France is late on its energy transition

I came across several articles on my home country lately and thought it was the occasion to keep everyone updated on how the French energy transition is going on.

First thing first, I am very disappointed  that the Socialists running the country did so little on renewable energy sources during their mandate. After all, they are allied to the Greens, who should be adamant on renewables and energy efficiency.

The graphs below, using official data, show the added capacities for solar and wind since 2008. Note how they do not grow exponentially the way they did in other countries or globally. Worse, the added capacity for solar PV had significantly dropped in recent years…


According to the very official barometer (in French):

There were 11.6 GW of wind capacity in September 2016, which produced 21 TWh in 2015. The target capacity for 2018 is of 15 GW. Wind power currently employs a little less than 15,000 people.

To compare with neighbouring countries, Germany has 45 GW of capacity installed, Spain 23 GW and the UK 13.8 GW.

click to enlarge

Hydro is France’s main renewable energy source and has been for years. It has 25,5 GW of installed capacity and produced 58.7 TWh in 2015. It has been producing from nine to 14 percent of the country’s electricity for the past few years.

For solar PV, the installed capacity in September 2016 was of 7 GW, which produced 7.7 TWh. The governmental target for 2018 is 10.2 GW. The sector has 8,230 direct jobs (compared to a massive 32,000 in 2010-2011… or 12,000 in 2012).

To compare, Germany is first with 39.7 GW of installed capacity, Italy second with 19 GW, the United Kingdom third with 8.5 GW. France thus comes fourth there as well.

click to enlarge.

All this point to what the financial newspaper Les Echos is explaining in its recent article: France is late on its ambitions and our common European ambitions as well. The French government is targeting 32 percent of renewables by 2030, exactly double what we have right now…

But a recent European Union study was explaining that renewables now cover 24 percent of the EU electricity consumption on average, France is appallingly lagging behind everyone with only 16 percent. Granted, this looks better than some countries, but for long France has had ten to twelve percent of its electricity coming from hydro alone. So four to six percent of wind, solar and so on looks pretty miserable…


And instead of working seriously on fixing this, the French government seems to be working on diversion. Many news outlets worldwide talked extensively about the one tiny kilometer of solar road installed as part of governmental investments. I found that hilarious if not stupid. Why put just one tiny capacity in harsh conditions when for that same price – 5.2 million euros – France could have put solar on so many roofs with much more total capacity ? Plus I found hilarious that the government decided to put this solar technology at work in one of the cloudiest regions of the country…

I am not sure we should cover roads with solar panels. The world has it is already has a lot of potential if we were covering the buildings of all kinds with solar PV panels. Then, we have at our disposal so many other efficient technologies such as LED light bulbs or other renewables such as wind power and so many others.


To conclude, it seems the Socialist government of Francois Hollande has not done much in terms of energy transition. Let us see who will win the elections in May and what the new government will be doing in this most important economic sector. I am almost willing to bet that it could not be worse, but who knows…

Image credits : Flickr, Dennis van Zuijlekom

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