Wind and solar power are at the heart of a big new push by the French government to increase the renewable share of the country’s total energy consumption from 6.7 percent in 2004 to 20 percent by 2020.
The government has set the target of raising its installed capacity for wind power from 810 megawatts (MW) in 2006 to 25,000 MW by 2020. Also, installed capacity for photovoltaic (PV) power is to increase from 32.7 MW in 2006 — about 100 times less than Germany — to 3,000 MW by 2020.
In addition, 5 million solar thermal units are to be installed in buildings by 2020, 80 percent of these in homes.
Biomass accounts for two thirds of all the renewables used in France today and hydro power for another third. Solar and wind power still play a marginal role.
“These targets mark a new era in the development of wind and solar power in France, and though they are ambitious, they can be achieved,” Jean-Michel Parroufe head of the renewable energy division at the French Environment and Energy Management Agency (Ademe, Agence de l’Environnement et de la Maîtrise de l’Energie), told RenewableEnergyAccess.com.
He said the plan would change the structure of France’s primary energy consumption — 275 million TOE (tons of oil equivalent) in 2006 — so that 20 percent would come from renewables, 25 percent from nuclear and 55 percent from fossil fuels by 2020, saving 20 million tons of oil.
“From now on a bigger range of renewable energies, and not just biomass, will help meet the challenge of fighting global warming in France,” Parroufe said.
Parroufe, however, admitted it would not be easy for France to reach the target for wind.
With just 810 MW of installed capacity, France is the third biggest market in Europe behind Germany with 2233 MW and Spain with 1587 MW.
Installed wind capacity has been growing rapidly, doubling in 2004 and also in 2005 following a change in the law that had prohibited the state electrical company EDF Electricity France from buying electricity from wind parks over 12 MW.
According to Parroufe, the most difficult part of meeting the wind target will be “finding enough good sites for the wind turbines because they shouldn’t spoil the landscape. It is a big target but we believe the right financial and legal framework is in place and we can make a leap forward in wind power,” he said.
The government has already laid solid foundations for growth in renewables by introducing more favorable feed-in tariffs for electricity from wind and solar power in July 2006 as well as tax breaks.
As a result of the tax breaks, solar thermal systems grew by 80 percent in 2006 to reach 210 MW of installed capacity.
Growth in PV installed capacity was 150 percent in 2006 boosted by a base feed-in tariff of 30 cents per KW/h for PV electricity in cities, said Rachel Massion from Enerplan, the Professional Association for Solar Energy [Association Professionelle de l’Energie Solaire].
“We expect the same sorts of figures this year and in the future,” Rachel Masson told RenewableEnergyAccess.com. “Photovoltaics are growing at different rates in different parts of the country depending on the policies of the local authorities.”
The Pays de Loire has become the leader in France with 1.4 MW of installed capacity followed by the Languedoc Rousillon, which has 1.18 MW because of special incentives for integrating solar panels into buildings.
Also, the city of Narbonne plans to build a 9 MW PV station to supply energy for public buildings and street lighting.
In spite of the growth in the wind and solar sectors, biomass will continue to provide the lion’s share of renewables in France even in 2020, Parroufe said.
With 9.3 million TOEs in 2006, France is the biggest consumer of fuel wood in Europe after Sweden and Finland: more than 40 percent of all domestic heating systems in the country today use wood as fuel — and the number is growing.
However, Parouffe said that expanding the use of biomass would require setting up a better network for collecting wood from the country’s forests.
Other measures that the French government has announced on the renewable front include huge new investments in renewable energy research, like developing second generation biofuels.
To boost the use of biogas, in 2006 the government increased the price by 50 percent as an incentive for drivers to use cleaner cars, such as electric and hybrid models.
Also, energy performance certificates recording the carbon emissions of new cars became obligatory in May 2006 and financial incentives were introduced to make cars with low carbon emissions more attractive.
The President of France Nicolas Sarkozy announced the new push for more renewables and more energy-efficiency to fight climate change in October following a three-month consultation period with representatives from environmental, business and social groups.
He said that cutting carbon emissions would be factored in to all government decisions in the future, including the construction of new buildings and the handling of waste.
The French parliament is set to pass the law in 2008.
Jane Burgermeiser is a writer based in Austria.