1. Research, a key factor in the energy transition
France has undertaken a new “energy transition”, as outlined in legislation from August 2015 that provides for a decrease in the share of in generation, encourages the development of renewable energies, and promotes , the circular economy and more effective waste management. Research is a key factor in the transition. Pictured here is a group of solar cells being studied at École Polytechnique de Paris-Saclay.
2. Energy transitions: a long history
A driver of the First Industrial Revolution, mining started declining as early as the 1960s in France, causing intense labor disputes. The last remaining French mine, La Houve (pictured here) in Lorraine, closed in April 2004. The coal still needed for use in industry and a few power plants is now largely imported from the United States, Australia and Russia.
3. Developing hydropower
Energy transitions are never completely smooth. In the 1950s, many large dams were built, displacing entire populations. The old village and cemetery of Tignes in France’s Savoie region were flooded in spring 1952 (pictured here) to make way for the construction of a 180-meter-high . The oldest residents still remember the ordeal. Today, however, hydropower is the leading source in France.
4. A turning point for nuclear power
After the first oil crisis in 1973, France undertook a vast nuclear power expansion and is today positioned as one of the world’s leading civilian nuclear players. In the 1960s, the country began testing reactors. Pictured here is the Brennilis (Brittany) experimental nuclear power plant, which was opened in 1962 and shut down in 1985. As of 2017, its dismantling is still in progress and expected to continue for about 15 years. Nuclear power generates more than 70% of all in France.
5. Solar power makes a comeback
Early on, France led the field in solar energy research. In 1970, operations began at the Odeillo solar furnace (pictured here) in the French Pyrenees. Based on the principle of concentrated solar power (CSP), the parabolic mirror concentrates sunlight onto a focal point in the white tower, generating . Research efforts eventually dwindled, but picked up again with renewed enthusiasm at the start of the 21st century, with a focus on photovoltaic (PV) technology, in which power is directly generated by cells.
6. Cestas Solar Park opens near Bordeaux
France is not the most advanced country when it comes to solar power use, whether for electricity or heating. Ranking far behind Germany and Italy, France is also outperformed by Spain and the United Kingdom. That said, the Cestas Solar Park, opened in December 2015 and located south of Bordeaux, is one of Europe’s largest photovoltaic power plants. The 260-hectare solar park has a total capacity of 300 megawatt-peak (MWp).
7. France’s first offshore wind turbine
As with solar, France is not one of Europe’s front runners in wind power. Proportionally to its population, France’s puts it in 16th place. Eleven other European countries had together installed some 2,500 turbines before France inaugurated its first in October 2017 at the port of Saint-Nazaire, in a shower of confetti (pictured here), prior to its being installed off the coast of Le Croisic.
8. Moving toward floating wind turbines
Most offshore wind turbines are mounted on the seabed. However, tests to develop floating wind turbines on a large scale have made significant progress. Not as tall as conventional models, these wind turbines have the advantage of being easier to direct into oncoming wind and less difficult to maintain. In this photo, a prototype is being tested at the port of Marseille, ahead of the planned construction in 2018 of a 13-turbine offshore wind farm.
9. Geothermal energy shows potential
In Soultz-sous-Forêts, at the foot of the Vosges Mountains, the challenge of deep energy has been overcome. Here, steam is extracted at 200°C at a depth of five kilometers to power a turbine, thereby generating electricity. After more than 20 years of research on this very special type of extraction in a seismic fault zone, the power plant came on stream in 2016. Three additional deep geothermal projects are currently being considered in Alsace, although these are only intended to supply heating to residential and industrial buildings.
10. Producing biogas
As a major agricultural country, France has gradually been developing , which is produced from the breakdown of organic matter, such as farm waste, animal dung and sewage sludge. Mostly comprised of methane, biogas can be used to generate heat, power and agrofuels. This photo shows a plant located on a farm in Chayumes-en-Brie, 60 kilometers from Paris. The farm uses a portion of the methane produced, while the rest is injected into the natural gas network.
11. District heating networks flourish
A heating improvement plan has been introduced in France to develop district heating networks, which already exist in many cities, including Paris. District heating plants are powered by wood chips or household waste collected in the surrounding region, thereby eliminating the need to transport fuel over a long distance. The fuel is burned to heat water, which travels through a network of underground pipes. Pictured here is a wood chip storage bin before its contents are loaded into the boiler at a heating plant.
12. Refining undergoes change
In France and throughout Europe, refining is struggling due to international competition, lower fuel consumption linked to improved engine efficiency, and the declining popularity of . The current trend is to combine refining and petrochemical operations at a single facility. This photo shows Total’s refining and petrochemicals complex in Normandy, where each year nearly 12 million metric tons of is processed to create some 200 different products
13. France, a country dependent on oil and gas imports
Imported oil, gas and coal account for nearly 99% of France’s fossil fuel consumption. French law prohibits any prospect of developing . imports have sharply increased, with a 22% jump in 2016. A new LNG terminal opened in Dunkirk in January 2017. At full ramp-up, the facility will enable the regasification of more than 20% of France and Belgium’s annual natural gas consumption. This photo shows the port during construction.
14. Nuclear’s uncertain future
One of the goals of France’s Energy Transition Act was to decrease nuclear energy’s share in the power generation mix to 50%, compared with more than 70% today. However, the 2025 deadline is no longer seen as realistic and may be extended by up to ten years. Currently, there are 58 nuclear reactors in France. The Fessenheim nuclear power plant in Alsace is expected to close within five years, but in Flamanville (Normandy), a new-generation reactor called EPR is being built (pictured here).
15. Cities and the quest for sustainable expansion
Every major city in France has launched programs to develop eco-districts, low-energy buildings and new mobility services and habits. In Lyon’s Confluence district (pictured here), a number of innovations are being tested to improve architecture and energy management in homes and offices, in cooperation with Japanese researchers boasting renowned expertise in smart communities.