After months of negotiation, the French government has unveiled a long-awaited energy plan that is remarkably true to its election promises. The legislation's cornerstone is the one-third reduction in the role of nuclear power that President François Hollande proposed on the campaign trail in 2012.
Under the plan, nuclear's share of the nation's power generation is to drop from 75 percent to 50 percent by 2025, as renewable energy's role rises from 15 percent today to 40 percent to make up the difference. That is a dramatic statement for France, which is the world's second largest generator of nuclear energy, after the United States. France has a globally-competitive nuclear industry led by state-owned utility Electricité de France (EDF) and nuclear technology and services giant Areva.
When Spectrum reported on Hollande's promise last year, a plan was said to be just months away. And as discussions dragged on, doubts about Hollande's resolve grew. Discontent over the energy debate contributed to a breakdown this spring of the coalition between Hollande's Socialists and France's staunchly antinuclear Greens.
To get the job done, Hollande sacked his environment minister and appointed Socialist party heavyweight Ségolène Royal—a former presidential candidate and Hollande's ex-wife. Her plan is short on details in some key areas, including mechanisms for effecting a nuclear-to-renewables shift. A new nuclear electricity tax is expected to finance the installation of renewables, for example, but details remain to be defined.
That lack of specificity leaves France's nuclear critics non-plussed. “Nothing in the law guarantees that Hollande’s promise to lower the proportion of nuclear to 50 percent in 2025 will be kept... Politicians haven’t provided any means to shake off the shackles of nuclear," according to a statement by Greenpeace France quoted in Bloomberg's report on the plan.
In fact, Royal's plan merely caps the current level of nuclear power generated by Paris-based EDF. If renewable output and total electricity generation rises, the government could deliver its promised drop in the proportion of nuclear without shuttering a single reactor.
Royal's plan does call for a 50-percent cut in total energy consumption by 2050, but it aims to do that by cutting fossil fuel use in buildings and vehicles. One of the proposed avenues for accomplishing that is accelerating the adoption of electric vehicles. The government plan calls for rebates and tax breaks worth up to €10,000 ($14,600) per electric vehicle, and for sharply increased use of EVs in government fleets.
It will take a lot of electricity to charge up lots of extra EVs.
Peter Fairley has been tracking energy technologies and their environmental implications globally for over two decades, charting engineering and policy innovations that could slash dependence on fossil fuels and the political forces fighting them. He has been a Contributing Editor with IEEE Spectrum since 2003.
The Conversation (0)