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In June 2020, France announced the decoupling of the second reactor at the Fessenheim power plant in Alsace. This oldest French power station, inaugurated in 1977, produced an average of 11 billion kilowatt hours per year, or 70% of the electricity consumption of a region like Alsace. After this historic moment, this closure poses new challenges for France, which is seeing the loss of an important source of production here. Directly involved in geographical proximity, the Haut-Rhin department innovates to devise new alternatives and ensure the energy conversion of its territory. Marie-France Vallat, Departmental Councilor at the European Community of Alsace and Lionel Limousy, Director of the MICA Carnot Institute, discuss the need to think about energy production according to territorial resources.
Businesses and individuals have increasingly specific energy needs: usage has changed and our lifestyles are increasingly connected and carbon emitters. In total, final electricity consumption has increased by almost half since 1990. This growth, mainly attributable to the residential-tertiary sector, continued until the economic crisis of 2008. Our energy needs are exploding in a context where, paradoxically, we must respond more than ever to the climate emergency by ensuring that our ecological and therefore rethink our energy production in the first place. CO2 emissions are largely generated by the production and consumption of energy.
France, like many other countries, has to face a major challenge: to produce more energy while minimizing the environmental impact. In 2008, the European Union committed to phasing out fossil fuels in favor of renewables, a decision ratified with the 2015 Paris Agreements that introduced a carbon neutrality target by 2050 for the countries’ signatories.
Proposing new energy combinations, the Haut-Rhin department quickly became interested. The closure of Fessenheim has a direct impact on energy production at the national level and therefore requires thinking about new means of production that are efficient and environmentally friendly. In addition, it is also essential to ensure a reliable supply of electrical energy to ensure the economic attractiveness of the area.
An energy and climate response specific to each area
The Haut-Rhin Departmental Council, with the help of many players, economic players, institutions and also civil society, has launched the “Renewable Energy” approach. The shared ambition is to make greater use of local natural resources, but also to rely on the recovery of waste energy to produce energy. In particular, a working group has been set up with R&D players to develop ambitious projects based on local expertise, needs and resources.
Alsace already exploits many natural resources, in particular with its 12 hydroelectric power stations on the Rhine, to which are added the more widespread micro-hydraulic installations that still have significant development potential. Anaerobic digestion, photovoltaics and the wood sector are also energy sources already exploited on the territory of the Haut-Rhin with still great development potential. Of course, not all areas are equal in terms of resources. It is therefore necessary to know and develop the assets of the regions in order to exploit the best of them. It seems obvious that a coastal area develops a wind farm when a sunny area prefers photovoltaic energy.
The energy mix as a solution for the future
This territorial grid should enable France to develop an efficient and sustainable energy mix. We need to think about a sustainable mix that provides enough electricity, carbon-free, reliable and at a reasonable price.
Today, companies, especially factories, are major consumers, sometimes using 30% of the area’s energy resources for their own needs. Without a mix, wind or solar energy will not be able to respond to this and companies will struggle to stay competitive. The question of the mix adapted to each area also increases the dependence on a single energy. It is neither imaginable nor reasonable to depend on a single source of energy production. Green hydrogen, for example, is not the only solution. This solution makes it possible, in particular, to take into account the maintenance of heavy mobility on long journeys. Although hydrogen production technologies and conversion systems now have a degree of maturity, the fact remains that the hydrogen distribution networks, vehicle purchase costs, investment support for devices and the production capacity of such vehicles limit the exponential development potential of this technology despite its certain interest.
Appreciating Fatal Energies
Relying on all natural resources makes it possible to increase energy production and sometimes even have overproduction. The recovery of these deadly energies raises the question of energy storage. Saving energy sustainably without changing its use is another challenge in which R&D plays a major role. Our territories must have sufficient storage and transport capacities, intrinsic levers to be flexible and efficient. Understanding the needs should also make it possible to encourage energy players to bring new projects to the market and thus accelerate the development of “à la carte” production.
With a view to a future based on this energy mix, let’s consider all possibilities by experimenting and coming up with solutions around renewable energy sources. The CEA (European Community of Alsace), created by the merger of the departmental councils of Haut-Rhin and Bas-Rhin, brings together actors from R&D, the economy, civil society and institutions around a partnership approach to and to exploit the potential of its territory. If the closure of Fessenheim has prompted an entire area, Alsace, to think about its conversion, the decommissioning of the nuclear industry is a national scope, it is a global question to be asked everywhere in France to anticipate and act boldly to reduce our carbon footprint. In this sense, the energy mix must be presented in a coherent way on a territory, in consultation with all actors and users, so that everyone can access different energies at an acceptable price.