France trailing behind EU renewable energy goals

“This photovoltaic power plant during the energy crisis will provide energy from domestic production for 2,800 households in Kičevo and the region, i.e. the total annual production will be from 15 to 17 gigawatt/hours of electricity”, said economy minister Kresnihk Bekteshi. [Shutterstock/zhengzaishuru]

The European Union is expected to soon raise its renewable energy target for 2030, and France, which has already largely missed its 2020 goal, could have difficulties in meeting the new objective. EURACTIV France reports.

Producing renewable energy in France has been a difficult journey.

Renewables accounted for 19.1% of France’s energy mix in 2020, significantly short of the 23% target imposed by the bloc’s renewable energy directive in 2009.

This is in part due to the country’s heavy reliance on nuclear power, which alone accounts for 78% of its electricity production.

On the eve of the climate summit organised by US President Joe Biden last month, the EU raised its climate ambitions, aiming to cut emissions by 55% at least by 2030.

The European Commission is now expected to announce in July that it wants to raise the bloc’s target for renewable energies to a minimum of 38% of the total energy mix, requiring an additional effort from the 27 EU countries.

LEAK: EU’s draft renewables law confirms 38-40% target for 2030

An early draft of the EU’s upcoming renewable energy directive confirms the bloc’s objective of sourcing 38-40% of its energy from renewables by 2030, roughly doubling the share of solar, wind and other renewables in Europe’s energy mix by the end of the decade.

Delayed development 

However, France is lagging behind in the development of renewable energies.

Wind power has had a rough start with the construction of the Sain-Brieuc wind farm – due to become operational in 2023 – criticised for its exorbitant cost, its destructive effect on the environment, and the danger it poses for marine and terrestrial biodiversity.

Solar energy seems better suited to French weather and is easier to predict, says Brice Lalonde, a former environment minister and leader of the French Green Party in the 1980s. However, photovoltaic cells are mostly produced in China, which uses coal in the manufacturing process, he points out.

“The CO2 balance is not great. They should be manufactured in Europe,” said Lalonde, who is now president of the association Équilibre des Énergies.

For the time being, biomass and hydropower remain the most developed renewables in France, representing 52.5% of the country’s renewable energy, far ahead of wind and solar, which represent 10.4% and 3.4%, respectively.

Elsewhere in Europe, the use of renewable energy varies widely.

Denmark is currently leading the way with 62% of its energy being produced by renewables and is followed by Sweden and Finland. The bloc’s laggards include Portugal, Italy and Bulgaria.

Three EU countries bump up renewable energy goal for 2030

France, Greece and Bulgaria have pledged to update their national targets for renewable energy and bump up the share of wind, solar and other renewables to 33%, 35% and 27% of their energy consumption respectively by 2030.

Nuclear and renewables complementary 

However, the rules have changed with the latest update of the renewable energy directive, in 2018. From now on, renewable energy targets are calculated as an EU-wide average and no longer contain specific sub-targets at the national level.

This could present an opportunity for France to promote its massive production of nuclear energy, Lalonde said.

“If the objective is to reduce emissions, then let’s make room for nuclear power in the taxonomy [for sustainable finance]. Let’s accept the idea that it is more or less equivalent to renewable energies in the fight against climate change,” he said.

“We must stop being anti-nuclear on principle. Renewable energies and nuclear power are complementary. Europe is happy to have nuclear electricity when it needs it, just as it is happy to have electricity from windmills in northern Germany,” said Lalonde.

The focus should be on reducing emissions, he added, “and not energy efficiency and renewables. Because these are the means, they are not the ends.”

In an interview with newspaper Le Monde in January, Ecology Minister Barbara Pompili said: “Nuclear or renewable, we must have several options: if we focus on a single solution, we will be very deprived in case of a problem. We must not paint ourselves into a corner.”

Macron, Orban urge EU to 'actively support' nuclear power

A group of seven European leaders fronted by French President Emmanuel Macron has called on the European Commission to stop hindering nuclear power and consider ways of bringing atomic energy into the EU’s green finance rule book ahead of an EU summit on Thursday (25 March).

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic, Benjamin Fox and Frédéric Simon]

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