France’s multi-faceted drive to net zeroA worldwide race to decarbonize is on, and each country’s performance relies on policy, ingenuity, and smart infrastructure. What does the race look like in France?
France is adapting its energy infrastructure for the future. Even before the changes in the geopolitical situation in Europe underlined the importance of energy security, France had announced steps to develop a more robust, diversified and decarbonized energy mix.
However, France is an unusual case among large economies because its electricity generation is already highly decarbonized, thanks mainly to a large nuclear energy supply, but also significant hydro and renewables. “The biggest challenge for France is to maintain this high level,” says Saad Jerjini, Head of Smart Cities and Energy Public Affairs for Siemens in France. “This involves replacing an ageing nuclear fleet and integrating more renewables, while ensuring energy remains secure, reliable and affordable.”
What is the New Space Race?
A New Space Race is a Siemens Smart Infrastructure thought leadership study about how infrastructure stakeholders view the immediate and longer-term future of our built environment and energy systems.
It is based on a survey of 501 senior infrastructure stakeholders from 10 countries as well as in-depth interviews and desk research. The research covered mainly commercial real estate (e.g. office towers, campuses, hospitals, data centers, or factories), public sector assets (e.g. community centers, transport hubs, education assets, or healthcare infrastructure), and energy assets (e.g. electricity grids, gas networks, wind farms, etc). Respondents were involved in infrastructure as owners, developers, or operators.
100 gigawatts of solar capacity by 2050
As this priority implies, France has a strategy with several components, one of which is indeed to expand nuclear power. In February 2022, France – which already has the world’s second highest nuclear power capacity, after the US – announced that it will build six new nuclear reactors, with potential for another eight. At the time, French president Emmanuel Macron made the point that, as the nation shifted away from oil and gas over the next 30 years, it would need 60% more electricity, even if overall energy consumption falls by 40%. This leaves France with, in his words, “no other choice” but to invest heavily in nuclear power and renewables.
I believe that carbon taxes or tariffs are necessary in the short-to-medium term to achieve our decarbonization targets.Saad Jerjini, Head of Smart Cities and Energy Public Affairs for Siemens France
On the renewables side, France will champion both wind and solar, but solar appears to be the priority technology. Also in early 2022, France set a target of 100GW of solar power capacity by 2050, starting with the shorter-term target of adding 5GW of new photo-voltaic solar power per year.
More broadly, France has also pledged to invest $4.5bn in hydrogen and technologies designed to decarbonize heavy industry. This is an area that is likely an even higher priority now, than when announced, given how Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has impacted the prices and security of fossil fuels.
A leap forward in energy efficiency
At the same time, France’s national low-carbon strategy is driving ambitious increases in energy efficiency, with a target to reduce final energy consumption by 40% in the next thirty years. This is at the top of the range relative to other European countries, and it will see France return to 1960s levels of energy consumption.
France has a multi-faceted strategy in place to reach this target. This includes updating equipment (e.g. smart lighting and efficient household appliances); new public policies (e.g. new building standards and rules to prioritize heat pumps); and electrification (e.g. via electric vehicles, which are around three times more energy efficient than internal combustion vehicles).
As this strategy demonstrates, for decarbonization to succeed, policy frameworks are just as important as technology innovation. Arguably the most important policy area is carbon pricing. For example, the European Union has introduced the world’s first carbon border tariff on imports of polluting goods - including steel, cement, fertilizers, aluminum, and electricity – to ensure that European industries are not undercut by more polluting rivals in other countries.
“I believe that carbon taxes or tariffs are necessary in the short-to-medium term to achieve our decarbonization targets,” says Saad Jerjini. “These measures ensure support for financial flows to the best decarbonized technologies, while forcing polluting industries or consumers to adapt and reduce carbon emissions.” Interestingly though, in our survey, three quarters of French respondents (75%) believe the world could transition to net zero without carbon taxes or similar measures, compared to an all-country average of 63%.
Digitalization: key to decarbonization
Digitalization is also key to decarbonizing, but a moderate majority of France respondents (63%) believe that the digitalization of buildings and power networks is lagging the progress of digitalization in of most other industries. Only 25% of France respondents say that their organization is making full use of the data they have available – lower than the all-country average of 31%.
Of course, there are many barriers to expanding digital solutions in the development and operation of infrastructure assets. Activity tracking on a university campus, for example, could help to improve energy efficiency, but these kinds of applications can risk breaking privacy and data protection laws. Over eight-in-ten France respondents (82%) feel privacy regulations should be adapted to allow for more personalized and automated services/features in infrastructure assets. This is not likely to be an area where infrastructure stakeholders will want to push boundaries, particularly as we see fines as large as Amazon’s recent €746 million ($887 million) penalty for alleged contravention of GDPR rules on the use of customer data to provide personalized offers.
Infrastructure stakeholders in France must navigate these - and myriad more - challenges as the nation advances its multi-faceted net-zero strategy. As this decade has already shown, flexibility and adaptability will be crucial, but France has strong momentum, and with nuclear power, a kind of head-start, in the race to decarbonize.
Top 5 factors influencing future infrastructure development in FranceInfrastructure stakeholders in France say these are the most important factors influencing future building and energy infrastructure projects.
Decarbonization perspectives from infrastructure stakeholders in France
Biggest impact technologies over the next five yearsFrance’s energy and building industry leaders rated these areas the most impactful on infrastructure development over the next five years.
We would like to extend a special thank you to the diverse set of industry leaders and experts who shared their ideas and insights with us as part of this study.
- Ali Alsuwaidi, vice-president of the Middle East Facilities Management Association
- Wayne Butcher, director at Grant Thornton UK LLP
- Ewan Jones, Partner at Grimshaw
- Jeremy Kelly, Research Director at JLL
- Kerstin Sailer, Co-Founder of Brainybirdz and Professor in the Sociology of Architecture at the Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London
- Maia Small, Manager, policies and strategies at San Francisco Planning
- Steven Velegrinis, Head of Masterplanning at AECOM
- Christian Waglechner, senior development manager at CA Immobilien Anlagen AG (CA Immo)
- Michael Webber, Josey Centennial Professor in energy resources, mechanical engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, and former chief science and technology officer at ENGIE
- Xiaohu Tao, Vice President, Business Innovation and Digital, in Energy Networks at E.ON
This thought leadership study is based on a survey, in-depth interviews and desk research. It is not an academic or scientific research paper. Our goal is not to provide any final answers, but rather to start conversations, stimulate thought, and encourage infrastructure stakeholders to reflect on what today’s megatrends mean for the future of our energy system and built environment.
The survey included 501 respondents from 10 countries. The countries involved include those large-scale and/or highly advanced infrastructure assets and ambitions. It was fielded in June and July 2021.