France’s nuclear utility EDF says it is addressing the rise of renewable energy by ensuring its 58 reactors are flexible enough to complement a fluctuating supply of renewable energy.
“Our nuclear is flexible, it’s variable,” EDF CEO Jean-Bernard Levy told the media. “Renewable energies are totally complementary.”
He warned that heavy investment was needed to keep the nation’s reactors working and to keep renewable development progressing, while Electricite de France was struggling financially. EDF said it needed to spend €48 billion by 2025 renovating reactors and expected to fund about half of the 30 gigawatts (GW) of solar developments the company planned in France by 2035.
President Emmanuel Macron reportedly told the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, that he wanted to scrap all France’s polluting, coal-burning plants by 2021. The previous governmental target was 2023.
France has the capacity to produce around 3,000 megawatts (MW) of electricity from coal: a tiny proportion of the overall output.
EDF operates the world’s largest number of reactors while wind and solar are disrupting established power generators across Europe with irregular supplies.
EDF claimed all its reactors could vary output by as much as 80 per cent twice a day using control rods, which can be inserted into the core and slow the rate of fission that produces energy. The technique can be used for emergency shutdowns but EDF said the equipment was also manoeuvred to control power generation.
Nuclear power supplies on a single day last week were 56,262 MW, followed by hydropower with 8,766 MW, wind at 3,270 MW and natural gas 2,482 MW, according to French transmission system operator RTE.
EDF could alter production by as much as 21 GW in less than half an hour, which was like more than 10,000 wind turbines losing power, said Dominique Miniere, a nuclear and thermal boss at EDF.
Macron has stated the aim to at least double wind and solar production by 2022.
He was quoted saying he wanted to “make France a model in the fight against climate change [creating] a huge advantage in terms of attractiveness and competitiveness.
“Talent will come where it is good to live … We can create a lot of jobs with such a strategy,” the youthful president reportedly said.
Levy argued that EDF might need governmental support to upgrade its many reactors with electricity prices too low to fund the work.
The UK government has guaranteed power prices for 35 years to encourage EDF to build a US$27.7-billion nuclear power station at Hinkley Point in England.
But France’s ecology minister Nicolas Hulot said expanding renewable energy was was the priority, not building more reactors.
“I’ve always said that we need to find the way to regulated prices the British way,” Levy said. “There won’t be investments without it.”
France has great hyrdro, solar and wind power potential. Picture credit: Flickr