Clean Power france nuclear power

Published on April 14th, 2015 | by Jake Richardson


100% Renewable Electricity By 2050 Possible In France

April 14th, 2015 by  

A somewhat “hidden” report was recently released that said France could be powered by 100% renewable energy by 2050 (note that this is for electricity, not all energy). If the report is accurate, obviously it is a huge wakeup call about the potential of renewable energy there. If you aren’t aware, France currently gets most of its electricity from nuclear power. The older nuclear reactors clearly can have some safety issues and might be prone to accidents, as we all learned from the Fukushima debacle.

So, how could France switch to 100% renewables in just 35 years? By quickly developing wind, solar, and hydroelectric power, says the document.

france nuclear power

The first thing that comes to mind is the energy mix now in France, which is about 77% nuclear with 15% renewables and 8% fossil fuels.

So, it would go from 15% to 100% in the above scenario. In other words, not starting from zero. If it seems silly to think of France being able to transition to 100% renewable energy, just consider that Spain has achieved a level of 47%, and without developing its solar power potential nearly as much as it could. The same is true of Portugal, a country that has produced 70% of its electricity from renewable energy. Again, that’s without being very supportive of solar power.

So, France has a chance to grow its renewable energy mix very much and rapidly. It must be pointed out that France is a major economic player and has money to invest in renewable energy. The main reason it went nuclear so aggressively in previous decades it is that the government wanted to become far less reliant on imported fossil fuels, for economic reasons. After constructing many nuclear power plants, France became too dependent on nuclear, which is still true today.

It didn’t take France that long to undergo a sort of nuclear power bonanza, but wind and solar power farms usually take far less time to construct than new nuclear power plants, so transitioning to 100% renewable electricity might actually be faster than going nearly fully nuclear, like it did decades ago.

New technology like energy storage in the form of battery systems, and more efficient microgrids, will probably help smoothen the transition. So, yes, France could run on 100% renewable electricity and it is possible to achieve that level in 35 years. Does it have the political will to follow through?

By the way, the report, commissioned by ADEME France (its environment and energy management agency), was completed but publishing was reportedly delayed. Mediapart somehow got a hold of it and published it in full, the website states.

Image Credit: Theanphibian, Wiki Commons

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  • ttman

    “So, how could France switch to 100% renewables in just 35 years? By quickly developing wind, solar, and hydroelectric power, says the document.”

    Either the report, or the writer, forgot about the need for storage.

    • Bob_Wallace

      France is not an island. France already uses the rest of Europe as “storage”, selling off excess power and buying back when they are short. That will continue.

      Because generation is spread across Europe there will be less need for storage. Imported hydro will fill in some of the gaps, as will wind and solar from other countries.

      Some storage will be needed but prices are rapidly dropping.

      • ttman

        What is your value for “some” in “some storage will be needed”?

        Who is deploying storage right now? Have there been articles here about it?

        • Bob_Wallace

          It’s far too early to tell how much storage might be needed. Perhaps 20 years too early.

          Germany is pretty much out in front of the rest of us in converting from a fossil fuel grid to a renewable energy grid. Some estimates are Germany may not need storage until they hit 80% renewable electricity.

          For the US it should certainly be higher than 40% and could be a lot higher if we add a lot of EVs to the grid. How much higher than 40% is only a guess at this point. We’re likely to find creative ways to avoid storage as time goes along.

          Weather patterns do extend across countries but not all at the same time. Systems start at one “edge” and move. And if you get to about 1,000 miles (or 1,000 km – I forget which) there is no correlation between cloud coverage for wind farms.

          How much storage, how much long distance transmission and how much other stuff we do will evolve as technology advances.

          Look at one emerging storage technology. Liquid metal batteries are suppose to be hooked to some grids this year. If so, and if they work well, then all the math changes. Liquid metal batteries should be cheap to manufacture and are expected to last 300+ years with unlimited cycling. That would make storage incredibly cheap.

          Storage is now being used, but mostly for dealing with supply drops/demand spikes. Previously gas turbine plants were used as “spinning reserve” so that grids could quickly supply shortages. Battery banks are being used on grids for that purpose. Even quicker to respond and saves fuel.

          So far I don’t think there are batteries being used to move wind power to non-windy times or solar to the evening demand peak. (Some on an experimental basis.)

          What is getting used is the pump-up hydro storage that was built to move nuclear and coal power from off peak to peak hours. The US has over 20 GWh and Japan has even more.

          There’s a lot on this site about dropping storage prices. A lot of it involves EV batteries. But there are articles about Ambri (liquid metal batteries), EOS (zinc batteries), Alevo (lithium batteries), and vanadium flow batteries plus others. If you do some searches on those four you’ll probably get a number of useful hits.

