Indeed, it is little, compared to other countries that have decided to forgo nuclear in the near future. Plain and simple. As Germany has done; as Belgium wishes to do so. But for one country, France, where nuclear produces more than 78% of electricity, this is a huge step. And even more so due to the policies that have been in place for the last forty years. For Francois Hollande, therefore, rather than debate the relinquishment of nuclear by 2040 or 2050, it is better to make a "firm, clear-cut commitment for the coming fifteen years."
"It’s a common sense proposal,"says Thierry Lepercq, President of Solairedirect, a company involved in development and financing for solar plants. No one is disputing the importance for France of implementing a more balanced and safe energy mix." And especially since the Fukushima disaster. This hypothesis of a reduction in nuclear has up until now been ideological, for the most part – but has now also become economic.
Continuing along the nuclear path may prove costly. Very costly. Even more. There is of course the inevitable cost of dismantling plants – "extremely expensive", according to Edwin Koot, the CEO of Solarplaza. But above all, there are the billions which will need to be invested in order to upgrade the rest, not to mention sector employees who will be reaching retirement, and the training of new experts… All this in an area renewable energy costs are constantly diminishing. So, why not simply stop the expenses? Say, as of today: "Ciao, nuclear!"
According to the negaWatt experts, it would indeed be possible to totally forgo nuclear in France. And this as of 2033, please. Engineers in the sector have described this energy outlook in a well-crafted script. The guiding principle? A trilogy of "sobriety-efficiency-renewable energy". During this "energy transition," the economies in petrol imports generated by the scenario would mean savings of more than 750 billion by 2050 and the creation of 600,000 jobs by 2020.
"The goal can only be achieved through a combination of energy efficiency and replacing other energies with renewable energy,"states Thierry Lepercq, who notes the "very interesting perspective opened up by this scenario with what has become known as ‘Power-to-Gas’, the large-scale storage of intermittent renewable electricity (solar and wind) in the form of hydrogen-based synthetic methane derived from water electrolysis." This is the photovoltaic industry’s trump card – where "Goodbye nuclear" resonates with "Hello, solar energy." According to negaWatt, by 2050, 91% of France’s electricity will come from renewable energy – there’s how a single number can light up the future of photovoltaics.
For Thierry Lepercq, this is a certainty: the prospect of nuclear power reduction contributes more towards the development of PV than all the subsidies granted to the sector. "In addition to energy efficiency efforts, the simple fact of reducing nuclear from 75% to 50% would mean that in the future approximately 150 TWh more would have to be produced using alternative energy sources," he says. "This is significant!" In his opinion, given the current serious financial situation in France, there is no way this transition will be made using energy subsidies. So there is only significant room for solar if it is competitive, "which is practically the case at the present time."
The expert goes even further, stating: "Most of this 150 TWh will only be obtainable from solar energy." Why? "Well, because it is the only energy that can provide the volumes and costs, whilst at the same time being socially accepted and environmentally necessary!" In this regard, it will of course be necessary to address the issue of network intermittency and stability, "which is technically and economically more than feasible."
That may be so. But at the end of the day, what is the point in investing when Chinese competition comes along and crushes it all? What’s the point in struggling, when we know that, by the end of the year, 85% of PV cells manufactured worldwide are expected to be manufactured in Asia, according to a study by the firm IMS Research? "We must be careful not to fight the wrong battle," believes Thierry Lepercq. "France will only prosper if it develops a differentiated and competitive technological and industrial offer, in cooperation with the top global players – including the Chinese – in each sector."
He makes a comparison with flat screens. "They are already all being manufactured in Asia, and no one’s complaining!" Edwin Koot of Solarplaza echoes this view. "Let’s let the Chinese make their cells. It will be cheaper. The jobs lie in engineering and integrated products. Moreover, services are local. The installers for the French market are located in France, not China. Furthermore, the Chinese are taking out huge loans, and as such need ever increasing capital." "The real industrial challenge is that of building offers for systems, intelligent solutions and services, with high value-added," adds Thierry Lepercq. So, to all the French players in the solar photovoltaic industry – it’s your call!