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French government study: 95% renewable mix cheaper than nuclear and gas

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Energy Post

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Photo: Thomas Leth-Olsen

A new French government study shows that the cost to the French consumer of a 100% renewable scenario is more or less equal to a scenario close to today’s, with only 40% renewables. It is yet another instance of leading energy experts asserting that a 100% renewable future is possible, writes Terje Osmundsen, Senior Vice-President of Norwegian independent solar power producer Scatec Solar.

Something remarkable is taking place that is bound to lead to a deep reshaping of the energy debate, starting in Europe and North America. It used to be the visionaries and the NGOs who talked about a 100% renewable future, but now leading number-crunchers and energy experts are joining the chorus. In California, the government energy regulator were recently quoted saying that California’s power grid could handle 100% renewables.

The city of Vancouver is an example of a big city that recently committed to run 100% on renewables for power, heating and transportation within 20 years. New studies have been released showing the US can get to 100% renewables by 2050, at marginal extra cost.

France: 100% renewable?

«Vers un mix électrique 100% renouvable en 2050″ is the name of the brand new report from ADEME (French Agency for Environment and Energy Management), the government agency responsible for green and renewable energy in France. The publication of the report was considered controversial by the French government currently busy securing a majority in the Senate for the new energy transiton law that recommends an electricity mix with 50 % nuclear, down from 75% today.

A political decision was therefore made to postpone the publication of the study, but after the media house Mediapart got hold of it, it has now been published by ADEME.

The 120-page report (exluding attachments) provides a number of interesting and surprising insights. First of all, the study demonstrates that a 100% renewable power system in France is both possible and economically attractive, also when taking into account a number of alternative scenarios including extreme weather, stricter regulations against wind, solar and high-voltage connections, slower technology development, and the like..

Secondly: The cost to the consumer of the 100% renewable scenario is more or less equal to a scenario close to today’s, with only 40% renewables. The reason is simple: Whereas the cost of wind and solar continue to fall, the cost of natural gas including CO2 will rise steadily. But also nuclear is becoming more expensive, primarily due to the new safety regulations.

Table: Average cost of electricity 2015-2050 in High- and Low-Renewables scenario. Source: ADEME

Table: Average cost of electricity 2015-2050 in High- and Low-Renewables scenario. Source: ADEME

 

The study describes a new generation of wind technology that it believes will lead to fewer conflicts with local communities, and assumes that people will accept the high number of new transmission links foreseen in the reference «High-Wind» scenario. For the same «rational» economic reasons, it does not expect rooftop PV to reach more than 10% of total generation by 2050.

 

Figure 100% Renewable: Sources per installed capacity. (Source: ADEME)

Figure 100% Renewable: Sources per installed capacity. (Source: ADEME)

In my view, the study underestimates the potential disruptive power of solar PV compared to alternative sources of renewable and non-renewable energy. The Levelised Cost of Electricity (LCOE) for respectively ground-mounted and rooftop PV will fall gradually and reach 6 and 8.5 €/MWh in 2050, the authors say. This makes ground-mounted PV cheaper than onshore wind in 2050, and the cost of rooftop PV roughly the same as wind power from fixed offshore farms. One big difference however, is that small and medium-sized PV are close to the load centers and hence cheaper to bring to the end-customer.

Furthermore, it should be noted that the assumptions regarding the cost of PV cited above are conservative; most industry experts would expect significantly lower costs in 2050. In addition, rooftop PV and most ground-mounted PV installations are easy and relatively quick to develop and install.

The outcome of all this would therefore most likely be that PV and wind would reach about equal share of the electrity mix in 2050, i.e. 35-40% for each, bringing the total installed capacity of PV to the range of 80-90 GW. Not a bad performance for a country that so far has installed only about 4 GW.

With wind and PV growing to 80% of total power production in 2050, the study gives a lot of attention to how – and at what cost – the different regions can fill the gap when neither the wind nor the sun can meet the demand. What comes out is a combination of demand management (electric cars, for example, charging and discharging), import/export, short term storage (batteries and compressed air installations for example) and hydropower.

rsz_terje-ademe-3

Figure: Simulation of power mix 2 weeks in January 2051 (Green:Stored electricity). Source: ADEME

 

But the main contribution is long-term storage, from «Power to Gas» to «Gas to Power». In other words, the «hidden potential» for storage revealed in the ADEME study is not batteries, but cheap methane produced in a process of mixing CO2 with hydrogen. The methane gas will then be stored, or be transported in the existing gas pipelines to a site for storage, and converted to peaking power during winter months. This hydrogen/methane route represents more than half of all storage solutions foreseen in the 100% renewable scenario, equal to close to 20 GW in 2050.

