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France and Germany contemplate an “Airbus” of solar

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The French government has announced that it wants to establish a grand alliance with neighbours Germany as it seeks to hasten its move towards 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 and co-ordinate the roll-out 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 publically by leading politicians. France President Francois 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 US 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 centre right and centre left parties led by Angela Merkel has agreed on a target of 55-60 per cent renewables by 2035.

France also wants to reduce its nuclear share from 75 per cent to 50 per cent by 2025. France in the 1970s and 1980s invested heavily in government-funded nuclear as a nation building exercise, and now sources more than 70 per cent of its electricity from nuclear. But the cost of nuclear has continued to rise and it can no longer afford to replace its ageing fleet. Hence its focus on renewables.

Hollande said it was essential for France and Germany – who are 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 told RenewEconomy 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 2c-3c/kWh, when it is the least expensive way of electricity, it would need total installed capacity of 10,000GW of solar PV to meet just 10 per cent of the world’s demand. Today we have just 100GW.

“We need to get to annual production of 300GW very soon. Even with that we would take 30 years to get to that target.”

Fraunhofer is workingwith France’s Institut National de l’Energie Solari (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 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/kWh from 2015. This will involve reductions in offshore wind, onshore wind, solar and biogas. Currently, notes Renewables International, the range for onshore wind is around 0.05-€0.09/kWh compared to around €0.10-€0.13/kWh for solar. The range for biomass is closer to €0.20/kWh, while offshore wind turbines receive €0.19/kWh during the first eight years, followed by €0.035/kWh for an additional 12 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 combines economics/energy ministry, with particular responsibility for the EEG, the tariff that pays for the German energy transition.

Baake told Renewconomy of his thoughts on how the EEG should be re-callibrated. It involves reducing the average tariff of what he calls the second phase of the transition to 9c/kWh. More details can be found here.

France is also preparing legislation that will encourage a shift to green energy, and focus on energy saving initiatives. Energy saving has largely been ignored in France because of the need to create demand to satisfy its nuclear fleet, but such initiatives will be key as it 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 per cent by 2050 even without carbon captur and storage.

The study, from the Stanford Energy Modelling and the Potsdam Institute, 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 emission cut goal of at least 40 percent. Those and other targets will be discussed at an EU ministers’ meeting this week.

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  • Alen

    55-60% renewables by 2035, now that would really be an achievement and I dearly hope I’m around to witness it!

    • eject

      It should be obvious by now that a lot of countries will fly passed the 60% mark by 2035. That is 20 years from now, renewables are competing on price even today. No big economy will be able to afford fossil fuels by then. It is as ludicrous to state such a low number as a target as the 1mio EVs at 2020 in Germany. Reality will beat those targets by huge margins.

  • Gina Mckenzie

    Carbon dioxide sequestration is a ludicrous concept. To take solid carbon, ie coal, burn it to form a vastly increased volume of gas and then expect to inject that all into the ground is just plain silly. CO2 sequestration is a myth perpetrated to keep fossil fuel power stations running. 12 g of coal is roughly one mole of carbon this when burnt produces 44g of CO2 which at atmospheric pressure is. 22.4 l of gas. A kg of coal 2 m3 of green house gas. A tonne of coal 2000m3 of gas or roughly an olympic swimming pool of the pollutant. Try shoving all that underground!

    • Sean

      But in the meantime you can get paid to shove it into the ground to extract more oil!

    • Ronald Brakels

      I suspect it would be easier to grow plants to absorb the carbon released into the atmosphere by burning coal and then dump the plants in the deep ocean to sequester the carbon. Or we could cut out the middle man and dump the coal directly in the ocean. Or it might be even easier to just leave the coal where it is in the ground.

      • Bob_Wallace

        Third time’s a charm…