French renewables policy to protect nuclear
In comparing policies for renewables in EU member states, researcher David Jacobs found that the French wanted to carve out a market niche for themselves in photovoltaics – and otherwise prevent their nuclear reactors from having to ramp up and down.
France was a late-comer to feed-in tariffs, and the French government has unabashedly described its efforts in patriotic terms. When it came to implementing feed-in tariffs for PV, the result was unsurprising: the “world’s highest rates” (as the government itself called them at the time) for building-integrated PV (BIPV).
Germans – who have been admirers of French design going back at least to Gothic architecture 900 years ago – will tell you that the French support BIPV with special rates because it looks better. But in his book, Jacobs documents the primary motivation for French officials: finding a market niche that French PV firms could serve.
Solar panels can be put on top of an existing roof, or they can replace the roof entirely. To do so, the solar array has to be watertight in particular. When the French launched there BIPV rates, Germany already offered higher rates for small arrays on roofs, but there was no requirement for the array to be the roof. It sufficed for the German array to simply be on the building somehow.
By 2008, BIPV accounted for 50 percent of the total number of PV installations in France, compared to less than two percent in Germany. France had its niche market.
Jacobs found that France does not disclose its full methodology for calculating feed-in tariffs, and one French official he spoke with called them “political.”
Those who claim that nuclear ramps well and would be a good complement to wind + solar in a low-carbon power supply will not like the news, but Jacobs documents how French officials paid attention to protecting its nuclear fleet when designing policies for renewables. “France is the leading country with respect to demand-oriented tariff payment,” which Jacobs says is a clear reaction to the inability of nuclear to follow loads: “As nuclear plants have a limited technical ability to follow the electricity demand pattern, the French legislator offers additional incentives for renewable electricity producers to fulfill this task.”
France also requires “power production forecasts from all producers with an installed capacity of more than 5MW” on request, though “the grid operators RTE and ERDF have never made use of this provision.” But clearly, government officials were worried about fluctuating wind and PV forcing nuclear plants to make unscheduled adjustments.
Jacobs found French renewables organization SER to be woefully understaffed in 2010, with a mere 15 employees, only one of which was an official staff member. In contrast, he found 70 and 50 people employed at the leading German and Spanish renewable lobby groups, respectively.
Tomorrow, we take a look at the Spanish situation, which is partly a reaction to French resistance to power trading with Spain. (Craig Morris)