Feature Report: The Energy Sagas

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The Saga of energies

The History of Energy in France

In partnership with La Recherche and L’Histoire

France uses around 2.5% of the global energy supply and imports almost half of its energy needs, for a population of nearly 66 million or 1% of the world total. The conflicts of the 20th century threw the country’s vulnerability into sharp relief. One of the consequences was that the French State played a decisive role in managing energy during the two World Wars, undertaking a wave of nationalizations in the post-Liberation period. Later on, the first oil crisis of 1973 prompted France to embark on a major nuclear power program to ensure its energy independence. But the financial and human capital invested in such programs took away from the development of renewable energies, with the exception of hydropower, which was developed very early on.

Although the French State gradually cut back its involvement in energy companies in the first decade of the 21st century, it still plays a strong political role in controlling energy prices, now seen as a social issue, and in the future of the nuclear power industry. Nuclear power now accounts for 77% of all the electricity produced and 17% of all the energy consumed in France, making the country the world's leading user of nuclear energy.


  • The History of Energy in France
  • Energy Choices
  • France today
  • Future Challenges

What are France's Energy Choices Going Forward?

  • XIIth
  • XVIIIth
  • XIXth
  • XXth
  • XXIth
 
Middle Ages: Water, Wind & Wood
Moyen-Âge
© THINKSTOCK

The main source of energy up until the Middle Ages was the muscle powerIn physics, power is the amount of energy supplied by a system per unit time. In simpler terms, power can be viewed as energy output... of men and animals. Later on, monasteries played a major role in the use of hydropower; at that time a watermill could produce as much energy as a hundred men. In the 12th century, Crusaders back from the Near East introduced windmills to Europe's coastal nations, first Italy and France and then Spain and Portugal. This inexpensive technology was used to grind grain and wheat and would be essential to the development of large-scale harvests. But the basic energy source remained wood, which was easy to transport and used mainly for heating.

 
18th century: First Stirrings of the Industrial Revolution
XVIII
© P. DELMISSIER

While a severe shortage of wood in Europe had already started England down the path of its coal-plus-steam-based industrial revolution, France was still in the prospecting stage. The first coalCoal is ranked by its degree of transformation or maturity, increasing in carbon content from... mines in northern France and the Lorraine region and the very first oil field, Pechelbronn in Alsace, were discovered in the 18th century.

 
1827: The Beginnings of Rail
1827
© THINKSTOCK

The first French railway opened between Saint-Etienne and Andrézieux, to carry coal from the mine to the loading port on the Loire River. Yet in the early days of the 19th century, traditional manufacturers were still hesitant to use coal as a fuelFuel is any solid, liquid or gaseous substance or material that can be combined with an oxidant....

1850-1900: The Rise of Coal Production
1865
© THINKSTOCK

It would take the combined effects of rapidly developing rail transport and steam navigation and the discovery of new mines in the Pas-de-Calais and Lorraine regions to give coal real impetus. Production soared from 12 million Metric tons (Mt) for 18 Mt consumed in 1865 to 40 Mt for 63 Mt consumed in 1913.

1881: A Tribute to Electricity
Moyen Age
© THINKSTOCK

The Paris Palace of Industry exhibition hall hosted the first international exhibition showcasing electricity. The public could admire such innovations as the dynamo, the electric bulb and the electric tram. The use of electricity spread gradually through French society, first for communications with the electric telegraph, and then for lighting and motors.

 
The Great War, 1914-1918: Oil as Lifeblood
1914
© Library of Congress / WIKICOMMONS

Until the early 20th century, France got along perfectly well being totally dependent on foreign oil. But World War I required the massive use of motorized means of transportation developed at the end of the 19th century, including trucks, aircraft and field artillery tractors. Since France had no oil and Great Britain did not have enough, Georges Clemenceau was forced to sound the alarm to his U.S. allies in 1917, declaring that "Gasoline is as vital as blood in the coming battles." Energy use took on a political dimension.

