Feature Reports

The Energy Sagas

Dossier - Saga des énergies
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In partnership with La Recherche and L’Histoire     Planète Energies recounts the "saga" of several countries to bring into focus the long period of time over which the history of energy extends—from the dawn of civilization to the present day—with each successive phase separated by a "revolution", a breakthrough or a slower period of transition. The history of energy results from the permanent interaction between political, social and industrial events, punctuated by the impact of technological inventions and the availability of natural resources. Over the years, the progressive unfolding of events has left lasting marks that continue to shape the countries' energy landscapes and societal behaviors.    

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The Saga of energies

The History of Energy in France

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 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... program to ensure its energy independenceThe ability of a country or region to meet all its energy needs without having to import primary or final energy. . 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 electricityForm of energy resulting from the movement of charged particles (electrons) through a conductor... produced and 17% of all the energy consumed in France, making the country the world's leading user of nuclear energyEnergy produced in nuclear power plants. The enormous amount of heat released during fission of uranium atom nuclei is transferred to water... .

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The Saga of energies

The History of Energy in Germany

With one of the world's most powerful and competitive economies, Germany is a huge energy consumer and a major emitter of greenhouse gases. Whereas in France, annual emissions of 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... per capita amount to 5.8 metric tons (mt), the figure for Germany is 9 mt – due in particular to the high proportion of coalCoal is ranked by its degree of transformation or maturity, increasing in carbon content from... and gas still to be found in the country's energy mixThe range of energy sources of a region. .

But Germany is also the country that has surely been the most pro-active in the pursuit of energy efficiencyIn economic terms, energy efficiency refers to the efforts made to reduce the energy consumption of a system... and the development of renewable energies. The German public is also highly sensitive to environmental impactAny change to the environment, whether adverse or beneficial, wholly or partially resulting from human activity... and willing to invest in developing renewable energyEnergy sources that are naturally replenished so quickly that they can be considered inexhaustible on a human time scale... technologies - even if this means its households have one of the highest electricityForm of energy resulting from the movement of charged particles (electrons) through a conductor... bills of any industrialized country (the cost per kWh is more than twice that of a French household).

Germany may seem to have made some daring choices, but these choices can also be seen as a way of further consolidating its industrial 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... .

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The Saga of energies

The History of Energy in Norway

Norway, a country with a population of only 4.9 million spread over a long, narrow stretch of territory, has an energy model that's unique in Europe.

It relies on its abundant hydropower resources to provide most of its electricityForm of energy resulting from the movement of charged particles (electrons) through a conductor... at very low cost. The discovery of major oil and gas reserves in the North Sea in the second half of the 20th century not only guaranteed its energy independenceThe ability of a country or region to meet all its energy needs without having to import primary or final energy. , but also made Norway the world's third largest energy exporter, after Russia and Saudi Arabia. Norway's oil industry, which is largely managed by the State, accounts for 21% of its GDP.

Considered to be one of the best pupils in terms of compliance with the Kyoto ProtocolInternational agreement linked to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change... , thanks to its carbon-neutral homes and industries, Norway has adopted new environmental standards. Nevertheless, a rapid reduction in the use of fossil fuels is highly improbable.

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The United Kingdom is richly endowed with energy resources. Historically, the country relied on coalCoal is ranked by its degree of transformation or maturity, increasing in carbon content from... mining and only tentatively ventured into nuclear energyEnergy produced in nuclear power plants. The enormous amount of heat released during fission of uranium atom nuclei is transferred to water... in the mid-1950s. In the 1960s, the U.K. turned to the oil and natural gas buried below the North Sea. Although the country's natural resources are decreasing, the production of primary energyAll energy sources that have not undergone any conversion process and remain in their natural state.. still accounts for 10% of Britain's Gross Domestic Product (GDP), a much higher share than in the majority of industrialized countries.

For a long time, the United Kingdom’s intensive use of fossil energy resources (94% of total energy consumption in 1970) ranked it among the world’s largest producers of greenhouse gases. Today, its per-capita CO2See Carbon Dioxid emissions from fuelFuel is any solid, liquid or gaseous substance or material that can be combined with an oxidant... combustion are more in line with the European average: 7.2 tons in 2012, compared to an EU average of 6.9 tons. By comparison, in that same year, Germany and France had per-capita emissions of 9.2 tons and 5.1 tons, respectively.

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