Trends in French electricity consumption

RTE, electricity consumption, reneweable energies, wind energy, photovoltaic power, hydraulic, nuclear, energy mixFrench power transmission grid RTE used to belong to EDF until 2000, when the newly created European electricity market made it an obligation for EDF to separate production of electricity from its transmission. Under the terms of a public service contract signed with the state in 2005, RTE must guarantee not only fair access to the network, but also its safety and high quality, while taking part in the development of the European electricity market. Furthermore, as the backbone of the electricity system, RTE is the only operator able to measure national production and consumption levels. This information is published in a yearly report whose conclusions can be used to anticipate key energy trends.

Heating, France’s first energy consumer

To begin with, French electricity use decreased by 6.8% in 2011. Part of the reason is a milder weather leading to less electricity being used by buildings for heating, which is one of the main sources of electricity consumption. Electricity use resulting from residential heating accounts for 42.6 TWh of the overall 131.8 TWH of residential electricity consumption, respectively 21.8 out of 213.6 TWH for the services sector.

Aside from the weather, French electricity consumption actually seems to be slightly increasing, by 0.8%. The aftermath of the recession on the consumption of industries, businesses and households also affected electricity consumption levels negatively.

Renewable energy sources gain momentum

Secondly, production of renewable energy is speeding up. In late 2011 wind energy represented an installed capacity of 6,640 MW, 15% more than in 2010, making up an average 2.5% of overall electricity production.

Photovoltaic power generation enjoyed a very strong growth in 2011, with 2,230 MW of installed capacity, compared with 878 in 2010. 1.8 TWh were produced based on this energy source in 2011, compared with 0.6 TWh in 2010. This trend continues in 2012: wind and solar combined, almost 2,500 MW are due to be fed into the grid. Finally, electricity production from thermal plants using renewable fuels grew by 3.9% in 2011, with 1,270 MW of installed capacity, accounting for 12.3% of overall yearly electricity production (5.6 TWh).

Low-carbon, decreasing national electricity production

Total French electricity generation went down by 8.3 TWh, following the overall decreasing demand. Electricity generation in France in 2010 reached 550.2 TWh, compared with 541.9 in 2011. Parallel to that, the energy mix has significantly shifted towards more reliance on renewable energy sources and nuclear energy, at the expense of hydropower, declining by 25.6% (17.3 TWh short in 2011). This hydraulic deficit caused by droughts in the spring and fall of 2011 has been mainly balanced out by nuclear energy.

Overall, carbon dioxide emissions related to electricity generation in France have decreased from 34.2 million tons in 2010 to 27.4 million tons.

France at the core of European electricity network

France’s net export balance with Europe almost doubled in 2011. This trend is due to decreasing French electricity consumption, availability of production facilities in France and nuclear phase-out policies in Germany and Switzerland. French electricity exports to other European countries grew from 29.5 TWh in 2010 to 55.7 TWh in 2011. A former net importer of electricity, France has become a net exporter, mainly to Germany, Belgium and Spain.

Future network prospects

In November 2012, RTE released a redrafted version of its ten-year development plan, which defines “network development steps needed to match changing patterns in electricity flows by 2050-2030”. Among other things, it anticipates reinforced cross-border connexions, the installation of 2,000 km of high-voltage power lines, new control centres and electricity substations to better distribute electricity nationwide. Last but not least, the plan mentions that ongoing incentive policies must be implemented to foster a major shift in attitudes towards a better control of energy consumption.

Image : JPC24M

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