" Gasoline is as vital as blood in the coming battles. "

Post-War Period: Government Involvement in Energy Management
Après guerre
© Archive TOTAL

Despite the fact that the San Remo Treaty of 1920 gave Germany's pre-war share of Mesopotamian oil to France, the country became extremely preoccupied with energy independenceThe ability of a country or region to meet all its energy needs without having to import primary or final energy. . This was reflected by the government's decision to play a role in energy management, an area previously dominated by entrepreneurs. In 1924, Compagnie Française des Pétroles was created, mainly to build up strategic petroleum reserves. The Law of March 30, 1928 was one of the first energy laws in France. It gave the State a monopoly on deciding how much oil to import into the country, which refineries would process it and how fuel would be distributed in France, based on needs. Most important, it set oil prices by decree.

1939: Nuclear Power, a National Defense Issue
1939
© The Bibliothèque nationale de France / WIKICOMMONS

French physicist and chemist Frédéric Joliot-Curie discovered the principle of chain reactions and its potential applications in weaponry, kicking off a wartime scientific-military race. Edouard Daladier, at that time Chairman of the Council of Ministers and Defense Minister, decided to protect these discoveries by classifying them as a defense secret, placing the scientist and his small team under the authority of the Ministry of Armaments. In May-June 1940, Germany invaded France. Joliot-Curie sent his Jewish colleagues to safety in England, along with the team’s documents and patents.

October 18, 1945: Creation of the French Atomic Energy Commission (AEC)
1942
© Courtesy of the United States Department of Energy

During the Second World War, French scientists working as expatriates in Montreal heard about the Manhattan Project, a monumental research program to build the first atomic bomb conducted by the United States with the help of the United Kingdom and Canada. After France was liberated, they persuaded Charles De Gaulle to create the French Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), with responsibility for conducting "scientific and technical research for the purpose of using atomic energy in various scientific, industrial and national defense fields."

April 8, 1946: EDF and GDF Created on the Same Day
8 avril 1946
© Photothèque CNR

In a rare instance of political consensus, power generation, transmission and distribution companies were nationalized to create the electric utility Electricité de France (EDF). EDF became the main vehicle for investing in the country’s reconstruction, an engine of industrial development. Pre-war efforts to develop hydropower, with the construction of dams and extension of the power grid, and coal-fired power plants were stepped up. Gaz de France (GDF), which specializes in natural gas production and distribution, was created the same day.

May 17, 1946: Nationalization of the Coal Industry
17 mai 1946
© BRGM - Charbonnages de France

The war and German occupation severely stifled coal production in France. The occupying forces extracted coal from French mines without bothering to maintain them and ended up flooding wells and destroying a good portion of the installations. Influenced by the National Resistance Council program, the State nationalized the coal industry and created Charbonnages de France. In a country that needed rebuilding and whose steam-powered rail and heating infrastructure was still largely dependent on coal, the government embarked on a sweeping campaign to modernize mining installations, which it mechanized, with the support of the Communist Party and France's CGT labor union.

1956: Secret Research on Nuclear Arms
1956
© AFP

Pierre Mendès France believed that France should have nuclear weapons like all other permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. He quietly launched a research program to build an atomic bomb as a nuclear deterrent. France's first military nuclear reactors, which produced their first gram of plutonium on July 21, 1956, were secretly constructed at the Marcoule site. Civilian use of nuclear power grew out of this and EDF built its first nuclear power plant in Chinon in 1963.

1957: The Development of French Gas
1951
© Archive TOTAL

France began to develop its natural gas in 1957 after Société Nationale des Pétroles d'Aquitaine (Elf Aquitaine's forerunner) discovered a gas field in Lacq, in the southwestern part of the country.

1960: The Jeanneney Plan and Coal's Decline
1960
© Archives Le Républicain Lorrain

Coal's post-war rebound was short-lived. The proportion of coal in the energy mixThe range of energy sources of a region. dropped nearly 50% as it was replaced by cheap oil. The country began making major gas purchases from the Netherlands, Norway, the USSR and Algeria. Jean-Marcel Jeanneney, Minister of Industry at the time, presented a stabilization plan to curtail coal production. The government began to shut down loss-making sites, sparking massive miner strikes and demonstrations in the streets of Paris in March and April of 1963.

