The roadmap to a non-nuclear, low carbon future for France

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In a country which gets around 75% of its electricity from nuclear power, and billions of euros from exportation of its civil nuclear technology, the call to dump it could appear akin to science fiction. Yet Négawatt, an association of French environmentalist energy specialists, drew a crowd for its recent presentation of a plan for France to pull out of nuclear energy by 2033 while also halving CO2 emissions by 2030 and converting almost entirely to renewables by 2050. The nuclear industry and two ministries sent emissaries, and the plan now looks set to feature in the 2012 presidential election campaign. Jade Lindgaard reports.

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In a country which gets around 75% of its electricity from nuclear power, and billions of euros from exportation of its civil nuclear technology, the call to dump it could appear akin to science fiction. Yet Négawatt, an association of French environmentalist energy specialists, drew a crowd for its recent presentation of a plan for France to pull out of nuclear energy by 2033 while also halving CO2 emissions by 2030 and converting almost entirely to renewables by 2050. The nuclear industry and two ministries sent emissaries, and the plan now looks set to feature in the 2012 presidential election campaign. Jade Lindgaard reports.

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While the rest of Europe bristles with think-tanks on how to make the transition from dependence on carbon-dioxide-producing fossil fuels to sustainable and renewable forms of energy, in France such groups are strangely lacking. Just one single independent association plays that role; Négawatt, a collective of environmentalist energy specialists formed in 2001.

This autumn, Négawatt presented a plan that throws down a gauntlet to the French authorities and main political parties which, for some 30 years, have presented nuclear power as France's only real option, providing energy independence and low-priced electricity and generating less CO2 than fossil fuels.

The association, however, says it is perfectly possible for France to pull out of atomic energy completely by 2033 and also halve its CO2 emissions by 2030. On Négawatt's plan, by 2050 the country could meet nearly all its energy needs from renewable sources and restrict the use of fossil fuels to just a few industries.

The starting point for achieving this, Négawatt said, is not to focus on whether or not to keep nuclear power in the energy mix but to rethink the way energy is used. That means researching all possible energy savings from household and industrial consumption and using the information obtained to define energy policy.

Such a ‘bottom-up' approach reveals a vast mine of potential savings which would allow people to use far less electricity, gas and petrol than now and yet keep the same level of comfort in their daily lives, Thierry Salomon, Négawatt's president, told the presentation on September 29th.

The savings would not only come from individual efforts, like people using their cars less or routinely turning off electronic gadgets rather than leaving them in sleep mode. They would also require technological progress in making appliances more economical, lower speed limits on the roads and setting maximum levels of energy use in housing.

The more demand for energy falls, the more renewables will be able to meet energy demand, Négawatt said.

And France could cut energy consumption by over 600 TWh by 2050 compared with estimates based on current trends, by doing two things: cutting energy use in buildings to an average of 40kWh per m2 a year; and optimising heating systems, Négawatt claimed.

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