France Would Save $44.5 Billion by Betting on Renewable Energy, Agency Says

(Bloomberg) -- France will save 39 billion euros ($44.5 billion) if it refrains from building 15 new nuclear plants by 2060, and bets instead on renewable energy sources to replace its all its aging atomic facilities, a government agency said.

France should spend 1.28 trillion euros over the next four decades, mostly on clean power production and storage capacities, networks, and imports, according to a report from the country’s environment ministry. If it does this, France would progressively shut down its 58 atomic plants and renewable energy would comprise 95 percent of its electricity output by 2060, up from 17 percent last year.

The development of the so-called EPR nuclear reactors “wouldn’t be competitive for the French power system from an economical standpoint,” the Agence de l’Environnement et de la Maitrise de l’Energie --or Ademe-- said in a statement. The report assumes that the reactors would produce electricity at a cost of 70 euros per megawatt-hour, while the cost of wind and solar power would fall much lower.

The report follows President Emmanuel Macron’s announcement that state-controlled Electricite de France SA will have to shut as many as 14 of its 58 nuclear reactors by 2035 to allow renewable energy to expand the country’s power mix. Macron also gave EDF until mid-2021 to prove that it can build an economically-viable reactor before the country decides to build new atomic plants. EDF’s EPR project in Normandy is more than six years late coming online, and the cost has more than tripled from its original budget.

Falling costs means that photo-voltaic facilities won’t need subsidies from 2030, nor will onshore wind from 2035, the report said. That’s assuming that EDF halts 30 percent of its reactors after 40 years of operation and an additional 30 percent when they turn 50. Otherwise, surplus production capacity would undermine the economics of both nuclear power and renewables, Ademe said.

The study doesn’t take into account the impact on jobs, industry and the environment. However, “we’re expecting job creations in renewables and energy efficiency to largely make up for job losses in the nuclear industry,” said Ademe Chairman Arnaud Leroy.

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