French government favours renewables for 2020 investment plan

FRANCE: Electricity generated from wind and other renewable sources will be given priority over thermal power, according to the French government's latest investment plan for electricity for 2010 to 2020.

Fonds-de-Fresne Somme département, Picardie region. France has 5GW of wind power online.
Fonds-de-Fresne Somme département, Picardie region. France has 5GW of wind power online.

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The pluriannual programme for investment (PPI) identifies the investments needed to realise France's energy policy, looking at factors such as estimated growth in demand, competitiveness and security of supply. It also takes into account the European climate package and decisions resulting from the Grenelle de l'Environnement, a national summit to formulate environmental policy.

The PPI assumes that electricity demand in France will stabilise between now and 2020 as a result of measures initiated under Grenelle. Even so, it estimates that clean electricity output must grow by 120% if the country is to realise its target of meeting at least 23% of energy demand through renewables by 2020.

Wind power will provide the main growth driver, the PPI says, confirming the Grenelle objective of 19GW of onshore wind capacity and 6GW offshore by 2020. The previous PPI, in 2007, cited 13GW and 4GW, respectively, by 2010. Today France has under 5GW online, all onshore.

Nevertheless, the PPI notes that wind energy production has grown rapidly in France, from just 1TWh in 2005 to 5.6TWh in 2008. If it continues to grow as expected, the PPI estimates the cost of building new plants will drop by 25% between 2012 and 2020.

At the same time, however, development must meet the high environmental standards imposed by Grenelle. To ensure this, the regional climate, air and energy plans introduced by Grenelle will be key in identifying where turbines can be built, the PPI asserts.

Cleaner energy

While green electricity generation grows, carbon emissions from thermal power plants will have to be slashed by two-thirds by 2020. This will be achieved by closing more than half of France's coal-fired plants by 2015 and replacing them with cleaner gas-fired units. No new coal-fired stations will be authorised without a fully functioning carbon capture and storage chain in place.

Because there are so many unknowns, however, such as how quickly the Grenelle measures can be put in place and how long France's nuclear power stations can continue working, the PPI builds in a significant margin of error to ensure security of supply. The need for this margin, it argues, justifies the two new nuclear reactors currently being built in France and means the need for future reactors cannot be ruled out.

Finally, the PPI turns its attention to the grid. The interconnections with Spain and Italy must be strengthened, it says. On a domestic level, the two main weak points are Brittany and the south-east region of Provence-Alpes-Cotes-d'Azur (Paca). While it is urgent to curb demand in both, Brittany needs new capacity and the grid in Paca needs attention.

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