In 2009, wind turbines generated 7.8 TWh of electricity, a 40% increase from 2008, but still only 1.6% of total power consumption. In the last six years, wind farm electricity production has been multiplied by 20.
Although this development shows that the sector is continuing to grow, the current pace of annual installations will not be sufficient for the country to meet its 2020 objective.
According to the EU Directive, France must increase its share of renewable energy in its final energy demand from 10.3% in 2005 to 23% by 2020.
In December 2009, the French government set itself a target for achieving 11,500 MW of installed wind energy capacity by 2012, 1,500 of which should be offshore, and 20,000 MW by 2020, including 6,000 MW offshore.
Wind power industry in France
The top three market players in wind turbine manufacturing are Enercon, Vestas and REpower, while EDF Energies Nouvelles, Eole-RES and La Compagnie du Vent are the leading project developers. The wind sector now provides around 9,500 jobs to the national economy, and this number should continue to rise.
Four out of France’s 22 regions now host a wind capacity of over 400 MW: Picardie (with more than 600 MW installed), Lorraine, Centre and Brittany.
The average size for French wind farms is 16 MW, but there have been a number of larger developments, three of which were built in 2009: Salles-Curan in Aveyron (87 MW), Pays de St Seine in Côte-d’Or (50 MW) and Mont-Gimont in Haute-Marne (48 MW).
The largest wind farm in France remains Fruges, in the north of the country, with 70 wind turbines accounting for 140 MW. The most promising regions for wind power development in 2010 are located in the north of France, and a third of all new projects will be located there.
Out of 4,000 MW of approved wind power projects, more than 700 MW are in the Champagne-Ardennes region and 500 MW in the Picardy region.
According to a study performed by ADEME (French agency in charge of Environment and Energy) in July 2009, the wind energy sector has created 10,000 direct and indirect jobs in France. If the government’s 2012 objectives are to be reached, this number will grow to 17,000.
The policy framework for wind energy
A feed-in tariff was introduced in France in 2002, ensuring a tariff of 8.2 ct€/kWh for a period of 10 years, which then decreases during the next five years of the contract.
In July 2005, this law was amended to stipulate that in order to be eligible for the feed-in tariff, wind farms must be built in special Wind Power Development Zones (ZDE). These zones are defined at the regional level based on the criteria of electrical production potential, grid connection capacity and landscape protection. The law also did away with the previous size limit of 12 MW for wind farms.
The Grenelle Objectives and the introduction of regional renewable energy schemes
The French legislative and regulatory framework with regards to renewable energy is being fundamentally transformed, and there is, to date, no certainty over the outcome of the reform.
The French Syndicat des Energies Renouvelables (SER) suggested a wind power generation target of 25 GW by 2020, including 6 GW offshore.
This objective would allow France to reach the European target of 23% of final energy consumption from renewable energy by 2020, as outlined in the new EU Renewables Directive.
This last objective was approved by the French Parliament in 2009, which also provides for the implementation of renewable energy schemes at regional level.
The schemes are jointly elaborated both by the executive representative of the state at regional level (prefet) and by the elected president of the regional council following a consultation process, and they are expected to be issued by 3 August 2010.
The aim of these regional schemes is to determine geographical zones for the development of renewable energy, with a specific section for wind energy.
Another law from the Grenelle legislative process (Grenelle 2) will be issued in 2010 and will introduce regional schemes for climate, air (quality) and energy.
Despite these new provisions, the ZDE will continue to exist, and should also include the following criteria: public safety, landscape, biodiversity, historical monuments and classified sites, archeological patrimony.
Remaining obstacles to wind energy development
Despite the high wind power potential in France, there are several barriers that remain and hinder the development of wind energy in the country.
These barriers include the slow authorization procedure for both ZDEs and individual projects, inadequate grid connection capacity, and the existence of zones in which wind power installations are forbidden.
Rather than promoting wind energy development, the ZDE law has hampered the growth of the French market, since it has resulted in longer and more complex administrative and grid connection procedures.
A 2007 study issued by the Ministry of Industry and Economy indicates that nine weeks are necessary to notify the applicant that the application process is launched and that the authorization generally takes 19 months to be completed.
Adequate grid connection capacity remains a problem in some areas of France, although some commitment has been made towards reinforcing the French grid to accommodate more wind development.
In several areas, grid connection capacities are running low and grid needs to be reinforced. The regional schemes of electricity grid connection, planned in the Grenelle 2, aim to address these problems.
Offshore wind energy in France
Offshore wind power development in France is slow, and the legal framework which applies to offshore economic activity is not adapted to wind energy.
Preparation for the first offshore wind farm in France began with a government tender in 2005, but due to long authorization procedures, construction has been delayed and is now scheduled to start at the end of 2010.
The French Government has set a target of 6,000 MW of offshore wind power by 2020 through a process of calls for tender. Three calls are foreseen, the first of which should be published in 2010, followed by additional calls in 2012 and 2014.
In addition, calls for tender should be launched on the basis of geographical zones determined by a consultation process involving all stakeholders, which will result in the definition of zones deemed favourable for offshore wind farms.
The results of this process should be known by the summer of 2010. The text of the Grenelle 2 Law currently under discussion foresees the suppression of ZDE and permitting requirements for offshore wind farms, which would simplify the autorisation process.