France: Energy production mix is changing

France is in the forefront of clean energy production. The country manages to sustain its demand for electricity by producing around 75% of it through nuclear plants, the highest share in the world of the total energy generation. During the last five years, the total production of energy has remained relatively stable, with fossil energy showing minor shift down. Every day, the production of wind energy and the production of solar energy follow opposite direction, with wind energy being produced more at nights.

France is number two in the world in producing nuclear energy, right behind the U.S. and ahead of Russia and China. If comparison were in terms of nuclear share on the total domestic electricity generation, France has by far the highest percentage portion of any country in the world. However has the total energy consumption increased? What are the main sources of energy in France and how have their portions changed across time?

In our last report we inspected energy consumption in France and found that electricity consumption has increased during the past five years. Around 75% of electricity comes from nuclear energy, due to a long-standing policy based on energy security. In 2015, 15% of electricity came from renewable energy, and therefore 90% non-fossil, non-CO2-emitting energy. Government policy is to reduce nuclear to 50% by 2035, in an effort to increase renewable energy portion.

French production of energy is mainly controlled from ENGIE and EDF, the two largest producers, and some smaller providers that are mainly focused on renewable energy. ENGIE and EDF were state-owned until late 2006 and the government has a large say in their management. Respectively, it currently owns more than 30% of ENGIE’s capital and 85.3% of EDF’s capital.

Interestingly, due to high regulation and governmental intervention in the market, energy efficiency has increased in the past yeas and total production per capita has slowed down. According to the International Energy Agency, the production of primary and secondary oil has decreased by 25% since 2005. As of 2014, natural gas production has experiences a sharp fall and its levels are now incomparable to what they were.

France produces more energy than it consumes. The figure below shows that France consumes almost 1.5 billion MW a year while it produces more than 2 billion MW. However, in our consumption estimates only electricity and gas are calculated.

If we zoom in the production part, fossil and nuclear energy account for the highest portion. There seems to be little variation with the production of these two energy sources. In 2016, nuclear energy declined by almost 8% and remained at those levels ever since.

Clean energy production has showed substantial increase since 2013. In 2018, wind energy has almost doubled and solar energy more than doubled since 2013. This shows the continuous efforts of the French government to move towards clean sources by 2040.

Moving forward to monthly volatility:

During winter, while temperatures decrease and demand for energy increases, the production of energy follows along. However, the overall total production shows less volatility than consumption. In the summer, the total production decreases with 35% while consumption by about 50% in the case of electricity, and 80% in the case of gas.

Zooming in, we see the seasonal fluctuation of solar energy and that of wind. As expected, the highest production of wind is in the stormy season of winter, and the highest production of solar energy is during sunny summer.

Production is higher during daily hours but the difference is not substantial with the night time production. The gap between day and night total production is only 15%.  

Solar energy shows an inverse U-shaped distribution throughout the day with the most energy being produced during light hours. During night time, solar panels require energy stored from during day time as their energy production reaches negative levels. The production of wind energy is highest during night time. 

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France: Energy consumption doubles in winter.

Historically, energy consumption in France has been dependent on coal and oil. Since 1970s gas consumption has tripled, only to slow down during the late years. Increase in energy efficiency, market dynamics and regulation have changed the shape of the pie in the energy market. Electricity, which is mainly sourced from nuclear plants, is the primary source of energy and its consumption is less volatile throughout months. In July, the consumption of gas is 20% of gas consumption in January, while electricity consumption is half of what it is during January.

Introduction

France is the country with the largest share of nuclear electricity in the world. Its electrical grid is part of the Synchronous grid of Continental Europe and the country is ranked among the world’s biggest net exporters of electricity. According to Planet Energies (2018), during 1973 and 2015 oil consumption fell by 35%, while gas consumption almost tripled. How has the consumption of electricity and gas changed during the past five years in France?

In 2015, primary energy consumption in metropolitan France broke down to 42% nuclear, 30% oil, 14% natural gas, 9.4% renewable energy and 3% imported coal. (RTE Results, 2017).  France’s energy landscape has been shifting constantly for a while, with core inputs shifting one another throughout time.

Historically, coal and oil were the two main forms of energy sources. Until 1970, the majority of energy consumption was supported solely from these two sources. However in late 1970’s, the energy structure underwent a profound transformation with the large-scale development of nuclear energy. In 1990s natural gas dominated the energy production and the consumption followed along.

Until 2005 energy consumption rose gradually for both gas and electricity. Changes in economic activity and improvements in energy efficiency eased down consumption. Today, the country is experiencing a fresh transition to clean sources with the development of renewable energies and the implementation of policies aimed at reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. France plans to reduce the share of nuclear to 50% in the electricity mix by 2025.

Mainly energy consumption is split in three major sectors: The first and most important one is residential and tertiary consumption which accounts for about 45% of the total share.

Transportation is second with 33% of the share. This share increased since 1990s when it was around 20% of total consumption, only to decrease at the later years due to changes in regulation and energy efficiency. According to the National Statistics office of France, petroleum-based fuels remain largely dominant in transport.

Thirdly, industry is the sector where the drop in energy consumption until 2015 has been the most remarkable. The sector faced broader developments which shifted from the predominant use of oil and coal to the growing use of gas and electricity over the period. As with gas, the growth was sharp during 1990s, and it slowed down during recent years.

The 2016 International Energy Agency review of France’s energy policies highlights and several areas that are critical to the success of the energy transition. For example, planned growth of the share of electric vehicles and renewable electricity will require enhanced power system operation and flexibility, including demand-side response, smart grids and metering, and more interconnections.

Data and Insights

Following the claims that regulation changed the shares of energy consumption in 2015, total gas consumption saw a sharp increase a year later in 2016. Even though on average, electricity consumption counts more than twice as that of gas, its drop in 2014 was quite sharp.

Looking at regional differences, gas consumption shows three peaks in Grand-Est, Hauts de France and the main economic region Ile de France. Yearly consumption in these regions amounts around 80 million MW. Compared to other regions in France, this amount is almost double.



Monthly data on gas and electricity shows that the seasonal consumption of both these energy sources is highest during winter time when it’s colder and daylight is limited. Areas with highest economic activity like Ile de France show less volatility due to high dependence on these sources.


Gas consumption shows higher monthly volatility than that of electricity, as it is the main source of heating, which is highly dependent on temperature. Electricity usage increases during winter at a slower pace as its consumption is less dependent on weather. The figure below shows this relationship on monthly average terms. During July and August, both electricity and gas are at its lowest levels while temperature is at its highest.

On average, daily consumption of gas in France is 1,303 GB of gas and 2,516 GB of electricity. On average, if daily temperature increases with 1 °C total average consumption of gas decreases with around 84 GB and the consumption of electricity decreases with 60 GB.

Download the full report: France: Energy consumption doubles in winter.