Environmental activist group Bellona report that President Hollande wishes to reduce France’s dependency on nuclear power:
France’s President François Hollande Friday renewed campaign promises that swept him to power in May to reduce his country’s reliance on nuclear energy to 50 percent by 2025 from its current level of more than 75 percent – the world’s highest atomic energy dependence rate. [from September 2012]
It suddenly struck me that France will have nuclear power stations that it no longer needs and the UK needs nuclear power stations that it cannot afford to build. The solution is absurdly simple. The UK can simply contract to buy 20 GW of nuclear power from France while France presses on to modernise its infrastructure by deploying more bio-energy, wind and solar power. This will also save France and EDF energy an enormous amount of money by deferring decommissioning costs. Its seems to be a win, win, win solution.
Certain opinions were expressed in the comments to my last post that prompted me to have another look at the French electricity system. For example:
France as an island grid would instantly run into blackouts.
I am sure interconnectors which give access to the reserves of many countries which do not need these reserves at this time are much much cheaper. France relies on German and other reserves for many years now, and always could get the needed supplies. Without their grid connections in all directions this would not work.
So is this true, reliable information? Where does energy fact end and energy fantasy begin? And can Mr Hollande tell the difference?
It is worth noting at this point that France, with 4.96 tonnes CO2 per capita per annum, already has amongst the lowest per capita CO2 emissions in the OECD as noted recently by Ed Hoskins. Roger Andrews has also made the point that going nuclear is the most effective way to reduce CO2 emissions. According to Bellona, Mr Hollande wants to be in the lead in the international race to eliminate CO2:
Speaking at an environmental conference in Paris, Hollande said he would consider far larger cuts in France’s carbon dioxide emissions than those forwarded by his predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy – recommending a 40 percent cut in emissions by 2030 and a 60 percent reduction by 2040, well beyond the current European Union-wide target of 20 percent by 2020.
France, with 4.96 tonnes CO2 per capita in 2014 is heading for 1.98 tonnes per capita in 2040. Without nuclear power! That’s not far above where India is now.
Let me begin by looking at France’s antiquated electricity supply system using Gridwatch data for January 2016 to illustrate a point.
Figure 1 Electricity supply for France, January 2016. Click chart for a large version. Note that I accidentally omitted biomass that runs at a relatively minor 500 MW. It was a lot of work to revise the chart. And pumping is excluded since it ran negative numbers throughout the whole month (Leo?). French consumption is much higher than the UK because electricity is used for space heating instead of natural gas. Nuclear provides all base load and load following is provided mainly by hydro and gas.
Figure 1 shows the dominance of nuclear power that Mr Hollande wishes to end. The black line shows demand and close examination of the chart will show how nuclear, coal, gas and hydro almost match demand exactly (click the chart to get a large readable version). How antiquated can you get! What this means is that the small amounts of wind and solar power comprise the surplus that France exports.
It is to be noted that in the period 18th to 22nd January, wind fell to almost zero and demand was high, presumably because it was cold, and in fact in that period France was a net importer of a couple of GW for a few hours on the 20th and 21st (Figure 2).
Figure 2 The pattern of French electricity imports and exports are described more fully in the text below. France, lying at the heart of Europe, has grid connections with Germany, UK, Belgium, Spain, Italy and Switzerland. Maximum exports exceeded 15 GW in January. To be clear, these international grid connections are a good thing. The question is at what scale do they cease to make sense? It should be clear that France could quite easily have got through January without them. But these grid connections are highly beneficial to France’s neighbours who can borrow France’s surplus capacity when they need it.
The pattern of imports and exports is interesting. In summary, France with its antiquated infrastructure finds itself exporting large amounts of electricity for most of the time. Notably Germany, Belgium and Spain are net importers from France most of the time. In the case of Germany and Spain this is likely to be one of the key benefits of their advanced Energiewende. The UK (England) in January 2016 was also an importer most of the time, one of the direct benefits of closing down dirty polluting coal fired generation, but did on occasions export to France. Italy, was the only country exporting to France for most of the time and since France had no need for this power this needs to be viewed as Italy exporting to Germany, Belgium and Spain via the French transmission system, which no doubt earned France transmission fees.
The France – UK Energy Deal
EDF, the state-owned owner of all nuclear power in France also owns and operates most nuclear power stations in the UK. It should therefore be straightforward for EDF to simply start selling nuclear power from France to UK customers. 20 GW of new inter-connectors would be required in order to connect French reactors to UK consumers. I have not looked into the cost, but this is likely to be a tiny fraction of the cost of decommissioning 20GW of power stations in France and building 20 GW new nuclear in the UK. This is a deal made in heaven.
