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Alain Boublil Blog


Energy policy : back to reality

The abandon, by the French government, of the objective included in the energy transition Act of a 50% limit in 2025 of nuclear plants in the power production is a first important signal of a coming back to reality. That objective was impossible to attain, except if natural gas-powered plants were built to guarantee the country energy security. EDF will obtain the necessary prorogation of the life duration of its power plants by far above 40 years, if the appropriate investments are made and approved by the Safety Authority. This political turnaround shows that France has, at last, understood that it cannot in the same time get rid of its nuclear power plants and to reduce its CO2 emissions. Its leaders must now recognize that inflamed declarations are not enough and that good sentiments can lead to bad decisions. Measures decided to influence economic agents decisions must be adapted to everyone situation. To pursue opposite objectives must be avoided. In ignoring that, other disastrous mistakes will be made, like that one when, during the “Grenelle de l’Environment”, it was unanimously decided to support diesel engines through an increase of fiscal aides to reduce CO2 emissions.

The energy transition cannot get out of a reflection about the highly diversified nature of the energy consumption. Until now, in France, the priority has been put on power generation. It was easier because the main producer was EDF, where the State owns 85% and appoints CEOs. It was also in accordance with our “Colbertist” culture which believes that the State must always be the leader. But it is a paradox because thanks to nuclear, our power mix is one of the lowest emitter of greenhouse gas in the world. To question it leads to the opposite to the targeted result. France emissions mainly come from residential uses and transport. Public action must be focused on the research of the most relevant incentives and their put into practice in favor of the economic agents to obtain the expected results, and not in permanently devoting itself to spectacular announcements about which it is quickly obvious they have no chance to produce any impact.

Companies, local authorities and households have an essential role in the energy transition and it is why the conference which was held in Paris recently is a very useful first step in that direction. The energy policy must abandon its ruling logic and adopt a bottom-up method in order to put into place the efficient tools. The failures of the incentives in favor of houses thermal renovation or those about the replacement of polluting vehicles show that speeches are not sufficient. This policy must also take into account that it targets a stock of goods whose replacement is extremely low. Cars and trucks life duration are frequently over twenty years. If, to cope with the climate urgency, we want to get significant results quickly, the measures must be targeted. Regarding transportation, it must be concentrated as a priority on the elimination of the most important sources of pollution, and, in the same time, in leaving to the economic agents the choice of the most convenient vehicle which fits to their needs. In the housing sector, incentives must take into account the diversity of occupation status.

The failure of the current policy in France is caused by the fact that the State has ignored these essential points. Through the concentration of the incentives on electric cars for households, it got few results, as it is proved by the insignificant registrations level, less than 1% each year, and it has not stimulated the replacement of the polluting vehicles. On the opposite, it ignored, in its incentives, all the users which are not affected by the low autonomy of these cars as fleet vehicles, cabs and urban transports. It didn’t pay attention to public services like Post office. In the same time, nothing was done to curb the rise of truck traffic to the detriment of rail and the coming back of buses was even encouraged. If we want to prove that the end of fossil fuels is possible; it is better to start in replacing them where it is the easiest. Consumptions generated by transport represent 32% of the whole energy consumption and it is consisted of 92% by fossil fuels. So that sector is primordial.

Residential uses are also very important: they represent more than 50% of the consumed energy. And its distribution has changed a lot for the last 25 years. Coal has almost disappeared and domestic fuel has been highly reduced  to the profit of natural gas and electricity. In France, these uses have a special characteristic: they considerably fluctuate during the year. In January, power and natural gas consumptions were respectively 57 and 82TWh. In July, they fell to 33 and 19TWh. The level of natural gas demand is so high that it is unrealistic to imagine that one day we can do without fossil fuels. Especially, to cope with such fluctuations, energy must be stored during summer to be available during winter, which is unthinkable before a very long time. It is why, if we want to have rapidly some results, it is necessary to come back to reality, to avoid to spend important resources in favor of wind and solar energies which are not able to satisfy such fluctuating demand and to give the priority to energy saving investments in the residential sector.

Incentives must correspond to the expectations of those who are targeted. If they are not, they will not be used and the policy will fail. Regarding homes, a distinction must be done between houses and buildings, whether they are rent or they belong to the occupant and the nature of the owner. The simplest case is about social organisms. The State has all the tools to act and to support thermal renovation investments. If the tenants benefit of these investments through a reduction of their energy bill, that will improve their purchasing power and many of them will get out of their energy precariousness and be less dependent of social transfers. Regarding homes privately owned, it would be enough if at each lease renewal any rent rise was conditioned by works addressing energy regulations. So, the benefits coming from the reduction of the energy bill would be shared between the owner and the tenant. Incentives could also be found regarding co-ownership to avoid that the investments in favor of insulation made by some of the co-owners benefit to the others. It is in taking account of all these specific situations that a diversified but consistent action could be launched and might reverse the energy consumption curb.

It is necessary to stop to stigmatize an energy source or another through inflamed declarations based on artificially inflated numbers and to take commitments nobody will be able to fulfill. The duty of political leaders in France and around the world is to be pragmatic to put in place the relevant solutions. The planet is not a theater scene. It deserves better, if we want to save it.        



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