The French Government has announced that it will launch a preliminary study into the feasibility of harnessing energy from tidal zones in Brittany and Normandy, an area with some of the most powerful tides in the world.
Tidal turbines operate in a similar manner to wind turbines, but are a far more reliable form of renewable energy than wind or solar, both of which are intermittent power sources. Tidal turbines also produce more energy using smaller blades, which are hidden from view under water. This gives them a distinct advantage over wind turbines, which many critics argue spoil a landscape’s natural beauty.
Historically, it has been difficult to locate tidal regions with velocities high enough to offset the costs of producing tidal power. However, northern France has some of the most powerful tides on earth, thereby providing the country with a distinct comparative advantage. In fact, the world’s first tidal power station was built in Brittany in 1966. The strength of France’s tides has made it the number one producer of tidal energy in the world, generating approximately 500 GWh per year.
Europe is currently a world leader in the tidal energy industry with 66% of all tidal patents having been awarded to European firms. The EU has committed to installing 1.9 GW of wave and tidal energy by 2020, while the European Commission has invested more than €190 million over the past decade to support the development of ocean energy research. When it comes to the future of the industry, Ocean Energy Europe predicts that the development of ocean generated renewable energy will power 10% of Europe’s electricity consumption by 2050, will create around 400,000 jobs, and be valued at €53 billion by the same year. Given that tidal energy projects are being explored across the world, France’s tidal energy technology could develop into a thriving export sector.
Under the 2009 Renewable Energy Directive, France has committed to increasing its share of renewable energy consumption to 23% by 2020. Domestically, France also introduced the Energy Transition Law in 2015, which commits the country to generating 40% of its energy from renewable sources and increasing the share of renewable energy consumption to 32% by 2030. However, as of 2016, France’s percentage sits at just 16%. Consequently, projects like these are important if France is to meet its international and domestic obligations.
It’s clear that President Macron is keen to clean up France’s energy sector and accelerate the development of the country’s renewable energy industry. Last year, besides becoming the first country ever to commit to the official ban of all fossil fuel production (by 2040), the government also earmarked €7 billion to invest in the country’s renewable energy sector from 2018 to 2022. The previous French government anticipated the dispersal of 2000 MW worth of marine renewable energy tenders by 2023 and there has been no indication that President Macron intends to reduce this target.
While France has yet to announce when new tidal energy tenders will be launched, there is good reason to expect the government will not drag its feet on this project. If the EU and its member states are serious about reducing greenhouse gas emissions, projects like these are essential to ensuring that renewable energy production doesn’t stagnate and that environmental targets are met.