and a deep love for the jersey—values reminiscent of those upheld by figures like De Gaulle, Pompidou, and Mesmer, and the desire for independence.

The rebuilding phase was not easy. However, France managed to construct nuclear reactors in an average of five years and commission around five per year during the 1980s. This feat can be compared to the 2010 World Cup playoff against Ukraine, where France, after a disastrous 0-2 loss in the first game, managed to turn things around and secure victory.

Just like France's consistent nuclear production and power exports, Deschamps' team has remained a constant presence at the top. They reached the final of the 2016 European Championship, losing only after extra time, and triumphed in the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Share of nuclear production in total French power production
Figure 1 - Share of nuclear production in total French power production

Betting on one horse

There are of course risks in putting all your money on a single star. Where the current French squad has many great players, there is no denying that the squad is built around a talent of nuclear proportions, Kylian Mbappé. Will he be reliable enough to steer the French team to new heights, or are other powers needed to step in if he fails to meet expectations?

The higher we go, the harder the fall: what an earthquake it was in 2022 when EDF discovered corrosion issues. The jewel of the crown was broken. But what can you expect when you don’t renew the team and invest in your industrial tools - or in new tactics and game plans? The French were, as usual, playing defensively and boring during the 2020 Euros, but this time efficiency was lacking. Despite leading with a score of 2 goals, France lost in the Round of 16 against Switzerland, a country not exactly known for its great football history (sorry any Swiss fans!).

EDF and Deschamps addressed the issues by making several adjustments and building teams capable of managing current and future challenges, including the construction of several pairs of EPR and EPR 2 reactors. As a result, nuclear production reached 320.4 TWh in 2023, an increase of 41 TWh compared to 2022. It took just a year to fix the vast majority of the 56 nuclear reactors, which is quite an achievement - comparable to Mbappe’s 3 goals during the 2022 World Cup final.

However, questions about the future remain, including the current European Championship and the next World Cup. Will France succeed in staying on trend? The commissioning of Flamanville earlier this year and the reorganisation of the nuclear industry are steps towards keeping France at the top, despite several programs being halted, including ASTRID (a reactor designed to use nuclear waste).

A tale of creativity

As the Dutch prepare for the Euro’s, unfortunately some key players are out with injuries again. Barcelona star and wonderkid Frenkie de Jong misses the tournament and Atalanta’s field-marshall Teun Koopmeiners also dropped out of the squad at the last minute. So, what coach Koeman needs is ingenuity, creativity and a lot of luck.

As with technologies in the power market, it is the youth that may save the day for the Dutch. While our teams export young football players across Europe, so does the Netherlands export power from younger technologies such as wind and solar. Actually, it floods adjacent markets with power, reducing fossil fuel output during the solar peak hours.

Only when the Dutch talents are not available (like solar in the evenings), do Dutch clubs attract older players from abroad, much like it imports fossil fuel generation from German coal and lignite during the evening demand peak. This does not always go down well with the public, similar to the entry of Jordan Henderson at Ajax, but let’s not talk about Ajax’s season.

When things come together, the Dutch team can do amazing things, bringing innovation to the game, just like it did with power markets, introducing voluntary balancing actions, after-the-fact trading and the much-discussed dual imbalance prices. The Dutch are proud of their entrepreneurial spirit and ingenuity, summed up perfectly by Marco van Basten’s goal in the Euro 1988 final, providing not only the biggest highlight in Dutch football history, but also the only trophy the Dutch have ever won.

In any case, lets hope we see a good game. For great examples of Dutch-French collaboration, you need look no further than Dennis Bergkamp and Thierry Henry at Arsenal. And now, with a blend of technologies, it seems the two countries energy grids are set to follow suit.

Looking for more insights into European energy markets?