At present France gets around 109 TWh of its electrical power from around 53GW of renewables and it is aiming to treble that to 300TWh by 2030, while also reducing the share of nuclear in electricity generation, which currently supplies around 382TWh, so that its share falls from 70% to 50% by 2035. There are also debates as to whether to phase out nuclear power entirely in France. So it is good that in a timely new study the International Energy Agency and French transmission system operator RTE have looked at whether it is technically possible to integrate very high shares of renewables in large power systems like that in France.
The report notes that ‘advocates for 100% renewables claim – with reason – that past alarmist predictions of operational problems from increasing renewables in the power sector have been proven wrong’. Indeed, it says that it’s technically viable, with renewables supplying 85-90% of power by 2050 or 100% by 2060, subject to some key system upgrade requirements.
The first and most obvious is system balancing to deal with variable supply. The report says that ‘coping with the variability of energy produced from wind and solar PV is the main challenge for integrating renewables in power systems’. However, it says that ‘system adequacy i.e. the ability of a power system to cope with load at all times, can be ensured even in a system mainly based on variable renewables such as wind and solar PV, when substantial sources of flexibility are available, including demand-response, large-scale storage, peak generation units, and well developed transmission networks and interconnections’.