1965 - 1969: The Difficult Civil Nuclear Power Debate
1963
© EDF - Studio Decker

France suffered a series of traumas caused by its dependence on foreign oil, including the oil embargo after the 1956 Suez Crisis and the independence in 1962 of Algeria, which has a large oil reserve in the Sahara. These blows gradually pushed France toward nuclear power, plunging the country into a major, fierce and sometimes violent public debate from 1965-1969 on choices about France's future nuclear power industry. Ultimately, the country adopted the U.S. model of pressurized water reactors (PWR), the most widespread process in the world today.

1970: Research on Renewable Energies
© Yves C. / WIKICOMMONS

France turned to renewable energyEnergy sources that are naturally replenished so quickly that they can be considered inexhaustible on a human time scale... research as part of its ongoing focus on energy independence. By the end of the 1970s the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) had already made enormous strides in solar power, solar furnace chemical reactions and photovoltaics, acquiring a good lead over its European neighbors. But the technologies were not yet efficient.

1973: First Oil Crisis
© AFP

The first oil crisis fully convinced the French that they needed to invest in energy independence. At the height of the Arab-Israeli War on October 16 and 17, 1973, Arab nations in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (organization of the petroleum exporting countries (opec) Created in 1960, OPEC currently has 12 members: Algeria, Angola, Ecuador, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia...) – who had already begun to wrest back control of their resources through a wave of nationalizations – announced an oil embargo on States "supporting Israel" and a quadrupling of oil prices. Meanwhile, oil companies invested in exploration in more politically stable places. The outlook got brighter for the French oil industry when fields were discovered in the North Sea, Indonesia and Argentina.

1978-1981: Nuclear Power Trumps Renewable Energies
© D. MARC / EDF

The second oil crisis pushed up crude prices by a factor of 2.7 in two and a half years. After this steep rise, oil prices began falling again in 1982. At the same time, the nuclear power industry organized itself around a number of players and reactors became a bona fide economic success, soaking up all available financial and human resources. As a result, France scrapped its research on renewable energies, which were proving costly and unprofitable. This was the start of what would become a serious lag compared to France’s European neighbors, especially Germany.

 
2000-2008: Globalization
© T. GONZALEZ / TOTAL

This was the era of massive mergers in a globalized world. After absorbing Belgium-based Fina, Total merged with its French sister company, Elf. The merger of nuclear power players Framatome and Cogema created Areva. Most important, France put the finishing touches on its nuclear power sector by creating its own nuclear safety agencies, Autorité de sûreté nucléaire (ASN)The ASN, or French Nuclear Safety Authority, is an independent administrative authority founded in 2006... and Institut de radioprotection et de sûreté nucléaire (IRSN)The French Institute for Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety is active in research, training, monitoring and public education....

An Ever-Changing Energy Mix

Forty Years to Phase Out Coal

The history of energy in France consists of a series of choices, shaped by a complex tapestry of economic, geopolitical and social constraints that have gradually created today's energy landscape.

Although the French government realized that coal mines were becoming loss-making as far back as 1960, it took more than 40 years to totally shut down the industry. The last French coal mine closed in 2004 in La Houve in the Lorraine region, after 250 years of activity.

Because of its substantial demand for manpower, the coal industry has a history that is closely tied to social and labor issues. Difficult working conditions and the unprecedented industrial concentration in coal country put coal mines on the forefront of the labor struggle. Labor rights earned at the bottom of a mine include a ban on underground work by women in 1892 and children under 12 in the early 20th century, the introduction of the eight-hour day for miners in 1910, the production sharing contract (or agreement)Oil contract under which the oil that is produced is shared between the state and the oil company... granting three to six days of annual paid leave in 1930 and the general strikes of 1936.

