Rhein on Energy and Climate

With the presentation on June 18th of a comprehensive energy transition programme the French energy minister has started to fulfil promises made during the 2012 Presidential election campaign.

The programme is a valuable contribution to the ongoing discussion on European energy and climate policy beyond 2020 and the preparation for the decisive international climate conference in Paris in the fall of 2015.

France wants to create a new “energy model” for the post-fossil era that should make it less dependent on fossil energy imports, create jobs and help develop new energy technologies. Energy efficiency and renewable energies enter the forefront, nuclear power loses its predominance.

Its overriding objective is to reduce energy consumption by half until 2050, an ambitious objective.

To that end, it defines energy targets and some 50 specific actions addressing energy efficiency, transport, renewable energies and administrative procedures.

Nuclear power will continue to remain the main pillar of French electricity supply, though its share in power generation is set to fall from 75% presently to 50% by 2025.

France is thus proceeding differently from Germany which – somewhat too hastily – envisages to shut down its last reactor by 2022. An adequate French nuclear capacity might supply Germany with electricity in periods without sunshine or wind and avoid it from having to install extra gas fired power plants for this eventuality. One more reason for the rapid completion of the single power and gas market!

In order to halve its energy consumption France intends to launch a campaign for more energy efficiency, especially in buildings, which account for 44% of C02 emissions (123 million tons). Many French citizens face high heating costs due to insufficient thermal insulation: while average households have to shoulder an annual bill of € 900, those with good insulation pay only € 250 and badly insulated houses as much as € 2500. The government therefore wants to renovate 0.5 million apartments annually in order to reduce the energy consumption of housing by half until 2050.

It will offer significant fiscal incentives and loan facilities to facilitate the necessary investments. It will also step up training for some 25.000 energy specialists annually, set up demonstration buildings that achieve a positive energy balance through the combination of perfect insulation and solar energy installations. Municipalities will provide one-stop desks to advise citizens about fiscal advantages and credit facilities.

Transport accounting for 27% of CO2 emissions and most of the oil consumption is the s second major axis of the programme.

Here France is much more ambitious than Germany, which has focused on “green electricity”. By 2030 the transport sector should obtain 15% (7% in 2012) of its fuel from renewable sources, above all biofuels and green electricity. The government will grant premiums for the purchase of e-vehicles indefinitely .

In addition, it will continue encouraging the use of bicycles as an alternative to cars, most of which are used for trips of less than two km.

Recycling will be the most innovate chapter of the new energy model. The more material, from metals to paper, is being recycled the less energy will be necessary. France already recycles some 50% of all materials. But it wants to do even better and progress toward the “circular economy” which will become the paradigm of the future.

To implement this ambitious programme the French bureaucracy will have to simplify and accelerate its procedures. This is the last and not least important aspect of the programme.

But first of all a legislative proposal needs to be presented to stake holders, civil society and, of course, parliament, for an intensive nation-wide debate, which should last until October/November. Implementation, which is crucial, will not start before the beginning of 2015.

If everything proceeds according to schedule, France can proudly present its comprehensive approach toward energy and climate to its EU partners and the international climate conference in Paris in November 2015 for inspiration.

Eberhard Rhein, Brussels, 22/6/2014

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