Installed wind power in France could reach 25,000 MW and the country could meet 25% of its energy requirements from renewable sources by 2020, well above the current national and EU aim of 20%, according to the country's Renewable Energy Syndicate (SER), a trade association. Its targets are among several proposals put forward by SER as part of a wide-ranging government initiative to formulate environmental policy for France. Dubbed "La Grenelle de l'environnement," in reference to historic meetings in 1968 between government and unions in which the table was wiped clean and everything was up for discussion, the initiative brings together representatives of the government, local authorities, associations, industry and unions in a series of meetings and workshops which will lead to an action plan of 15-20 measures to be drawn up later this autumn.
"Whatever our convictions, climate change and the depletion of fossil fuels and other natural resources are incontrovertible facts which require us to make changes," said new French president Nicolas Sarkozy when he announced the initiative in May. It will not just be yet another symposium concluding that there is an environmental crisis and that "something must be done" he promised, adding with typical élan that "the time for talking is over. It is time for action."
Overseeing the process is Jean-Louis Borloo, head of the new super-ministry of Ecology and Sustainable Development (MEDAD), assisted by Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, Secretary of State for the Environment, and Dominique Bussereau, Secretary of State for Transport. Six working groups of 40 members each have been established to tackle each of the main themes: global warming and energy; biodiversity and natural resources; health; sustainable production and consumption; ecological governance; and employment and competitiveness.
Stern for Gore
The most important group is that covering global warming and energy. According to press rumours, Al Gore was originally invited to be chair, but this honour has now gone jointly to the British economist Sir Nicolas Stern, author of the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, and the French climatologist Jean Jouzel as co-chairs. The renewables industry is represented by SER's André Antolini, Michèle Pappalardo of national energy agency ADEME and Marc Jedliczka of the Liaison Committee for Renewable Energies, alongside representatives of Greenpeace, the World Wildlife Fund and Friends of the Earth. The entire group is divided into three workshops to draw up detailed proposals covering energy and carbon storage, building and land-use planning, and transport.
Each proposal for action made by the group must be backed up with an analysis of the main legal, social, financial and technical issues and an outline of how it will be implemented and monitored. The proposals must be in by the end of this month, after which the second phase of the Grenelle sees the debate opening up to the general public through regional meetings and online forums. A summary of these contributions will be added to the pot and the hard negotiations start mid-October when the working groups reconvene to thrash out the final 15-20 measures to be adopted.
The initial timeframe is set at five years, with major reviews in 2009 and 2011. The theory is that this whole complicated process will result in a "negotiated, multi-annual contract containing specific targets" agreed by all major stakeholders.
The main criticism so far is that the Grenelle is all too rushed and the groups too big and diverse to allow for real debate, especially with issues such as nuclear power lurking in the wings. Yannick Jadot of Greenpeace was not the only non government organisation (NGO) representative to fire a warning shot across Borloo's bow, threatening that Greenpeace will withdraw "if the Grenelle becomes a simple communication exercise or if subjects such as nuclear power or organically modified crops are declared taboo." The process must lead to concrete results, he added.
The signs are, however, that nothing is sacred and that nuclear power is on agenda, though the government has warned there is no question of cancelling the new European Pressurised Reactor due for completion in 2012. Antolini reports that so far the meetings have been surprisingly open and constructive, and considers that the process is not just cosmetic. "If it lives up to its promise, the Grenelle should lead to a really solid plan addressing all the issues," he believes.
Renewables route map
Antolini also hopes that at least some of SER's proposals, which it describes as a "toolbox for fighting climate change," will make it to the final list. The organisation's basic premise is that France could get 25% of its energy needs from renewable sources by 2020, as against 10% today, as long as it also cuts consumption by 20%. This is perfectly feasible, says SER, if certain measures are put in place quickly. The country not only has the second best wind resource in Europe, but also has extensive solar, biomass, hydro and geothermal potential still to be developed.
To meet this target, SER estimates that installed wind power capacity would need to reach 25,000 MW, hydro 27,000 MW, photovoltaic 7000 MW and biomass 2300 MW. This compares with current installed wind capacity of just 2085 MW, but the growth rate in the last three years has hovered around 100% -- and earlier this spring SER reported wind projects in various stages of development totalling over 25,000 MW. France now represents the third biggest wind power market in Europe after Spain and Germany, notes SER. The industry is increasingly professional, well-organised and vibrant and SER believes it has the potential to grow from the equivalent of around 5000 full-time employees at present to an estimated 60,000 in 2020.
