France Faces ‘Substantial’ Costs If Renewables Wipe Out Nuclear

France faces “substantial” costs and technical challenges if it wants to replace almost all its aging nuclear plants with renewable energy by 2050, the International Energy Agency and the country’s grid operator said Wednesday.

In a report commissioned by the French government, the IEA and Reseau de Transport d’Electricite highlight the need to scale up new technologies and adapt the legal framework to ensure that a network dominated by variable wind and solar generation remains reliable at all times.

The government is targeting a power mix that’s about 35% wind and solar in 2035, up from about 10% last year. While the grid can cope with that, France will need more backup production and energy storage if that share is going to expand much further, the report showed. The country must also consider potential public opposition to large wind and solar farms and new power lines.

“All the costs associated with a high share of renewables, including the costs of storage, demand-side flexibility” and grid development, “might be substantial in France after 2035,” the IEA and RTE said in the report.

State-controlled Electricite de France SA currently has 56 nuclear power stations in operation, with a production capacity of 61 gigawatts, typically producing almost three-quarters of the country’s output. It plans to shut a dozen plants by 2035, and most of the rest by 2050.

While President Emmanuel Macron has spoken in favor of building new reactors to replace some of those retiring, he has deferred a decision until after 2022’s presidential election. Some opposition parties, such as the Greens, are against new atomic plants, pointing to rising costs at EDF’s current nuclear projects in France and the U.K., as well as environmental risks associated with operating the generators and storing spent fuel.

Costing Future Power

Any future evaluation “should focus on overall system costs rather than on metrics like levelized cost of electricity because these fail to account for costs associated with technical requirements,” such as security of supply, the IEA and RTE said.

The grid operator plans to release a report by October that looks into the cost of eight scenarios, ranging from a grid 100% powered by renewables around the middle of the century to a network in which nuclear would still represent half of output.

Assuming that France retains about 30 gigawatts of mostly hydropower capacity in 2050, it would have to build 40 to 60 gigawatts of additional carbon-free back-up capacity by then, RTE Chairman Xavier Piechaczyk said Wednesday. That could include batteries, power plants that run on green gases and other clean-energy infrastructure.

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