France is an important player in the European energy markets, in particular due to its importance for nuclear energy.
France uses this strength in nuclear energy and is able to export electricity abroad.
1. France excels in the production of nuclear power.
One of France’s strategic advantages is its energy security. France attaches great importance to nuclear energy for energy security. It enables France to produce sufficient electricity, which would not be possible in France with renewable energies alone. However, there are also conflicts of interest between the various political groups in the shaping of energy policy. In this respect there are many similarities with Germany. We see in different ways that there are people who have certain reservations about more expensive energy – especially in economically weak times.
2. Remarkable solar energy potential in Southern France.
Solar energy is generally well suited to providing energy security in France, although only in the south of France are there really suitable locations for solar power generation. However, compared to nuclear energy, solar power is very expensive – this is the reality despite the cost reduction in the construction and operation of solar plants and the technical development in photovoltaics. This is still true even when considering the subsidies to support the growth of photovoltaic installations in France. Apart from solar energy, France has excellent potential for wind energy due to its geographical location on the Atlantic Ocean.
3. French electricity exports to Central Europe
Will a substantial part of the energy consumed in Germany come from French nuclear power plants in the future? This is a crucial question because France can provide the base load for the German electricity market. This is also important because Germany exports the electricity it generates from renewable energy sources abroad at times of particularly high generation, when there is a lot of wind and solar energy. In return, however, Germany must import electricity from abroad to balance the electricity balance.
Imagine that in Northern Germany more and more renewable energy is produced in the form of wind energy. Let us further assume that a large part of this electricity comes from renewable energy sources from offshore wind energy production. This electricity is then exported to southern Germany. This requires the construction of transmission grids and the expansion of the power lines. This is very costly, both in terms of friction and electricity losses on the transport route to Southern Germany. It would also be costly from a financial point of view. The majority of energy consumers are found in Southern Germany. This includes industrial customers who need a constant and long-term stable energy supply. We are facing major challenges in storing electricity from wind turbines. This is a central challenge for which we still have to find a solution. In the meantime, nuclear energy remains one of our best options for replenishing missing energy reserves.
Germany has to import a large part of its energy from France in order to support the German power grids and to guarantee a frequency of 50 Hertz. However, investments are also needed for the French nuclear power plants. The French nuclear power plants must also be maintained. At this point we see the importance of an overarching European energy policy to support the energy security of the member states.
The question is: To what extent does Germany allow its industry to suffer? As we have elaborated, the French nuclear industry needs new investment. New nuclear power plants would have to be built. These would be nuclear power plants of the latest generation with increased safety standards. To be more precise, safety standards are at the heart of the matter. And the second factor would be the final disposal of radioactive waste. However you look at the problem, you can see that Germany has to balance its electricity surplus and deficit. Currently, the lignite and nuclear power plants are being decommissioned. But the old power plants can only be partially replaced by new gas-fired power plants. Another solution would be the increased use of combined heat and power generation in existing plants such as waste incineration plants. However, these could only supply a small part of the additional basic electricity required.
4. A decentralized power grid is an obstacle to the creation of a single European power grid.
Another problem is the federal, finely structured electricity network in Europe. Compared to other European markets, especially when compared to Germany, France has no problem managing its base load power. But even France has to address the challenges of the 21st century, and reduce its dependance on foreign energy imports. More research needs to be done on how renewable energies are competitive with nuclear energy. It may be cheaper to import energy for Germany and in this case Germany may benefit from France’s centralized power grid.
France has the added benefit of having access to the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, which allows France to be deeply involved in global energy trading. This is not an option for Germany, which only has access to the North Sea. If France so wishes, it could increase its LNG imports to make up for energy deficits elsewhere. Overall, France is well positioned to maneuver its energy policy wherever it wants.