Step one -- tariffs
Of the ten broad proposals SER has mapped out, the most important for the wind industry is to promote electricity generated from renewable sources. Repeating points it has made many times in the past, SER is calling for a revised tariff structure to encourage the development of less windy sites. Under the current system, the power purchase rate for onshore plant is set at EUR 0.082/kWh for the first ten years. For the following five years, it varies between EUR 0.028/kWh for plant operating for an average of 3600 hours a year or more, up to EUR 0.082/kWh for 2400 hours or less.
SER argues, however, that where annual production is equal to or less than 2200 hours, which represents around half the country's exploitable wind energy potential, development may not be viable; it gives an estimated return on investment of less than 4%, when 8% is needed to be acceptable. Yet these lower-wind sites have to be put to use if France is to meet even its current targets for wind power of 13,500 MW by the end of 2010 and 17,000 MW by the end of 2015.
SER's suggestion is to refine the structure so that wind plant operating for 2200 hours or less are eligible for the guaranteed premium price for at least 36,000 hours of operation over a maximum term of 20 years. That would mean hitting SER's target of an internal rate of return on the project of 6-8%.
Along with this guaranteed floor for minimum earnings from wind plant ownership, SER also proposes that the less windy sites should benefit from subsidies for extras that makes life easier for the power system operator. This can be achieved by rewarding owners that accurately forecast production and whose wind plant generate power when it is needed most -- day or night, summer or winter.
Step two -- cutting red tape
The next step of SER's plan for improving the wind power market is to simplify and streamline the administrative process. On average it takes nine months to obtain a siting permit in France and four years to bring a wind power project on line. To speed things up, SER has put forward a number of proposals, including clarifying the situation regarding turbines and noise emissions (Windpower Monthly, January 2007), establishing uniform procedures to be followed during the application process and making it easier to transport turbines.
It also asks that clear deadlines are established and adhered to, particularly concerning wind power development zones (ZDEs). The concept of ZDEs was introduced in 2005 and from July 15 this year only wind plant built within a ZDE in France are eligible for the fixed purchase price. Around 20 ZDEs have now been established and in many cases applications to create a ZDE are taking longer than the legal limit of six months. To prevent this becoming a further brake on development, SER recommends that authorities which do not give a decision within six months are regarded as having given tacit approval to their ZDEs.
Step three -- the grid
In some areas of good wind power potential, such as Picardy, Nord and Somme in the north and Aveyron and Tarn in the south, the grid lines are already close to saturated and unable to take much more electricity on board. From 2010, says SER, this will become a major constraint on wind power development. To keep market momentum going, it is vital that the grid is reinforced and new lines added. Furthermore, power flow management systems have to be modernised to take into account the variable input of renewables generation and to give it priority access to the wires. Better tools for predicting production and demand patterns should be introduced, says SER, and any constraints on power output to prevent grid overload should be managed dynamically, as is already the case in Spain, Denmark, Germany and Britain.
All this requires urgent action, not least deciding how much it will cost and who will pay for it. SER suggests setting up a task force consisting of representatives of the grid operator and the wind industry to examine what needs to be done to adapt the network to the specific needs of renewables.
Overseeing this and all the other issues should be the long-awaited national wind power committee. The committee would coordinate the sector, monitor the pace of development and ensure that officials are adequately trained. It would deal with technical questions such as any problems with wind turbines interfering with radar operation (Windpower Monthly, April 2007) or noise emissions, and draw up strategies for reinforcing and adapting the grid. It could also be called on to arbitrate in disputes. SER proposes the committee meet every two months under the auspices of MEDAD and be made up of members of the government, ADEME, grid operators, local authorities and the industry.
The committee should also establish and monitor new national targets for electricity production. These should be defined for each sector and expressed in five-year stages starting in 2010. In addition, the targets for wind power should be broken down by region and département so that everyone in the permitting process is aware of what is expected of them, argues SER.
SER believes that these and its other proposals provide a realistic "route map" for achieving its 25% target in 2020. It is a chance not to be missed, believes Antolini. "It is not a case of sharing the load, but of seizing an opportunity for growth within the framework of sustainable development," he says.