  • With the average age of nukes in France at 24 years and a life expectancy of 40 years or so, they need to do something soon. This aging nukes problem is likewise true in many other countries. The US has an average age of nukes at 30.

    After Fukushima, Germany/Merkel decided to replace nuclear with renewables and they have successfully proven this model to be viable. This page shows nukes being taken offline permanently.

    • Bob_Wallace

      The US has 33 reactors that are 40 years or older. Eleven more that are over 35.

      • Thanks, Bob. Do you have a source link for this info?

    • Ulenspiegel

      Correct version is:

      2003 the nuclear phase out became law in Germany. Later in 2005 we had a change of government from SPD/Greens to CDU/FDP, i.e. from Schröder to Merkel.

      Around 2009/10 the utilities with a high share of nuclear power plants convinced the Merkel government to extend the production time of their NPPs, this against the public opinion. Unfortunately, the shit hit the fan in Japan and Merkel became a sitting duck. She saved her ass by making a spectacular U-turn, i.e.´re-implementing most of the stuff from 2003.

      • Thank you for the details and clarification.

  • Objectif Terre

    “The share of renewable energy in France will have to increase substantially if the country wants to meet targets”

  • SecularAnimist

    I have never understood why nuclear proponents make a big deal out of France getting 77 percent of its electricity from nuclear power.

    The USA operates 99 nuclear power reactors with a total capacity of 99 GW, while France only has 58 reactors with a total capacity of 63 GW.

    And the USA, not France, generates the most electricity from nuclear power of any nation on Earth.

    • Bob_Wallace

      If you dream of a nuclear powered world then France is your uncle.

      About 80% power generated is by nuclear and 56 out of 59 reactors were build in over 15 years. “If France can do it, then every country can do it” sort of thinking.

    • Offgridman

      It is the false use of proportion that they use this comparison I think.
      It sounds so much better to talk about France getting three quarters of their electricity from nuclear while the US has never gone over one quarter, even though the US produces more Kwh on average.
      This way they don’t have to bring up how the French use less electricity per person, or the big differences in size of country or grid. While not accounting for what it actually costs per person to achieve this.
      Information like provided here will leave the nuclear proponents in the dust because getting electricity from renewable sources is starting to match other forms of generation and before not to long will be the cheapest.

  • Guimoute

    The first thing that comes to mind is the ELECTRICAL energy mix now in France,
    which is about 77% nuclear with 15% renewables and 8% fossil fuels.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Well, yes, France gets far more of their electricity from nuclear than does any other country. For those who don’t understand why it’s because of OPEC.

      France used oil for most of their electricity generation. OPEC formed and started messing with supply and prices. France decided that they had to move away from oil for their electricity, did not have a large coal supply, so turned to nuclear. They built 56 of the 59 reactors they now use in 15 years.

      Now those plants are getting old. While nuclear looked like the route to inexpensive electricity 30 – 40 years ago, that has not worked out. France is dealing with high production costs. A recent report from the Cour des Comptes stated the cost of electricity from France’s reactors is running EUR 49.5 per megawatt-hour. $0.08/kWh.

      Reactors have been designed for a 40 year life. After that, in order to extend their life another 20 years or so, they need to be evaluated and often refurbished. France is going to have to do something.

      Build new reactors? Too expensive. Refurbish old reactors? Also too expensive. Replace with renewables? Smart.

      • globi

        While the French electricity sector did reduce its dependence on oil, the French nuclear power programme appears as it primarily promoted inefficient consumption of electricity:

        • Larmion

          Inefficient in what way? Per capita consumption is higher than it is in many other European countries, but much lower than it is even in the cooler parts of the US for example. And a big part of that extra consumption comes from the relatively high prevalence of electric heating in France.

          Is electric heating inefficient? Yes, speaking from an exergy perspective (you’re using a high grade form of energy to generate low-grade heat). However, nuclear power is much, much cleaner than the natural gas or heating oil typically used for domestic heating.

          France’s choice to encourage electric heating was rational at the time: nuclear was believed to be both cheap and clean. That it later turned out not be cheap (though it did prove clean) is not something you can blame those behind the Messmer plan for.

          That graph is also deeply dishonest without context. Your suggestion
          seems to be that nuclear caused electricity demand to spike in France;
          if you were to put similar graphs from neighboring countries that didn’t
          choose nuclear next to it, you’d see electricity use there exploded too
          from the seventies onward. Energy used by households started growing sharply in the sixties, and more of it was electrical.

      • Larmion

        Agreed that building new nuclear is too expensive, but you might want to reconsider that comment about refurbishing.

