Renewables Update

France’s Pathway to Decarbonization; Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency in Japanese

5 December 2017 Romain Zissler, Researcher, Renewable Energy Institute

A few months before successfully hosting the 21st Conference of the Parties, or “COP 21,” in December 2015, which delivered the landmark Paris Agreement, France took early leadership by adopting its Law Relative to the Energy Transition for Green Growth; a major accomplishment with regard to the country’s long-term energy policy. 1 

This Law encompasses critical economic and social aspects; industrial development, competitive and affordable energy prices, quality of life…, as well as unavoidable energy security and environmental dimensions; reduction of fossil fuel imports and usages, amelioration of air quality and human health. And decarbonization stands as its first and foremost goal (Table).

This is all the more remarkable that it is expected to be met thanks to renewable energy (RE) expansion and progresses in energy efficiency while significantly reducing France’s reliance on nuclear power and phasing out coal power in the short to medium term.

Table: French Energy Transition Key Targets:

Greenhouse gas emissions Reduction; -40% by 2030 and -75% by 2050, compared with 1990
RE Share Increase; in gross final energy consumption 32% by 2030 (16% in 2016)
– 40% in electricity generation (17% in 2016),
– 38% in heating and cooling final consumption (21% in 2016), and
– 15% in fuel final consumption in transport (9% in 2016) 2 
Final energy consumption Reduction; -20% by 2030 and -50% by 2050, compared with 2012
Nuclear Power Reduction; 50% share in electricity generation by 2025 (73% in 2016)
– Postponed to an unknown date (2030-2035?) 3 
Coal Power Phase out by 2022 (3 gigawatts in operation as of 1 June 2017) 4 


Note: "Electricity" excludes electricity that is generated from RE and includes others.
Source: French Ministry of the Environment, Energy, and Sea in charge of international relationships on climate, Key Figures of Energy 2016 Edition (February 2017) (in French)



Note: "Other" includes pumped storage, non-renewable waste, and other (e.g. fuel cells, electricity from chemical heat).
Source: International Energy Agency, Electricity Information 2017 (August 2017) and Renewables Information 2017 (August 2017)


This strategy is in stark contrast with current energy policies in Japan, where – despite brilliant achievements in energy efficiency & savings improvements and solar photovoltaic (PV) deployment in recent years – policy makers are still inexplicably weighing restarting nuclear power to reduce the country’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and contradictorily have a shameful weak stance towards coal power.

Another interesting aspect of the French energy transition is the beginning of the integration of the power and transportations sectors with the electrification of the later. The installation of at least 7 million charging points for electric vehicles by 2030 is targeted. 5  The Government of France also announced in July 2017 that it plans to end the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles by 2040. 6 

This is a sound integrative approach because France’s electricity generation is already essentially GHG-free, which is not the case of the transportation sector that remains by far the primary source of pollution (Chart 3) due to the heavy use of refined petroleum products.


Source: Interprofessional Technical Center for Studies on Air Pollution, Carbon Dioxide Emissions in France (April 2017) (in French)

Such a wide strategy for the entire energy system painfully lacks in Japan where policies essentially focus on the power sector leaving aside cross-sectoral synergy opportunities.

While the vision of France’s energy paradigm shift is to be praised, it is equally important to present concrete results – both successes and failures – towards this change:

On the positive side; RE capacity targets by technology a  supported by policies such as pluriannual auctions for large scale wind and solar power, for example, have the merit to offer visibility to industrial actors by guaranteeing volumes of capacity to be installed in the next few years and pave the way to the targets. 7  Auctions have also already demonstrated their efficiency in delivering cost competitive – with existing nuclear power – solar PV in France; a recent auction showed average price of solar PV for awarded large-scale ground mounted projects (5-17 megawatts) at €56 per megawatt-hour. 8 

In addition, administrative authorizations for RE projects, which were a big challenge for wind power in particular, i.e. developers had to lead several administrative procedures and obtain different approvals based on various legislations resulting in project realization time of 6-7 years, have been simplified and promising results achieved; a record 1.3 gigawatt (GW) of wind power capacity was installed in 2016. 9  To further accelerate projects realization time, reduce uncertainty, and thus cost, a unique environmental authorization for RE projects finally came into force on 1 March 2017. 10  Such efforts, would also be very welcome in Japan where inadequate environmental impact assessment regulation is slowing down wind power expansion. 11 

