Wind turbines beside a road in northern France.

Wind turbines beside a road in northern France.

France is known for nuclear energy, but it seems that the winds of change are gathering momentum.  The vast majority of the electricity generated in France comes from its 59 nuclear reactors.   The country has not historically been considered a global leader in renewable energy, but France has taken some bold steps recently to support growth in this industry.

By 2020, the French government plans to generate 23 % of its electricity from renewable energy sources.  France now exceeds Denmark in aggregate wind energy capacity after adding 950 MW in 2008.  France currently has 3400 MW of wind power generation and plans to increase this to 25000 MW by 2020.

Total Installed Wind Energy Capacity
Year 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008
MW 148 253 390 757 1567 2454 3404

The above table gives the total installed wind energy capacity for France according to the Global Wind Energy Council.  With the annual growth rate around 38 % and new wind capacity represents 60 % of all new generation installed in the country last year.  France is now the fourth largest market in Europe after Germany, Spain, and Italy.

The policy framework to encourage wind energy growth has been in place since 2002.  Initially, a tariff of 8.2 euro cents per kWh of wind generated energy was offered to producers for a period of ten years.  Yet, in July 2005, the law was amended to stipulate that in order to be eligible, wind farms have to be built in special Wind Power Development Zones (ZDE).  The ZDEs are defined at the regional level based on electrical production potential, grid connection capacity, and landscape protection.

The concept of ZDEs may be a good one, but it has slowed up legislation and development in the past few years.  The feed-in tariff in the ZDE was reaffirmed in a decree signed on 17th November 2008, after the previous decree was cancelled by the Conseil d’Etat, the highest administrative court, in August 2008.  The French Syndicat des énergies renouvelables (SER) suggested a wind power generation target of 25 GW by 2020, including 6 GW offshore wind power.  This has been adopted by the National Assembly and should be adopted by the Senate in the coming months and passed into functional law by the end of 2009.

As the wind power sector grows, France is taking a close look at protecting the environment, but also at the workforce.  According to the French Agency for Environment and Energy Management, the wind industry in France currently employs 7000 people.  The SER goes on to claim that by 2020, at projected growth rates, the wind energy sector could represent 60000 direct jobs in France.

Wind energy companies are taking note and seizing opportunities.  For example, Vestas just announced an opening of a new office in Paris, La Défense.  Nicolas Wolf, General Manager of Vestas France, explains, “In 2008 alone, we have almost doubled the wind capacity delivered in France compared to the year before, and in the past three years we have doubled the number of employees in our country. It is extremely important for Vestas to be established in Paris in order to continue supporting the growth and the development that we have experienced in the past years.”

There are still several barriers that remain and hinder development of wind energy throughout France.  Some examples include: slow authorization; inadequate grid connection capacity; and zones in which installations are forbidden.  A 2007 study issued by the Ministry of Industry and Economy indicates that 9 weeks are necessary to notify applicants that the application process has been launched and a farther 22 for the process to be completed.   Preparation for the first offshore wind farm in France began with government financing in 2005, but long authorization has delayed construction until the end of 2009 or 2010.

Overcoming existing obstacles to wind energy development is certainly the key to France realizing its wind energy potential.  According to a report authored by A.R. Laali and M. Benard for l’Electricité de France, France appears to have the second largest wind energy potential in Europe, after the United Kingdom.  The biggest potential for growth in the coming years is in the north and northeast of the country.  The winds may be blowing slowly, but they are blowing surely for increased wind power throughout France.

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