Today France still uses some 17 million Metric tons of coal, imported mainly from Australia, the United States and South Africa. It is destined primarily for industry (iron and steel) and power production (4% of the country's electricity is generated by coal-fired power plants).

“In France, We Don't Have Oil But We Have Ideas”

The country's desire to curtail its use of fossil fuels did not originally stem from a concern for climate issues, but rather from economic factors, such as the energy bill and industrial development, and political factors, including energy independence. The issue emerged in the 1970s after the two oil crises; in addition to launching the nuclear power program, the government introduced a sweeping energy-use reduction policy, or "fight against waste." "In France, we don't have oil but we have ideas" was the catchy slogan rolled out in 1973 during the first oil crisis by the energy conservation agency Agence pour les Économies d’Énergies, now the French Environment and Energy Management Agency (ADEME).

Today, France is 99% dependent on foreign oil, which it imports from the former states of the Soviet Union, Africa, the Middle East and the North Sea.

“The Limits to Growth,” the Club of Rome Report

Geopolitically speaking, industrialized countries have aimed to diversify their supply sources and lessen their dependence on OPEC oil. The question of fossil fuel reserves has been raised since the 1972 Club of Rome report entitled "The Limits of Growth," which examined the economic implications between now and 2100 of living on a planet with limited resources. The topic was glossed over in the 1980s and 1990s, when low oil prices reflected a well-supplied market and continually replaced reserves. It resurfaced in the 2000s when a number of people suggested that we could no longer count on replacing reserves and that oil production would soon peak. Today, the development of resources requiring "technology-intensive" efforts, including source rock oil and gas (e.g., shale gasShale gas is found in deeply buried clayey sedimentary rock that is both the source rock and the reservoir for the gas...), ultra-deep offshore oilDescribes crude oil produced offshore, either in shallow water (depths up to 700 meters) using standard methods, or in deep water..., sour gas and heavy oil, are once again pushing the discussion onto the back burner.
In the 1970s, France produced 15% of the natural gas it used. In 2013, the country stopped producing gas. French law has banned the exploration and production of shale gas, of which the country is thought to have potentially significant reserves.

Today, three-quarters of imported gas is piped in (most of it from Norway, followed by the Netherlands and Russia) and one-fourth comes in as liquefied natural gas (lng)LNG is composed almost entirely of methane. Liquefying the gas reduces its initial volume by a factor of around 600..., mostly from Algeria.

Automobiles and Urban Density

In 1970, when mass automobile use dominated the transportation scene, industrial operators attempted to revive the rail market with several French innovations. The first line of turbotrains, a high-speed train propelled by gas turbines, connected Paris to Caen and Cherbourg in 1971 and later Lyon to Strasbourg. An experimental line featuring Jean Bertin's Aérotrain, a hover train gliding on an air cushion able to travel over 300 kilometers an hour, was built in the Loiret region. But the 1973 oil crisis crushed all these efforts. The era's ultra-rapid trains were also gas-guzzlers.
The first urban density problems also emerged in the early 1970s, prompting a shift in transportation policy to mass transit solutions. Metro systems were inaugurated in 1978 in Lyon and Marseille, while electric-powered light rail was gradually reintroduced in the country. Electricity and electric-powered rail once again showed their considerable potential, culminating in the first high-speed train link connecting Paris to Lyon in 2.5 hours in 1981.
However, liquid oil and gas still dominated individual and freight transportation. The growth of the suburbs in the late 1980s increased car use and commutes grew by three kilometers in less than 20 years, rising from an average of 12 kilometers in 1994 to 15 kilometers at present.

Today, France uses half of the oil it imports for transportation, with road transportation accounting for 96% of total consumption.

Renewable Energies' False Start

In the 1970s, the country joined the search for alternative energies by creating a Solar Energy Commission (COMES) in 1978. The Thémis concentrated solar power plant was built in the Eastern Pyrenees and Photowatt, long one of the world's best photovoltaic panel makers, was founded. But the drop in oil prices in the 1980s, the nuclear power program's success and the relatively high cost of renewables ended up pulling efforts in another direction. Only hydropower enjoyed strong growth.
Investment in renewable energies, especially wind and solar, took off again at the turn of the century. But they still accounted for a very small share of the primary energyAll energy sources that have not undergone any conversion process and remain in their natural state.. mix.