When it comes to energy efficiency of buildings, the thermal regulation 2012, defining the requirements for the thermal performance of new buildings (those that applied for a building permit after 1 January 2013), sets three innovative and stringent performance indicators among which; a primary energy consumption level below 50 kilowatt-hours per square meter per year for five uses – heating, domestic water-heating, lighting, cooling, and auxiliary systems. 12  The new thermal regulation 2020 will target positive energy buildings, which produce more energy than they consume. 13  At the same time, renovation efforts of existing social and private dwellings takes place as well. 14 

Regarding financing aspects, France has been quite innovative. The Law Relative to the Energy Transition for Green Growth requires pension funds, insurance companies and other institutional investors to disclose how they are managing climate change risks. 15  In June 2017, a monitoring report by experts from Ernst & Young, a global leader in assurance, tax, transaction and advisory services, showed that 90% of the 40 companies of the study panel (among which; Air France, Électricité de France, ENGIE, Renault, Total…) are reporting direct GHG and energy indirect GHG emissions and 20% of them have a goal to reduce their GHG that is compatible with a 2°C scenario. 16 

Finally, in January 2017, France became one of the first countries to issue a sovereign green bond. 17  Amounting to €7 billion, a record, it enabled to fund the country’s energy transition. 18 

On the negative side; a lack of a detailed roadmap to reduce nuclear power creates uncertainty and slows down the energy transition in France. In this regard, France and Japan would be wise to learn from the German experience, which by clearly paving the way at an early stage of the country’s nuclear phase-out made investors let know well in advance the volume and timing of capacity needed to be replaced. In France inaction has led to postpone the nuclear reduction target, a resounding failure, which could have been avoided with unwavering political willingness and thorough industrial planning.

Undeniably both France and Japan have made good progresses towards sustainability in recent years. A lot more remains to be done though. If France really wants to become the leader it envisions to be, it will need to take stronger actions. And if Japan wants to become a leader it should start developing an ambitious vision, and in this regard France – to some extent – may also provide a case worth looking at.


 a France notably has the following targets: by the end of 2023, 21.8-26GW for onshore wind and 18.2-20.2GW for solar PV, against 12.9GW and 7.7GW installed, respectively, at the end of September 2017.

 1 Legifrance, “LOI n° 2015-992 du 17 août 2015 relative à la transition énergétique pour la croissance verte” (Law Relative to the Energy Transition for Green Growth) (August 2015) (in French)
 2 French Ministry of the Ecological and Inclusive Transition, Renewable energy in France in 2016 (September 2017) (in French)
 3 Reuters, Geert De Clercq and Michel Rose, “France postpones target for cutting nuclear share of power production – 7 November 2017” (accessed 8 November 2017)
 4 S&P Global Platts, Andreas Franke, “French energy minister says up to 17 nuclear reactors may be closed by 2025 – 10 July 2017” (accessed 7 November 2017) and Réseau de Transport d’Electricité, “eCO2mix – Key Figures; Installed base at 1st June 2017” (accessed 7 November 2017)
 5 Legifrance, op. cit. note 1.
 6 Reuters, Bate Felix and Simon Carraud, “France to end sale of diesel and gasoline vehicles by 2040 – 6 July 2017” (accessed 7 November 2017)
 7 French Ministry of the Environment, Energy, and Sea, Multiannual Energy Plan (October 2016) (in French), and French Ministry of the Ecological and Inclusive Transition, Dashboard: wind power – Quarter 3 2017 (November 2017) and Dashboard: solar photovoltaic – Quarter 3 2017 (November 2017) (both in French)
 8 French Ministry of the Ecological and Inclusive Transition, “Solar – 28 July 2017” (accessed 7 November 2017) (in French)
 9 Réseau de Transport d’Electricité, French Renewable Energies Syndicate, Enedis, and the Association of the Distributors of Electricity in France Overview of Renewable Electricity in 2016 (February 2017) (in French)
 10 French Ministry of the Environment, Energy, and Sea in charge of international relationships on climate, The Environmental Authorization: Simpler procedures, secure projects (January 2017) (in French)
 11 Renewable Energy Institute, For Greater Deployment of Wind Power – Examining Land Use Regulations and Environmental Impact Assessment (August 2017) (English abridged version)
 12 International Energy Agency, Energy Policies of IEA Countries – France 2016 Review (January 2017)
 13 Business France, Sustainable Buildings & Energy Efficiency: Key info in 10 points (October 2017)
 14 IEA, op. cit. note 12
 15 Legifrance, op. cit. note 1
 16 Ernst & Young, Intégrer le climat à la stratégie des entreprises: Quelles réponses à l'article 173? Quelles opportunités? (June 2017) (in French)
 17 French Government, Success for France’s first sovereign green bond – 25 January 2017 (accessed 4 December 2017)
 18 Ibid.