Terje-ademe-4

Illustration: «Power to Gas» and «Gas to Power». Source: DNV GL

 

It’s perhaps no coinsidence the French experts are so convinced by the methanisation way to storage. After all, the Sabatier reaction involving the reaction of hydrogen with carbon dioxide to produce methane and water was first discovered in France 100 years ago. The inventor was the French chemist Paul Sabatier.

 

Source: Energy Post. Reproduced with permission.  

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  • Calamity_Jean

    I’ve seen a suggestion for the “power to gas, gas to power” storage idea using anhydrous ammonia as the gas. An advantage to using ammonia is that the air is largely nitrogen, so it’s easy to acquire that feedstock.

  • Alastair Leith

    Well on the present cost curve of one doubling and 20% cost reduction every two years, as Ray Kurzweil pointed out, solarPV will deliver virtually free energy by 2036. So the 10% of demand by 2050 in the ADEME report puts a new spin on conservative soothsaying.

    • nakedChimp

      Well, you can’t blame em really.. they did the best they could considering who is signing the paychecks over there, no?
      They’re just humans in the end with families depending on them..
      😉

      • wideEyedPupil

        Actually I read another article which suggests solar was a major component of the 100% RE make up. will try and find the link and post it.

      • Alastair Leith

        OH Craig Morris was onto it of course 🙂

        From his own Exec Summary of leaked document:
        In the reference case, wind and solar would be the main sources of electricity. France would need nearly 96 GW of wind power onshore along with 10 GW offshore. A total of around 63 GW of solar would be installed as well, around 2/5 of which would be on roofs, with the other 3/5 on the ground. Social considerations (public resistance) may result in a lower share of ground-mounted PV, for instance, which is also modeled. The 96 GW of onshore wind is also assumed to require the construction of 50,000 turbines, compared to 4,000 today, a situation that could also lead to public resistance. However, those numbers produce an average turbine size of just under 2 MW, which is already modest; the average turbine size installed in Germany last year was 2.6 MW. As turbines become more powerful, fewer will be needed to produce the same installed capacity. Note that public concern about grid upgrades is not expected to be an obstacle.

        http://energytransition.de/2015/04/suppressed-french-report-says-100-renewables-is-possible/

  • They have to take into account the clean up costs of a nuclear accident
    http://strom-report.de/#nuclear
    An accident similar to the one at Japan’s Fukushima reactor would cost France about 430 billion euros ($580 billion), or 20 percent of its economic output, French nuclear safety institute IRSN said in a study on the possible financial impact of a nuclear crisis Reuters reported.

    • Alastair Leith

      Yes and what is the value of the insurance premiums never taken out by Govts of nuclear powered nations? Sure USA has some tiered insurance but payouts are caps to minor disasters not major meltdowns. UK same. The UK effectively underwrites the main element of risk and the value of that is a subsidy — a never mentioned or calculated subsidy to nuclear power industry and the few corporations who run it.

      _____

      Incidentally, Mikhail Gorbachov has claimed that the Chernobyl meltdown cost the USSR it’s empire. He said that while already extended financially due to USSR war in Afghanistan the cost of Chernobyl broke their economy and ended the cold war. This lead to break up of USSR into nation states. That’s somewhat ironic given that nuclear weapons were emblematic of the cold-war, and stockpiling these weapons was a central defining aspect of the cold war period. Also influencing the security other non-nuclear nations who sort or were obliged to take umbrella protection from either of the superpowers. The ultimate in protection rackets.

  • john

    Who would have had this crazy idea Nuclear is not exactly safe?
    It is only like making radioactive particles that kill you but we will kind of keep them safe like some time you know what can go wrong?
    We will put information which will keep you informed and you will be safe because this piece of paper says so.
    This how we do it ok
    hmm any problems with this?