In 2013, nuclear power represented 73.3% of the power generated in France, followed by hydropower (13.8%), other renewable energies (4.8%) and fossil fuels (8.1%).

Forty Years to Phase Out Coa

The history of energy in France consists of a series of choices, shaped by a complex tapestry of economic, geopolitical and social constraints that have gradually created today's energy landscape.

Although the French government realized that coal mines were becoming loss-making as far back as 1960, it took more than 40 years to totally shut down the industry. The last French coal mine closed in 2004 in La Houve in the Lorraine region, after 250 years of activity.

Because of its substantial demand for manpower, the coal industry has a history that is closely tied to social and labor issues. Difficult working conditions and the unprecedented industrial concentration in coal country put coal mines on the forefront of the labor struggle. Labor rights earned at the bottom of a mine include a ban on underground work by women in 1892 and children under 12 in the early 20th century, the introduction of the eight-hour day for miners in 1910, the agreement granting three to six days of annual paid leave in 1930 and the general strikes of 1936.

Today France still uses some 17 million Metric tons of coal, imported mainly from Australia, the United States and South Africa. It is destined primarily for industry (iron and steel) and power production (4% of the country's electricity is generated by coal-fired power plants).

“In France, We Don't Have Oil But We Have Ideas”

The country's desire to curtail its use of fossil fuels did not originally stem from a concern for climate issues, but rather from economic factors, such as the energy bill and industrial development, and political factors, including energy independence. The issue emerged in the 1970s after the two oil crises; in addition to launching the nuclear power program, the government introduced a sweeping energy-use reduction policy, or "fight against waste." "In France, we don't have oil but we have ideas" was the catchy slogan rolled out in 1973 during the first oil crisis by the energy conservation agency Agence pour les Économies d’Énergies, now the French Environment and Energy Management Agency (ADEME).

Today, France is 99% dependent on foreign oil, which it imports from the former states of the Soviet Union, Africa, the Middle East and the North Sea.

“The Limits to Growth,” the Club of Rome Report

Geopolitically speaking, industrialized countries have aimed to diversify their supply sources and lessen their dependence on OPEC oil. The question of fossil fuel reserves has been raised since the 1972 Club of Rome report entitled "The Limits of Growth," which examined the economic implications between now and 2100 of living on a planet with limited resources. The topic was glossed over in the 1980s and 1990s, when low oil prices reflected a well-supplied market and continually replaced reserves. It resurfaced in the 2000s when a number of people suggested that we could no longer count on replacing reserves and that oil production would soon peak. Today, the development of resources requiring "technology-intensive" efforts, including source rock oil and gas (e.g., shale gas), ultra-deep offshore oil, sour gas and heavy oil, are once again pushing the discussion onto the back burner.
In the 1970s, France produced 15% of the natural gas it used. In 2013, the country stopped producing gas. French law has banned the exploration and production of shale gas, of which the country is thought to have potentially significant reserves.

Today, three-quarters of imported gas is piped in (most of it from Norway, followed by the Netherlands and Russia) and one-fourth comes in as liquefied natural gas, mostly from Algeria.

