By Dave Elliott
France is heavily reliant on nuclear power, which supplies around 74% of its electricity, although some of that is in fact used to run the nuclear fuel system, including fuel fabrication and reprocessing. It has often been said that it would be impossible to phase out nuclear in France. The Hollande government has promised to cut the proportion back to 50%, and has a quite ambitious programmes for renewable energy (32% of all energy by 2030) and energy saving (a 50% cut in all energy use by 2050). But going further has often seemed a fantasy, not least in terms of cost. However that’s now changed, with a new government report suggesting that it would be possible to move to 100% renewables.
The report, by Ademe, the French Environment and Energy Agency, a draft of which was leaked by the media, says that supplying all the nation’s electricity with renewables by 2050 would cost about the same as the plan currently favored by the President and the Ministry of Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy, which is to meet France’s electric power needs with 50% nuclear, 40% renewables, and 10% fossil fuel by 2050. It says achieving a 100% renewable electricity mix will require diversity of sources and it projects a mix of 63% offshore and onshore wind, 17% solar, 13% hydro, and 7% thermal energy (including geothermal). Diversity would help with grid balancing, and France has significant hydro capacity (over 20GW), some of which could use for pumped storage- it already has 3GW in use. It also has inter-connectors links with other EU countries and can use and expand these to help balance its grid. It already regularly imports up to 2GW of power from from Germany and, as renewables expand in the UK, further exchanges are likely: http://gridwatch.templar.co.uk/france
Getting to 100% renewables would also require demand management that lowers consumption by 14%, despite a projected population increase of 6 million inhabitants. The report assumes that pre-tax consumer electricity costs will rise about 30% by mid century whether France opts for a 100% renewable power mix, or a combination of 50% nuclear power, 40% renewables, and 10% fossil fuel (primarily gas).
So it’s a straight choice, with 100% renewables evidently being a viable option. In fact Ademe says that the potential for electricity generation by renewables in France by 2050 (1268 TWh a year) is triple the nation’s projected electricity demand for that time (422 TWh). So there’s plenty for heating and transport too. www.go100percent.org/cms/index.php?id=45&tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=395&cHash=c49d899dffe50003b28e67bc8ffa6655 The full thing: www.actu-environnement.com/media/pdf/rapport100pourcentsENR_comite.pdf
Is this radical scenario likely to be adopted? That rather depends on the French economy and polity, both of which are somewhat strained at present. One of the causes of the strain is the nuclear programme. France is still building a new nuclear plant, a 1.6GW European Pressurised-water Reactor (EPR) at Flamanville in Normandy. The construction programme has not gone well. Much as with the sister EPR plant being built in Finland. Work on that started in 2005 and it had originally been scheduled to go live in 2009, but that is now not likely until late 2018, with the delay and construction problems raising final expected cost from €3 bn to 8 bn. The Flamanville EPR is similarly now years late and overspent- with its completion date, originally set for 2012, continually being put back- to 2017 in a recent revision. And the expected cost has escalated from €3.3 bn to 8.5 bn. But it may get even worse. Fabrication defects were found at the end of 2014 in upper and lower heads of the reactor’s steel pressure vessel. The carbon content was too high (0.3% not 0.22%), so it could fail. A big issue is why wasn’t this spotted earlier- after forging at Areva’s Le Creusot plant? And before the huge costly units were put in place?
It’s possible that the top one can be replaced (at great cost) but probably not the bottom one- it’s embedded in the reactor pit. More tests are underway, but the whole EPR may have to be abandoned. Worse still, for France technological prestige, the Taishan-1 & 2 EPRs being built in China (already over a year late) may also have the same faults: http://www.ecns.cn/2015/04-15/161760.shtml And EDFs proposed £24bn 3.2 GW Hinkley double-EPR? It seems the pressure vessel caps for that have already been cast – they are evidently done in batches years ahead. Will they have to be redone? Who would pay? Areva’s finances, already dire (it announced a €4.8bn loss this year) may now be terminal and, in a crisis move, EDF is in the process of taking parts of it over. Though EDFs finances are not much better. No wonder news of this new fault didn’t emerge publicly until April: http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/RS-Flamanville-EPR-vessel-anomalies-under-scrutiny-0704154.html
With the Finish and French EPRs both in trouble, EDF and Areva’s prowess have certainly suffered. At one time EDF had been hoping to sell 7 EPRs to the USA, but all the project plans have now been suspended or abandoned. As far as new ventures go, that just leaves Hinkley. And progress on finalising the very lucrative contract for that has stalled, with part-backing from China proving difficult and even some nuclear supporters in the UK getting nervous. We may yet see a UK exit! www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/energy/11453149/EDF-Areva-investment-not-existential-for-Hinkley-Point.html
All of which puts France in a difficult position. It will hopefully recover, perhaps by abandoning the EPR (which in any case is an old, complex design), and then push ahead with its renewables programme. It has made a start. Symbolically, the Eiffel Tower has become self-sufficient in terms of electricity thanks to two Vision AIR5 vertical axis Darius wind turbines 400ft above Paris, in the intricate steelwork. They will generate 10,000kWh each year. Solar panels have also been installed for hot water production: www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/news/11434117/Eiffel-Tower-fitted-with-two-wind-turbines.html
Next, as well as PV solar, so far not pushed very hard, the offshore wind programme is about to start up in earnest. At 9GW, France is a bit behind the UK (at 12GW) on wind , offshore especially, but the offshore potential is large (perhaps 20GW) and it is aiming for 6GWby 2020. An EU-funded Floatgen project is to install a 2MW demonstrator floating turbine at the SEM-REV test site, off Le Croisic, Brittany, by the end of the year, if all goes to plan. Meanwhile, in the Med, progress is being made with the Vertiwind 2MW direct drive, vertical-axis floating turbine, designed for waters up to 200 metres deep: http://cleantechnica.com/2014/10/14/french-mashup-to-launch-floating-wind-turbines France is also backing tidal stream power, using Open Hydro’s technology, amongst others: www.openhydro.com/news/031214.html
These are small beginnings, but it does now seem that France has joined the growing club of countries which have at least prospects for moving to 100% renewables. Whether it will follow others, like Germany (see my next post), Austria, and Denmark, in trying to move in that direction remains to be seen. What does seem clear is that its lead in nuclear is over: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/08/business/energy-environment/france-nuclear-energy-areva.html