        The Cour’s report includes the new Flamanville EPR in that 8 cent figure; leave it out (as you should if you only look at refurbishment) and the price drops a bit.

        More importantly, 8 cent is currently only matched by onshore wind in France. Large scale solar is well on its way, but not quite there yet. Unless you assume that enough onshore wind can be built to avoid needing refurbishments, you’d have to conclude one last license renewal is the best course of action.

        • heinbloed

          Flamanville is dead:

          Refurbishment – the extension of a reactor’s life time by 10 years – costs more than importing power. Even if there is no direct cable.

          So the reality in Belgium, where it costs 600 Million Euros to refurbish 2 reactors but only 20-30 Million Euros for the equivalent power import per year:

          The power would come from Germany via the Netherlands and is the ‘greenest power’ available for Belgium at the moment.

          So that is half the price of refurbishment. No risk, no frills, no waste.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Let me copy over some translated parts of the first report –

            “The Nuclear Safety Authority described the anomaly detected last week on the tank of the Flamanville EPR “serious or very serious.” Chinese EPR could also be involved.

            The problem detected on a tank of EPR Flammanville last week is important, according to the president of the nuclear safety authority. It evokes a “serious manufacturing defect or very serious.” Last week, the independent administrative authority announced that *an “anomaly” was detected * in
            the composition of the steel cover and the bottom of the tank of the third generation nuclear reactor built by EDF and *Areva * .

            “This is a manufacturing defect that I would call serious or very serious, which further affects a critical component, the tank. In other words, we will pay it any attention,” said Pierre-Franck Chevet to MPs and Senators.
            Areva, the manufacturer of the tank must offer additional tests “to assess the importance of the anomaly, trying to qualify and see what impact it has potentially Safety”, he stressed. This represents “a lot of work for several months” to build a case.
            A lower than expected resistance

            “Ultimately, it will not be that we have a positive view on the subject if you want to get started, we’ll have to have a strong conviction beyond a reasonable doubt,” said Pierre-Franck Chevet. “It is totally possible that a vessel can rupture, it must be designed to exclude the break,” he pointed.
            In making its decision, ASN will use its team of specialists, experts on the IRSN (Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety). Pierre-Franck
            Chevet does not exclude also have recourse to foreign experts. “I do not prejudge the decision to be taken in any way, given the importance of the anomaly,” said Pierre-Franck Chevet.

            By testing, Areva has found that in some areas of the vessel, the resilience values ​​(material’s ability to absorb shock) proved lower than requested nuclear pressure equipment. A defect that could suddenly find the four EPR under construction around the world?

            The tanks of the Chinese EPR built the same way

            This could be the case in China, where two EPRs are under construction in Taishan. “Some caps of reactor vessels Taishan 1 and 2 were manufactured by Creusot Forge subsidiary of Areva, in a process similar to that of the tank of the Flamanville EPR,” said ASN.”

            I wouldn’t (yet) say dead. But this could kill it.

            I would guess that there will now be a lengthy “study period” which might only be cover for some of head people to look for new jobs…

          • Hermit_Thrush
          • heinbloed

            These were welding seams in Graveline.

            The problem with the steel itself can’t be fixed.

            A company like Creusot which used to build canons and frying pans shouldn’t do any safety relevant jobs.

            The Dutch RDS was a steel welder in all sort of jobs. They built canons, pans and atomic reactors (pressure vessels) with brittle steel. Same problem: safety isn’t a thing that arms manufacturers do consider as relevant. Or their business partners.

          • heinbloed

            Reuters reports that the RPVs are already casted for 5 reactors: 1 x Flamanvillle, 2 x Taishan and 2 x Hinkley Point:


            And Le Monde asks its readers for an eulogy on the EPR:


            In Finland the safety athorities are getting worried as well – made in Japan ?!


            So the EPR seems to be as dead as dodo.2 of the bangers had been promised 2 days ago to India – well, ……fighter planes are being payed for.

  • Hermit_Thrush

    No longer a matter of if, but of when and of opportunities. If you can read in French: If not, use your imagination…

    • Bob_Wallace

      Google translates.

      If you’re using Chrome just right click and click on Translate to English.

  • Was this on purpose? 😀

    • Objectif Terre

      delete it please 😉

  • Thanks.

  • heinbloed

    Thanks, Objectiv Terre.

    (it is very slow in downloading but propably due to high demand, thanks again!)

  • Aku Ankka

    For climate change, it would be more important to figure out how to get heavily coal-based generation out and only then worry about French nuclear plants. This has much better pay-off, given that the required targets for lowering co2 emissions are strict and suggested timescales (by 2030 – 2040) do not have much room for detours.

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