Automobiles and Urban Density

In 1970, when mass automobile use dominated the transportation scene, industrial operators attempted to revive the rail market with several French innovations. The first line of turbotrains, a high-speed train propelled by gas turbines, connected Paris to Caen and Cherbourg in 1971 and later Lyon to Strasbourg. An experimental line featuring Jean Bertin's Aérotrain, a hover train gliding on an air cushion able to travel over 300 kilometers an hour, was built in the Loiret region. But the 1973 oil crisis crushed all these efforts. The era's ultra-rapid trains were also gas-guzzlers.
The first urban density problems also emerged in the early 1970s, prompting a shift in transportation policy to mass transit solutions. Metro systems were inaugurated in 1978 in Lyon and Marseille, while electric-powered light rail was gradually reintroduced in the country. Electricity and electric-powered rail once again showed their considerable potential, culminating in the first high-speed train link connecting Paris to Lyon in 2.5 hours in 1981.
However, liquid oil and gas still dominated individual and freight transportation. The growth of the suburbs in the late 1980s increased car use and commutes grew by three kilometers in less than 20 years, rising from an average of 12 kilometers in 1994 to 15 kilometers at present.

Today, France uses half of the oil it imports for transportation, with road transportation accounting for 96% of total consumption.

Renewable Energies' False Start

In the 1970s, the country joined the search for alternative energies by creating a Solar Energy Commission (COMES) in 1978. The Thémis concentrated solar power plant was built in the Eastern Pyrenees and Photowatt, long one of the world's best photovoltaic panel makers, was founded. But the drop in oil prices in the 1980s, the nuclear power program's success and the relatively high cost of renewables ended up pulling efforts in another direction. Only hydropower enjoyed strong growth.
Investment in renewable energies, especially wind and solar, took off again at the turn of the century. But they still accounted for a very small share of the primary energy mix.

In 2013, nuclear power represented 73.3% of the power generated in France, followed by hydropower (13.8%), other renewable energies (4.8%) and fossil fuels (8.1%).

The French Power Mix in 2012 

The term "power mix" refers to the breakdown of electricity production by fossil fuel, nuclear power, hydropower and other renewable energy sources. It therefore does not include issues related to most types of transportation and large sectors of industry. Nuclear power is by far the most dominant component in the mix, but should decline between now and 2025 as a result of government incentive policies.

Energy Mix Trends, 1970 to 2012

The term “energy mix” refers to how final energy consumption in a given geographical region breaks down by primary energy source. It changes over the years. In France's case, the share of coal fell from 21% in 1970 to 4% in 2012, while oil consumption dropped from 64% to 31% over the same period because of the growth of nuclear power.

Source : statistiques de l'International Energy Agency 2009

Choose two years to compare energy mix trends:

and

Energy mix source: 2009 International Energy Agency statistics.

FEW NUMBERS

  • AREA
  • POPULATION
  • POPULATION GROWTH
  • AGEING POPULATION
  • GDP
  • GDP PER CAPITA
  • HUMAN
    DEVELOPMENT
    INDEX (HDI)
  • co2See Carbon Dioxid EMISSIONS
 

Sources : World Bank, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and United Nations Population Division.

FEW NUMBERS

  • AREA

  • POPULATION

  • POPULATION GROWTH

  • AGEING POPULATION

  • GDP

  • GDP PER CAPITA

  • HUMAN DEVELOPMENT
    INDEX (HDI)

  • CO2 EMISSIONS

Sources : World Bank, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and United Nations Population Division.

What Energy Choices are Available for Future Generations?

In June 2003, French President Jacques Chirac pledged to the international community to reduce the country's greenhouse gas (ghg) Gas with physical properties that cause the Earth's atmosphere to warm up. There are a number of naturally occurring greenhouse gases... emissions by a factor of four by 2050. This ambitious goal was reiterated a year later in the "climate plan" and confirmed at the 2007 Grenelle Environment conference and in the energy transition bill introduced in 2014.

But where did this factor of four come from? To understand it, imagine that everyone living on our planet used an equal amount of energy. If that were the case, halting the accumulation of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere and stabilizing global warmingGlobal warming, also called planetary warming or climate change... would require everyone to limit their carbons emissions to no more than 500 kilograms a year. However, the average French person emits two Metric tons, much of which comes from the energy sector. That's twice the global average, but only one-third as much as countries like the United States and almost one-fourth as much as the tiny nation of Kuwait! So to meet the carbon emissions goal of 500 kilograms per capita a year, France must cut its greenhouse gas emissions by a factor of four.

