Power sector in 2030
France has a relatively low emitting power sector (around 80gCO₂/kWh in 2017). This is mostly due to the heavy reliance on nuclear power. The government aims to reduce the share of nuclear energy in the power mix to 50% by 2035. However, in February 2022, President Macron announced plans to build six new reactors and potentially commission an additional eight by 2035–2037 to deal with the current decaying state of existing reactors. A draft law to accelerate the construction was presented to the French Parliament in January 2023.
Regardless of lower total emissions, the sector’s carbon intensity would need to decline to 10–20 gCO₂/kWh (71–75% below 2019 levels) by 2030 to be 1.5°C compatible. The reduction could be driven by a high uptake of renewable energy and phasing out of coal by 2025, which would be consistent with the current government target of phasing out coal by 2022. However, in 2021, the government revised the plan to phase out coal by 2022, deciding to keep one power plant running at 10% capacity to “ensure network stability”. This could potentially keep coal in the French power mix until 2024 or 2026, which would not be in line with 1.5°C compatible pathways, requiring a phase-out of coal already in 2020.14 Furthermore, in light of the ongoing energy crisis, France has extended the operation of one coal plant until the end of 2023.
Policies and measures that drive the development of renewables will be key to decarbonising France’s power sector. 1.5°C compatible pathways show a share of renewables in the power mix of between 60% and 85% by 2030. France only generated 19% of its electricity from renewables in 2020, falling short of its 23% target.
In reaction to the ongoing energy crisis, the French government has adopted measures including permitting renewable installations to sell electricity for 18 months at a market price, increasing the capacity of the already permitted projects by 40% and freezing the decrease of tariffs for PV projects on buildings for the year 2022. The measures are meant to reduce the risk of cancellation of planned renewable energy installations due to increasing material prices. However, they could also have the positive side effect of increasing the uptake of renewables.
Towards a decarbonised power sector
Our analysis of 1.5°C compatible pathways suggests that France could fully decarbonise its power sector between 2034 and 2037. The decarbonisation would be driven by a high uptake of renewables and a phase out of fossil gas between 2035 and 2038. The share of renewable energy in the power generation could reach between 75% and 95% by 2040.
The pathways show an overall increase in power demand which reflects the electrification of the economy and the power sector’s role in decarbonisation effort. In its low carbon national strategy, the French government aims at a ‘carbon free energy production’ by 2050. Even though this target goes beyond the electricity sector, France would need to decarbonise electricity generation much earlier to be in line with 1.5°C compatible pathways.