The French government has announced that it wants to establish a grand alliance with neighbor Germany as it seeks to hasten its move toward renewable energy and reduce its dependency on nuclear.
French President Francois Hollande even hinted at the creation of a Franco-German company -- similar to Airbus -- that could help the two nations as they make major shifts in energy policy.
It is not a new idea. A joint renewables office was established last year in Berlin and Paris to try to coordinate the rollout of renewables, and research groups such as the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Research have been calling for a pan-European solar venture to reduce the costs of solar technologies.
But it is the first time that the idea has been raised so publicly by leading politicians. Hollande told journalists last week that it could be a “beautiful alliance” and made a direct comparison with Airbus, which pooled resources around Europe to take on U.S. aircraft manufacturing giant Boeing.
“Germany has a head start in renewables, but we have our vanguard in energy storage and power grids,” Hollande said. “We have to work together to expand new industrial branches. We are very proud of Airbus; now we want joint action for the energy transition.”
Both France and Germany are undertaking major transformations of their electricity grids. Germany has vowed to close down the last of its nuclear plants by 2022, and the new grand coalition of center-right and center-left parties led by Angela Merkel has agreed on a target of 55 percent to 60 percent renewables by 2035.
France also wants to reduce its nuclear share from 75 percent to 50 percent by 2025. In the 1970s and 1980s, France invested heavily in government-funded nuclear as a nation-building exercise, and now the country sources more than 70 percent of its electricity from nuclear. But the cost of nuclear has continued to rise, and France can no longer afford to replace its aging fleet, hence its focus on renewables.
Hollande said it was essential for France and Germany -- both part of a broader European energy market -- to coordinate their energy transitions. “It’s a big challenge for Europe, but we must, France and Germany, be examples.”
The idea of a pan-European, Airbus-style “mega” solar factory has been promoted by the likes of Eicke Weber, the head of Fraunhofer ISE, who said last year that building sufficient capacity was essential.
Weber advocates what he describes at PV 2.0 -- a ambitious plan to create factories of multi-gigawatt capacity to ensure that the global market is producing enough gigawatts a year to meet demand.
“If, in 2050, when solar electricity might cost us 2 to 3 cents per kilowatt-hour, when it is the least expensive way of electricity, it would need total installed capacity of 10,000 gigawatts of solar PV to meet just 10 percent of the world’s demand. Today, we have just 100 gigawatts.
“We need to get to annual production of 300 gigawatts very soon. Even with that, we would take 30 years to get to that target.”
Fraunhofer is working with France’s Institut National de l’Energie Solaire (INES) and Switzerland’s Centre Suisse d’Électronique et Microtechnique (CSEM) and various private companies to develop the concept.
Meanwhile, Merkel’s new government has unveiled the first of its expected initiatives as it seeks to reform the country's clean energy subsidies.
A draft report leaked last week suggests the average tariff of €0.17 per kilowatt-hour paid for new renewables systems will be cut to only €0.12 per kilowatt-hour from 2015. This will involve reductions in offshore wind, onshore wind, solar and biogas. Currently, according to Renewables International, the range for onshore wind is around €0.05-€0.09 per kilowatt-hour compared to around €0.10-€0.13 per kilowatt-hour for solar. The range for biomass is closer to €0.20 per kilowatt-hour, while offshore wind turbines receive €0.19 per kilowatt-hour during the first eight years, followed by €0.035 per kilowatt-hour for an additional twelve years.
This is expected to be the first in a wider restructuring of energy market incentives, as flagged by Rainer Baake, the former head of think tank Agora Energiewende, who last month was appointed permanent state secretary in the combined economics/energy ministry, with particular responsibility for the EEG, the tariff that pays for the German energy transition.
Baake's vision of how the EEG should be recalibrated involves reducing the average tariff of what he calls "the second phase of the transition" to 9 cents per kilowatt-hour. (More details can be found here.)
France is also preparing legislation that will encourage a shift to green energy and an increased focus on energy saving initiatives. Energy saving measures have largely been ignored in France because of the need to create demand for its nuclear fleet, but such initiatives will be key as the country seeks to transform its electricity supply.
These moves came as a new report suggested Europe could meet its target of slashing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050 even without carbon capture and storage.
The study, from the Stanford Energy Modeling Forum and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, found that Europe did not need to rely on “the much debated and as yet unproven technology of sequestering CO2 from power plant emissions and injecting it into the ground.”
The Stanford study said the 2050 emission goal could be met most cost-effectively by setting a binding interim 2030 target for emission reduction of at least 40 percent.