Thanks to its large share of hydropower and nuclear energy, France has achieved an absolute decoupling of its greenhouse gas emissions from GDP growth since 2005, as emissions have either held steady or reduced as the economy has grown. In 2018, nuclear energy made up 71 per cent of the country’s power generation, while hydropower represented 10 per cent.
The country’s 25.5 GW of installed hydropower capacity, including 5 GW of pumped storage, makes it the third largest European producer of hydroelectricity behind only Norway and Turkey. Despite recent rapid growth in solar and wind supply, hydropower continues to make up over half of renewable energy supply.
The 2015 Energy Transition for Green Growth Act (LTECV) set ambitious goals for France’s energy transition, targeting 40 per cent of electricity generation to be sourced from renewables by 2030, up from 18.4 per cent in 2018. The ETL mandates a Multiannual Energy Programme (PPE) to assign compulsory installed capacity targets for each generation technology.
In 2018, the first revision to the PPE announced objectives for energy storage projects with the following: the closure of all coal plants by 2022; tripling wind generating capacity; increasing solar capacity fivefold by 2030; and decommissioning France’s nuclear assets to reduce nuclear generation by 50 per cent by 2035. The PPE targeted an increase of hydropower installed capacity by roughly 500 MW to 26.05 GW by 2023.
As the new plan forecasts 35 per cent of variable renewable electricity supply in 2035, compared to only 5 per cent today, hydropower is poised to play a central role in meeting the flexibility needs of the evolving electricity system. Hydropower currently provides approximately 50 per cent of France’s power system flexibility, and pumped storage still dominates the country’s storage landscape.
In March 2018, EDF unveiled its EUR 8 billion new energy storage plan of more than 10 GW of new storage by 2035, which includes provisions for up to 2 GW of new pumped storage, in line with the previous PPE’s target of adding 1 to 2 GW of pumped storage between 2025 and 2030.
In France, hydropower generation facilities greater than 4.5 MW in capacity are operated under concessions awarded by the French state, which allows companies to operate facilities for a set period of time. Among these plants, more than 80 per cent are operated by EDF and 15 per cent by Engie. Despite uncertainty in the renewal of hydropower concessions, EDF and other French operators continue to invest significantly in the maintenance and renovation of their hydropower assets. In 2015 the European Commission launched a legal proceeding against France to ensure “competitive bidding for hydroelectric concessions”. The French authorities are still in discussion with the EU to close this case.
Despite the uncertain environment, major hydropower projects have been launched in recent years. As part of the PPE, 2018 saw the announcement of the winners of 37 MW out of the 105 MW of hydropower capacity tendered.
EDF is currently constructing the 92 MW Romanche-Gavet hydropower plant, which will replace the six powerhouses and five dams in the valley and increase production by 30 per cent. The first turbine commissioning is expected in 2019, and the project will be completely online in 2020. In addition, the 330 MW La Coche pumped storage plant is currently undergoing upgrades to add a 240 MW Pelton turbine, making it the most powerful of its type in France; the upgrading is expected to be completed in 2019, which will increase production by 20 per cent.
Major regional interconnection projects achieved significant milestones in 2018. In July, a EUR 578 million grant agreement was signed to strengthen the energy interconnection between France and Spain, which aims to increase interconnection capacity between both countries to 5,000 MW.
This country profile is featured in the 2019 Hydropower Status Report. Download the report: hydropower.org/statusreport
This profile was last updated in May 2019.
Pictured: Kembs Hydropower Plant (EDF)