France Already Missed the Targets Set by the 2001 European Union Directive

Panneau photovoltaique
Manufacture of solar panels at the Vernejoul plant in Moselle, France. © Sun Power

Does France have the means to achieve its greenhouse gas reduction goals? The country opted very early on for nuclear power and hydropower, which together account for almost 90% of its electricity generation. Efforts will therefore have to rely on new drivers, summed up nicely by the 2007 European Union targets known as "20-20-20."

Using 1990 as a baseline, the EU is calling for improving energy efficiencyIn economic terms, energy efficiency refers to the efforts made to reduce the energy consumption of a system... by 20%, reducing carbon emissions by 20% and increasing the share of energy produced by renewables to 20% by 2020. France has already missed the renewable targets set by the 2001 EU directive, namely to bring the share of total electricity generated from renewables up to 21% by 2010. The proportion hovers at around 18% at present.

Forced to acknowledge its failure, France made a binding commitment to its European Union partners at the 2007 Grenelle Environment conference to boost the renewable share of its total energy consumption to 23% in 2020, up from 13.7% in 2014.

Wind Power Closes In on Economic Viability

Wind turbines in the French countryside. © THINKSTOCK

To support this transformation, the country and its public stakeholders can take simultaneous steps in the areas of research and innovation, to develop more efficient, cheaper technologies; support for the industry, especially when innovative startups are just getting off the ground; and support for the market, by regulating power feed-in tariffs. Usually the goal is to build mature, competitive sectors that can accelerate the deployment of new energy systems. The production of energy from land-based wind turbines is getting close to being profitable (6.7 euro cents per kWh versus 4.5 euro cents in a nuclear power plant) and the installation in the last few years of around 500 wind turbines a year has made France the third-biggest market in Europe, after Germany and Spain. Meanwhile, solar power poses a number of challenges. The sunlight-to-power conversion efficiency of the best commercial-scale systems barely exceeds 20% and the cost of the electricity produced remains high, despite a downward trend.

Energy Efficiency Is an Especially Strong Focus for the Automotive Fleet

The other vital transformation concerns energy efficiency, which aims to meet the same needs while cutting consumption, or as some people argue, to reduce needs and consumption at the same time. Transportation generates 34% of greenhouse gas emissions in France (13% worldwide) and is at the heart of the problem. The first steps for the automotive sector have already been written into European Union public policies through regulations that require automakers to sell vehicles with lower average greenhouse gas emissions (90 grams of CO2 per kilometer in 2020, compared to around 137 grams in 2011) and fuel retailers to market blends that include a certain percentage of biofuelA fuel produced from plant or animal matter. There are currently two types of biofuel.... At the same time, public policies promote research and development on new types of hybrid or electric vehicles that emit fewer greenhouse gases. These changes require the development of new infrastructure, such as EV charging stations, and clear planning of new procedures for their use.

The "Energy Divide" and Home Insulation

Consommation
Energy efficiency, a growing concern. © THINKSTOCK

The last issue to be considered in a country where housing accounts for almost half of all energy consumption (for heating and hot water) is the "energy divide." The most economically disadvantaged segments of society, who live in poorly insulated and consequently energy-inefficient, aging buildings, can no longer keep up with their energy bills. This "energy povertyRefers to the situation of people or communities that do not have sufficient and regular access in their homes or communities to the basic energy..." is a new social development and suggests a need for government to resume energy price controls across the country.

Because France's current housing stock of around 30 million units is being renovated slowly – the renovation rate of older housing is under 1% a year – home insulation looks like a deep source of energy savings. Spending on energy – mainly for heatIn the field of statistical thermodynamics today, heat refers to the transfer of the thermal agitation of the particles making up matter... – accounts for 23% of the greenhouse gas emissions in France. The first step has been to create energy rating standards for buildings and stricter regulations for new construction. The insulation of old buildings is currently being stepped up, for example, through technology programs that aim to create new materials. The government has also committed to renovating and installing thermal insulation in 400,000 housing units a year.

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