France Bets on Geothermal Energy

29 September, 2014

France is making a new push to develop geothermal energy. The goal is to reduce the carbon emissions that contribute to global warming while ensuring the nation’s energy independence. Hydraulic fracturing for oil and natural gas was banned in France in 2011, and the government of President François Hollande has pledged to reduce the country’s dependence on nuclear power from 75 percent of electricity produced to 50 percent by 2025. It thus makes sense to develop geothermal energy.

Metropolitan Paris already has the world’s second-largest concentration of geothermal wells after Iceland, heating 170,000 homes, but geothermal development has lagged after an initial push in the 1980s. The minister of ecology, sustainable development and energy, Ségolène Royal, intends to change that. A bill aimed at unleashing private investment in renewable energy is expected to be submitted to the National Assembly next month.

The next major United Nations summit meeting on climate change is to be held in Paris in December 2015. By then, France wants to be seen as a credible leader in reducing the carbon emissions that contribute to global warming. In January, the European Commission set an ambitious goal of reducing carbon emissions across Europe by 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, partly by increasing the proportion of renewable energy sources in the mix (14 percent in 2012) to about one-third. Renewable energy sources account for only 14.7 percent of France’s energy consumption today, and geothermal is a fraction of that.

To show progress, a new 13-kilometer geothermal network is scheduled to provide heat and hot water to 10,000 additional homes in the greater Paris area by next year. The government subsidized nearly one-fourth of the 32-million-euro project. That kind of commitment has helped persuade GDF Suez to plan one to two new geothermal projects a year in France over the next five years.

Building a clean-energy infrastructure will not only reduce harmful emissions but lower energy costs and create badly needed jobs — 100,000 by government estimates. The Assembly, divided by recent changes in the cabinet and dissatisfaction with the Hollande government, should not let its feuds stand in the way of approving the energy bill.

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