UPDATE 1-French power supplies could be strained until 2024

(Adds detail)

March 24 (Reuters) - The COVID-19 pandemic has delayed renewable energy projects and maintenance work at nuclear power plants in France, meaning electricity supplies could be tight until 2024, grid operator RTE said on Wednesday.

RTE said it had revised down estimates for the availability of France’s nuclear fleet for the next three winters, with the 2021-22 season requiring “special vigilance”.

Renewable power plans have also been disrupted, with 2023 goals unlikely to be met for solar power and to a lesser extent for onshore wind, RTE said.

It said security of supply should improve to a more comfortable position in 2024-2026, with a clear improvement in 2026-2030.

Consumption is forecast to rise 5% by 2030 from 2019 levels, while an increase in the energy efficiency of equipment should reduce winter peak consumption by 3 gigawatts (GW) over the same period, RTE said.

The changes should allow France to reduce carbon emissions 43% by 2030 from 1990 levels, ahead of the current 40% target, and eventually achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, it said.

The European Commission wants to slash net emissions at least 55% by 2030 from 1990 levels and the European Parliament wants a 60% cut, with a compromise expected to in late April.

The emissions reduction is mainly expected to result from the replacement of fossil fuels in the transport, industrial and construction sectors, it added.

The share of nuclear power in electricity generation is forecast to drop to 50% of national supply by 2035, from around 70% currently, as output at 12 reactors is due to end.

The lost production is expected to be replaced by renewable energy, as the first offshore wind farms should be developed between 2022 and 2025, with the aim of doubling installed wind power capacity to 34 GW by 2028.

French solar capacity is expected to quadruple to around 40 GW over the same period, RTE said. (Reporting by Forrest Crellin. Editing by Mark Potter)