France aims for ‘energy positive’ public buildings


Distributed generation, including domestic solar panels, offer consumers the chance to export energy to the grid. [h080/Flickr]

Ségolène Royale, the French Minister for Ecology and Energy, aspires to make every new publicly-subsidised building in the country ‘energy positive’. The minister wants to include this initiative in the energy transition bill presented last June, EURACTIV France reports.

The energy transition bill (PLTE), which has already undergone repeated changes since it was first presented last June, now contains new objectives regarding construction, an issue already at the heart of French reform.

The Minister for Ecology and Energy, Ségolène Royal, hopes that “all new public buildings or buildings receiving public subsidies will be energy positive”, including social housing, “because it is subsidised”.

>> Read: Nuclear remains linchpin of French energy transition

For a building to be energy positive, it must produce more energy per year than it consumes. On the one hand, this type of building must be very energy efficient and well insulated, and on the other hand it must be equipped with the means to generate electricity, such as solar panels.

For now, this objective is a long way off. Today, according to the French Environment and Energy Management Agency, Ademe, there are only 288 energy positive buildings in France.

The energy transition bill, including the new construction regulations, is due for discussion in the National Assembly in October.

Ségolène Royale’s announcement, made on 6 September, comes at the same time as an alarming report on climate change in France. This report predicts that French temperatures between 2050 and 2070 will rise by an average of 0.6 to 1.3 degrees, and by up to 2 degrees in summer.

The energy transition bill, the government’s flagship project for this five-year term, aims to see France reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2030, reduce its overall consumption of energy by 50% by 2050, compared to 2012, generate 32% of its energy from renewable sources by 2030 and bring down the share of energy produced by nuclear power stations to 50% by 2025.

These are ambitious goals at a time when France is still dragging its feet in certain areas, particularly regarding the EU’s 2020 target to increase energy efficiency by 20%.

>> Read: France throws weight behind 30% energy savings goal

“Not only do we have the means for the energy transition, but we also have the obligation, as it will provide a way out of the crisis by boosting sectors like construction and public works,” the minister announced, promising that this law would be “the most advanced in Europe”.

Making Europe’s most advanced law

While Germany is pursuing its parallel strategy “Energiewende”, which implies more an energy revolution than a transition, the PLTE is heralded as ambitious in several domains. However, critics claim it is more of a progressive evolution than an energy revolution.

“France’s approach to the energy transition, with its new law that comes up for discussion soon, is not a revolution”, writes Bettina Laville, director of research at the Institute of International and Strategic Relations.

The big change this law will bring about for France rests on the creation of a limit to the proportion of energy that nuclear power stations can generate. A subject not broached since France first chose the path of nuclear energy. Reducing the share of nuclear power to 50% of energy production will mean closing down reactors, and this is the first time such a project has been written into a French law.

However, France has a long history of ambitious environmental legislation.

In a law adopted in 2005, France committed to the reducing its CO2 emissions by a “factor of 4” between 1990 and 2050. This 75% reduction is an even more ambitious objective than that envisaged in the PLTE.?

The energy transition was central to François Hollande's presidential campaign in 2012, and the bill has been long-awaited. France wants to be an example to other countries when it hosts the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris. It is advocating the climate issue at a European level. This is in part due to its low CO2 Emissions.

Thanks to its nuclear plants, France has much lower CO2 emissions than coal-dependent countries like Denmark or Germany. However, energy efficiency has a bad track-record in France.

  • October 2014: PLTE bill to be discussed in the French Parliament (National Assembly)

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