Now we will have a look at what the French system may look like if a deal was struck for the UK to buy 20 GW of French nuclear over the next 20 years. The model below shows French nuclear reduced by 40% that is roughly by 20 GW to reflect the 20GW on permanent contract to the UK. To compensate, and to fulfil Mr Hollande’s pledge to the French people I have multiplied existing wind by a factor of 6, existing solar by a factor of 12 and existing biomass by a factor of 4. The production in this new advanced electricity system amounts to 54.9 TWh compared with 54.6 TWh in the high nuclear system of today. At first glance it doesn’t look too bad. But an obvious feature of the advanced energy system is that supply no longer matches demand. But that doesn’t matter because advanced societies simply build inter-connectors to buy and sell electricity like financial derivatives making a few people stinking rich. I’m sure that is what Mr Hollande (or his advisors) had in mind.
Figure 3 In this theoretical future for France dreamed up by Mr Hollande, nuclear is reduced to 60% of today’s output. The shortfall is made up by increasing wind by a factor of 6, solar by a factor of 12 and biomass by a factor of 4. Stinking coal is closed down all together. The total amount of electricity produced and consumed in this model is the same as January 2016 (Figure 1). The outcome perhaps doesn’t look too bad, but the extremes of surplus and deficit are amplified (Figure 4) and are difficult to impossible to manage in any rational way.
Figure 4 The pattern of net imports and exports to France under Mr Hollande’s advanced power systems model. See text for details.
Figure 4 shows the net export and import balance of the advanced electricity system. One feature is that France now has an import need on 18 days of the month instead of two using the existing system. The import requirement is down to periods of low wind output and DATA SHOWS that at these times France’s neighbours may also experience low wind conditions and may themselves be a bit short of power. Its unlikely therefore that France could depend on its neighbours to bail them out as France did for them for many decades using its antiquated nuclear technology.
It would, therefore, be prudent of France to expand its fleet of CCGTs. About 20 GWs additional dispatchable capacity would be required for use every now and then in winter time. But since the objective of the advanced system is to cut CO2 levels from the lowest levels anywhere in the OECD this would take emissions in the wrong direction.
Another option would be for France to ask the UK to borrow back some of its 20GW nuclear capacity but the UK would unlikely agree to this since it will need all the juice it can get its hands on at those times of low wind.
The best option for France therefore, would be demand management.
Demand Management using TGV Arbitrage
France is lucky to already have one of the most advanced electrified train networks (the TGV) in the world designed to transport the French all over Europe at tremendous speed and comfort. But this is old fashioned. The TGV network offers the ideal opportunity to manage the swings in advanced electricity supply. On the 18 days when France is short of power they could simply close down the transport network, including the Paris subway, bringing the advanced electricity system into balance. This could produce the temptation for people to fly or drive instead, producing CO2, so measures may have to be introduced to ban flying and driving on those windless days. This would also create employment opportunities for enforcement officers and more prisons to house travel ban offenders. The fact is windless days are ideal for cycling.
But the benefits don’t stop there. For much of the time France will be running a gigantic surplus of electricity, up to 40 GW offering great export opportunities. One snag though is that the surplus peaks are down to solar, and at those times all of France’s neighbours will be running a solar surplus too. Once again the TGV fleet may come to the rescue. Travelling could be made really cheap on sunny days around midday to encourage French to travel when the sun shines brightly either side of midday thereby maximising utilisation of clean solar power. Extra trains could be run at times of surplus.
The advanced French electricity system employs 4 times as much biomass as is used now in France. It seems likely that the Americans may begin to protest at their forests being felled to make electricity in Europe and so France should not rely on this particular foreign source. The Brazilians are likely to be less picky. But once again, France is ideally placed with vast forests in the Alps that could be felled to produce low carbon power. These trees are rarely seen by anybody and simply get in the way of skiers. Without them the extent of off-piste skiing could be greatly expanded. Advanced energy systems appear to have no boundaries to their benefits.
While much of what I’ve written here is satirical nonsense, if France is indeed to consider closing down 40% of its serviceable nuclear fleet, then renting this to the UK becomes a serious proposition. Should it come to pass I would like a €5 million fee for providing the idea that will save France and the UK many billions at a time when money is scarce.