France is facing a significant challenge in meeting its future electricity consumption needs while transitioning to cleaner and more sustainable energy sources.
A recent report by RTE (Réseau d’Electricité de France), the manager of the electricity network, indicates that the country’s electricity consumption is expected to rise significantly by 2035, driven by factors such as the European objective of reducing CO2 emissions, accelerated phase-out of gas consumption, and the electrification of the economy and transportation. However, there is a projected shortfall in electricity production, raising concerns about energy security and the ability to achieve environmental targets.
The RTE report highlights the need for France to focus on four key pillars for successful energy transition: efficiency, sobriety, maximum utilization of the existing nuclear fleet, and a substantial increase in renewable electricity production. With an estimated electricity demand of 640 TWh in 2035, nuclear and hydroelectric power alone will only be able to supply 422 TWh per year. This leaves a shortfall of 218 TWh annually, equivalent to one-third of the total expected electricity consumption in 2035.
Exploring New Renewable Energy Sources:
To bridge the energy gap and accelerate the transition to cleaner energy, France is exploring various renewable energy sources that offer significant potential. Several technologies are emerging, each with its unique advantages and potential impact.
Undulating Tidal Turbines: A promising new form of harnessing energy from river currents, undulating tidal turbines inspired by fast fish propulsion are being tested on the Rhône River. These turbines have the potential to produce approximately 400 MWh per year, and a fleet of one thousand such turbines could generate around 12 TWh annually.
Osmotic Energy: Osmotic energy, which utilizes the difference in salt concentration between fresh and saltwater, is being harnessed on an industrial scale. Sweetch Energy, a startup, has developed a biosourced membrane that significantly enhances osmotic energy production. The CNR plans to install an osmotic electricity pilot plant in the Rhône delta, aiming to eventually produce 4 TWh per year.
Floating Solar: The French subsidiary of RES, a leading renewable energy company, is constructing a large-scale floating photovoltaic solar park in Perthes. This project, spanning 127 hectares, will consist of nearly 120,000 photovoltaic modules. Once operational, it is estimated to produce around 70 million kWh per year, contributing to France’s potential of 12 TWh per year of floating solar energy.
Agrivoltaism: Agrivoltaism, the combination of agriculture and solar energy, shows promise in France. Utilizing 5% of the vine and fruit-growing areas with agrivoltaic systems could generate approximately 25 TWh per year. This approach enhances agricultural productivity, provides brightness control, and has a low visual impact on landscapes.
In addition to these renewable energy sources, France has made significant discoveries related to natural hydrogen, which could have a transformative impact on the country’s energy landscape. The CNRS and the University of Lorraine have confirmed the presence of a colossal deposit of natural hydrogen in Lorraine, containing approximately 46 million tonnes, equivalent to half of the current global hydrogen production. Another substantial deposit was discovered in the Pyrenees. Natural hydrogen, produced continuously through geological processes, has the potential to provide an almost inexhaustible source of energy for industry, transportation, heating, and electricity production.
France’s energy transition is at a critical juncture, with rising electricity consumption and the imperative to reduce carbon emissions. To meet future energy needs, the country is exploring various renewable energy sources such as undulating tidal turbines, osmotic energy, floating solar, and agrivoltaism. Additionally, the discovery of substantial deposits of natural hydrogen presents a significant opportunity to secure energy independence and accelerate the decarbonization process. By leveraging these clean energy sources and embracing technological innovation, France can pave the way for a sustainable future that aligns with the expectations of its citizens.