France is the world’s most nuclear dependent country. With 58 nuclear reactors in 19 power stations having a total capacity of 63.2 gigawatts, France is the second largest producer of nuclear energy in the world, second only to the United States.
But unlike the U.S., nuclear energy represents France’s largest source of electricity generation, accounting for around 77 percent of the country’s energy generation in 2014. However, in the last few years, France has witnessed growing public support in favor of developing newer technologies that can reduce carbon emissions and replace nuclear power.
A gradual increase in Nuclear power usage over the years in France
Image Source: TheBreakthrough.org
In the year 2012, France’s newly elected President Francois Hollande pledged to reduce his country’s dependence on nuclear power to 50 percent by 2025. This triggered a ‘national debate for energy transition’ in France which lasted for eight months. The National Assembly of France then passed an Energy Transition for Green Growth bill in 2014 which would put a cap on the country’s nuclear power capacity at the current level of 63.2 gigawatts. Related: Top 6 Most Powerful Women In Oil And Gas
How will France meet this tough new target?
Last week saw French Lawmakers finally pass this bill which seeks to cut the country’s growing dependence on nuclear power. With the move, France is following Germany, which decided to significantly reduce its dependence on nuclear energy after the infamous 2011- Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan.
In order to meet this tough new target, Electricite De France or EDF (which is 85 percent government-owned) would have no other option but to close some of its nuclear power capacity in order to accommodate its new European Pressurized Reactor (EPR), which is currently under construction in Normandy.
The new law further requires France to increase the contribution of renewables in its total energy consumption to 32 percent by 2030. This is in addition to reducing the C02 emissions by 40 percent by 2030 when compared to 1990 levels and also reduce conventional fossil fuel consumption by 30 percent by 2030 from 2012 levels.
Although the law has made it quite clear that France now has to reduce its dependence on nuclear power, there are still several loopholes, as it hasn’t provided a clear manner in which the set target is supposed to be met and there is no specific implementation strategy put in place yet. “This law sets goals, which is interesting, but it doesn't explain how to reach them, postponement of the detailed implementation plans is not a good sign," said Yannick Rousselet of Greenpeace. Related: Warren Buffett And Elon Musk To Spark A Lithium Boom
Can we expect massive investments in renewables and natural gas?
“I want France to become a nation of environmental excellence,” said French environmental minister Segolene Royal. She further said that recent steps taken by the French government could create close to 100,000 jobs in the renewable sector.
As the new law has also set a goal of increasing overall renewable energy consumption while also curtailing nuclear power, we can expect some major foreign investments in the French clean energy sector in the coming few years. French energy giant Total has in fact been investing a substantial amount in the solar sector. With its partnership with U.S. based Sunpower, Total might just ramp up its investments in the French solar sector.
It is interesting to note that wind energy also enjoys local public support in France as a 2014-CSA survey revealed that around 64 percent of local people see wind energy as a worthy replacement for nuclear power. According to the European Wind Energy Association, France increased its target for energy generation from wind to 19 gigawatts by 2020 from 8.2 gigawatts in 2014.
France is also the second largest producer of biofuels in Europe after Germany, mostly producing biodiesel. France has already set a goal of blending 10 percent of biofuels with its conventional fuels by 2020. So, with the current push towards renewables one can reasonably expect a surge in biofuel investments as well.
However, the same cannot be said for natural gas, as France is one of the four countries that have banned hydraulic fracturing or fracking. Experts predict that the French natural gas demand might even fall by the year 2020. Related: Where In The World Is The Shale Gas Revolution?
What does this mean for the suppliers of nuclear fuel and companies like AREVA?
France‘s decision to reduce dependence on nuclear power will not go down well with the already struggling nuclear industry, which includes French players like Areva, EDF and GDF Suez. Areva, the world’s largest nuclear company, reported a loss of $4.8 billion in 2014 after it started facing a dip in demand following the 2011 Fukushima disaster.
Areva is one of the most prominent companies in France, so the French government has been trying hard to save the company through a proposed deal with EDF, which involves selling off its reactor and fuel treatment business. According to recent reports, the French government could end up shelling out $5.5 billion to rescue Areva, far more than anticipated.
With its desire to shift away from nuclear energy, France is slowly and steadily preparing itself to adapt newer technologies and eventually move towards renewables. However, this transition requires a clear road map with a clear plan on the systematic closure of its nuclear capacity. Without these, it might take several years (beyond the target dates) for the Energy Transition law to get implemented.
By Gaurav Agnihotri for Oilprice.com
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