Energy efficiency to become overarching principle of French energy policy in 2050

environmental conference, energy saving, energy efficiency, international harmonizationIn the autumn of 2011 the French government commissioned the academic Jacques Percebois to lead a report project called “Energy 2050”, which envisions about forty potential energy scenarios in France. Energy production, limitation of or cuts in consumption, energy efficiency efforts, etc. Here are the report’s main forecasts, including some possible answers to the questions raised by France’s last energy balance assessment.

European legislative framework favourable to energy efficiency

Before putting forth recommendations, the Percebois report recalls the main European energy laws currently in force. For instance, it highlights the awakening which occurred when the Energy-Climate package was adopted by the EU in 2008 under French presidency. This legislative bundle aims at combating climate change by cutting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 20%, achieving a 20% share of renewable energy sources and a 20% increase in energy efficiency in Europe by 2020. The report also says it follows the steps of the Grenelle Environment (a multi-party debate in France on environmental issues) and aims at diversifying the energy mix and enhancing energy efficiency.

Nuclear energy: cornerstone of France’s energy scenarios… alongside energy efficiency

Although most of the study deals with different nuclear energy strategies, especially compared with Germany and the UK, it also mentions the parallel issue of energy efficiency. For instance, the report stresses the fact that France’s energy bill amounted to 46.2 billion euros in 2010, that is nearly 90% of its trade deficit, and makes “sober energy use” its n°1 recommendation: “Making sober energy use and energy efficiency a great national purpose; launching calls for proposals so as to mobilize R&D and innovation and targeting the construction and transportation sectors.”

This recommendation is based on the fact that the residential/tertiary sector makes up 42% of overall energy consumption, with heavy thermal needs (62%) and increasing specific needs (22% of overall energy consumption by buildings is due to lighting and domestic appliances, which rely exclusively on electricity). Though current relevant legislation is assertive, it is deemed insufficient by some: the RT2012 standard establishing a maximum average consumption of 50 kWh per m2 per year only applies to new buildings. The first thermal regulation was passed in 1975 and imposed a maximum average consumption of 200 kWh per m2 per year. However, most of the places where we live and work do not abide by these two standards. According to the report, one third of French buildings were built before 1948 and another third between 1948 and 1975, hence the priority given to the thermal renovation of buildings and the modernization of electrical equipment (for instance through home automation, which allows for accurate measurement and efficient management of energy consumption).

Transforming energy efficiency into a societal issue

Consumption cut targets, as defined for instance by the 27 measures of the French department of ecology and sustainable development in 2011, were mentioned again during the recent environmental conference. But such government goals do not seem likely to be met unless a profound shift in consumer behaviour takes place. Most French people equate energy saving with money saving rather than with an attempt to avoid squandering resources. However, necessary investments to that end will burden households as well as public budgets. According to the Percebois report, this endeavour must be supported through adequate government subsidies, the state’s mission being to make sober energy use a major social project.

The report’s 8 recommandations

Recommendation n° 1: “Making sober energy use and energy efficiency a great national purpose; launching calls for proposals so as to mobilize R&D and innovation and targeting the construction and transportation sectors.”

Recommendation n° 2: “Assessing the cost of each energy policy decision, its impact on public finances, the trade balance, CO2 emissions and employment (including in terms of skilled job creation) compared with a different decision, so as to set priorities.”

Recommendation n° 3: “Refraining from closing a nuclear plant unless the operator is instructed to do so by the safety authority.”

Recommendation n° 4: “Embracing a courageous true (i.e. higher) price policy for energy and CO2 emissions, by dealing specifically and differently with fuel poverty and energy-intensive industries.”

Recommendation n° 5: “Taking the lead and offering our main European partners a full reassessment of the rules of the internal energy market, which should enable the funding of necessary investments, especially those required to address peak periods, and ensuring consistent decision making.”

Recommendation n° 6: “Planning an initiative on international harmonization of nuclear safety rules and practices so as to reach the highest possible standards.”

Recommendation n° 7: “Sustaining or even increasing public research on energy through international cooperation by attaching top priority to programmes operated by both public sector laboratories and innovating companies, large and small alike, capable of tackling the global market. Special attention needs to be paid to renewables and energy storage.”

Recommendation n° 8: “Upholding a long-term perspective for nuclear energy by pursuing the development of the 4th generation instead of setting targets for the share of nuclear energy in electricity production, which could jeopardize the future. Plant lifetime extension therefore appears to be a lesser evil (provided that the nuclear safety authority allows it).”

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