As seen below in Figure 1, France derives the majority of their electricity from their large nuclear fleet with an overwhelming 70% of 2019 electricity coming from nuclear. Hydro is the second largest source at 10.9% followed by natural gas (6.7%), wind (6.1%), solar (2.0%), coal (1.1%), oil (1.1%), biofuels (1.1%), waste (0.9%), and tide (0.1%). France shows a remarkably low reliance on fossil fuels given renewable energy makes up 19% of their energy usage (whereas fossil fuels accounts for 9%).
Reports from the IEA say France consumed 480 Terawatt hours (TWh) of electricity in 2018. After an increase in levels from 348 TWh in 1990, electricity consumption hit a peak in 2010 at 503 TWh and subsequently declined 480 TWh since 2014 where it now remains the average. Electricity consumption per capita has followed a similar trend and was measured to be 7.1 Megawatt hours (MWh) per capita in 2018. Captured below in Figure 2, residential has been the greatest end user of electricity since 2008, followed by commercial and public services and industry.
Due to France’s low electricity generation costs from their large nuclear fleet, they are Europe’s largest net exporter of electricity—earning a revenue of around 3 billion euros a year. They export an average of 70 TWh of energy each year, primarily to other European countries such as the UK, Switzerland, Italy and Germany. During the winter months of the last several years, France temporarily becomes a net importer of electricity in order to meet this periodic demand peak. In January 2017 during a cold spell and persistent nuclear power outages, France imported a record 950 Gigawatt hours (GWh) of power—the highest level they have imported since 1980.
There are currently 56 nuclear reactors in operation in France and 14 locations have been shut down. The rise of nuclear in France stems from long-standing policies enacted in the 1970’s in response to global oil shocks to ensure their energy security. France’s nuclear fleet is beginning to age with two of the oldest reactors shut down in 2020 and a dozen reactors that will pass their 40-year age limit by 2035. France is beginning to move away from nuclear power with part of the 2019 Energy and Climate Change Law setting a target to reduce the share of electricity generation from nuclear down to 50% by 2035. This target was previously set for 2025, but eventually postponed to 2035 in order to help ease the transition towards an increased reliance on renewables and ultimately decrease the country’s reliance on coal with all coal-fired plants set to close by 2022. Accordingly, the current energy plan outlines 14 nuclear plants to be shut down by 2035, including four to six that will occur by 2030; however, it is still possible to build new reactors. In addition, there are polices in place to increase renewable use including expanding the construction of offshore wind and floating turbines and enacting policies that require commercial buildings to contain solar panels on 30% of their surface. The 2015 Energy Transition for Green Growth Act, while amended several times, contains numerous provisions to help implement and finance the green energy transition.
Figure 3: France’s Nuclear Reactors (2020), IAEA
While France has a generally low dependence on fossil fuels for electricity generation, it is proactively decreasing their reliance on nuclear and increasing renewable generation with numerous polices to support this transition. For France to maintain energy security and low-carbon electricity generation as they lessen their dependence on nuclear, they will need to invest heavily in renewable energy and energy efficiency. Primarily, it is recommended that the existing option to build new nuclear reactors is removed to ensure the transition away from nuclear energy continues and is not delayed again. Additionally, with low levels of wind and solar renewable generation, these should be greatly scaled up in the near future. While polices to achieve this are in place, they should be financially strengthened with enhanced incentives for private uptake of renewables through favorable tax breaks and subsidies. The various targets for increasing renewables must be strengthened and not delayed any further. The use of distributive renewables (renewable generation at a small household or business scale from onsite solar panels) should also be scaled up through tax breaks, subsides, and mandates for new construction. With several years of data available to the government regarding which programs, tax breaks, and subsidies French households and business have most leveraged, a thorough review should be conducted and the most used polices reinforced.
In regards to ending France’s use of electricity, the country recently adopted their third National Energy Efficiency Action Plan (NEEAP) in 2020 with polices covering the residential, transport, industry and agriculture sectors. They seem to be fairly impactful with energy efficiency improving in all sectors since 2000 (this trend outlined in Figure 4).
- While tackling the issue of retrofitting buildings to decrease their energy usage for heating and cooling, France should in the meantime ensure the tax credit of 30% for energy transition projects (up to 8,000 euros per person) is enough to incentivize upgrading.
- To improve energy conservation, France can strengthen their investments in demand-side interventions such as smart metering and smart grids, flexible pricing, and interconnection across the grid.
- Distributional effects of electricity pricing should be taken into account to ensure that any change to France’s historically low electricity costs are not regressive (i.e. making lower income households worse off than higher income households) through installing free smart meters and continuing energy checks to the poorest households.
- Given that France has many polices and targets in places across numerous sectors, it is difficult to track their progress; therefore, a centralized location displaying these targets and the progress being made should be developed so that the public can hold their government accountable to address any shortcomings in a timely manner.
Figure 4: Energy Efficiency by Sector
Direction Générale de l’Énergie et du Climat
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This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard Country Manager Stephanie Tapolsky
Image Source: https://unsplash.com/photos/LWnD8U2OReU