An analysis of renewable energies’ capacity to integrate the French energy mix was published at the end of January 2021. This study Conditions and prerequisites for the technical feasibility of a power system with a high proportion of renewable energy by 2050 follows a commission from the French Ministry of Ecological Transition to IEA and RTE. She reveals four key issues for a successful energy transition in France.
The long-term objective is to analyze the feasibility of the objectives that France has set for itself to achieve carbon neutrality in 2050.
Renewable energy analysis and the challenges for the French mix
According to the report, the analysis of renewable energies (RE) and their capacity to be integrated into the French electricity mix is conditioned by the response to four technical issues. This, with the aim of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050.
Ensure the stability of the electrical network
First of all, France knows that, in order to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, renewable and decarbonized energies such as nuclear power will have to play a substantial role in its energy mix.
France will first have to develop technologies to ensure the stability of its electricity network. The study reveals that there is a scientific consensus on the theoretical stability of a power system without conventional generation.
However, the necessary technologies are not yet commercially available. The analysis therefore encourages investment in R&D as well as moving to the demonstration stage of large-scale pilot projects.
Developing flexible energy consumption
Also, RE has a high variability of performance. This can lead to mismatches between available electricity and demand. The analysis develops hypotheses for the storage of the punctual surplus of production in the form of hydrogen thanks to the electrolysis of water. These stored surpluses would partly make up for temporary drops in RE production.
Demand-side management, large-scale storage and cross-border interconnection are also analyzed as flexibilities to respond to generation variability. Future RE projects will have to take into account the maturity, availability and cost of these flexibilities.
Maintain operational reserves
The study also reveals that the size of the operational reserves will nevertheless have to be reassessed by 2030. These electrical reserves will have to protect the grid from the variability of RE production. Forecasting methods also need to be improved.
The analysis calls for a new regulatory framework defining a better balance of energy consumption. It should establish requirements for the generation fleet to ensure that the power system has sufficient reserve capacity.
Develop an efficient transmission and distribution network
Finally, the report calls for significant efforts to develop electricity networks, both in transmission and distribution. These will require a strong public commitment to long-term planning and costing.
Public consultation should promote acceptance of the new infrastructures. Network improvements may also be partially integrated with the renewal of aging network assets.
France has promising resources
“There is a huge room for improvement”
In short, as Xavier Piechaczyk, President of RTE, puts it:
“To move toward a mix with high shares of variable renewables, we need to address scientific, technical and industrial factors.”
To this, Fatih Birol, Executive Director of the IEA adds that:
“The combined share of solar and wind today is about 10% of the electricity mix [français]. There is huge room for improvement.”
An analysis to be continued
Further socio-economic studies are planned, based on the findings of this analysis. At the end of the year, RTE will publish a complete assessment of the different electricity scenarios that would make it possible to achieve carbon neutrality.