France is facing two radically different visions of itself and its place in the world with the election that’s currently in play. Emmanuel Macron, a centrist and former banker, is going against Marine Le Pen from the far-right. For the first time in about six decades, neither of the mainstream parties have made it to the final stage of the presidential election. Macron has had a double digit lead in all major polls after the first round, but this doesn’t make him winning a certainty. So what do the two candidates mean for British energy policy?
Image of Élysée Palace interior via Nicolas Nova
The big issues:
· Le Pen wants to find a way out of the Hinkley deal
· Macron wants to raise the carbon tax to £85/€100 a tonne in 2030
· Macron wants to close all coal power by 2022
Both Macron and Le Pen have policies that could have a direct impact on British energy policy.
For Le Pen there is a commitment to see if there is a way for France to legally withdraw from Hinkley Point C. If France withdraws their support for Hinkley, this will cause something of a crisis for the project. Hinkley is a controversial plan to build a large nuclear power plant in England. This is power on a large scale, as it will meet a significant portion of the UK’s future electricity demand. Le Pen hasn’t actually promised an exit from the deal, but is ‘fundamentally against’ the project, as it would siphon resources from the state energy company – EdF – at a time when it could face costs reaching over £100bn to maintain its nuclear fleet. However, Macron believes that once Hinkley is built it could become a boon to French finances. Macron was the French finance minister at the time of the deal.
Macron has been posturing for a stronger Europe, and one of his specific policies on this would be to pursue trade sanctions for countries that don’t live up to environmental commitments. He has already talked about investigating sanctions on Poland and Hungary for their lack of commitment to European ideals or values, such as Poland’s regressive reform of its judiciary. There has also been discussion over whether this could impact a Trump America due to climate change skepticism within his base of support – sanctions at the EU level could be used as a strong incentive. Post-Brexit, if we have a government that is less committed to renewables and low-carbon energy than in recent years, we could face sanctions from one of our closest neighbours under a Macron presidency.
Changes in France’s domestic energy market, or their relationship with other countries aside from the UK specifically, could have an affect on both our policy and market conditions. Neither candidate denies climate change outright, which is good news for the UK’s general goals in energy and the environment.
For Macron, these are mainly on increasing intermittent energy to a point where the electricity that is imported from France becomes less reliable and predictable on a day-ahead/month-ahead basis. Macron’s intention is to:
- Double installed PV capacity by 2022
- Double installed wind capacity by 2022
- Reduce nuclear power to 50% by 2025
- Close all coal power by 2022
- Supply 32% of electricity demand with clean energy
This doesn’t necessarily mean that our electricity imports will become more expensive, but that they will follow weather patterns more. Closing coal is interesting, but France doesn’t have enough coal capacity to make it significant. Currently France is heavily reliant on nuclear power, which is non-dispatchable (doesn’t scale to demand) but forms a constant heavy baseload. A lot of France’s electricity use is in electric heating which means that it requires more electricity in the winter. As wind tends to follow relatively stable patterns over a yearly basis, and has higher capacity factors in the winter (source), this strain could even lessen. This all depends on the exact makeup of France’s energy mix.
Raising the carbon tax to £85 (€100) by 2030 will have an impact on British energy prices however, and the competitiveness of France’s exports depending on how it is implemented.
Lastly, Macron’s policy to ban all fracking and new oil/gas licenses won’t have huge impacts on our current supply, but could in a small way galvanise public pressure in the UK to do likewise.
Le Pen is unlikely to cut France’s nuclear output, has called for an immediate moratorium on wind power, and has not addressed whether she intends to continue Hollande’s commitments on renewable energy. Whilst she favours increased solar power, her low carbon and renewable goals are unlikely to make French energy more intermittent. She has pledged to increase the deployment of biomass under ‘intelligent protectionism’ which is likely to be a boost for France’s rural economy but it remains unclear on what scale. Bioenergy maintained under subsidy in the EU must meet sustainability requirements under land use and emissions, and it is one of the most dispatchable renewable energies (can easily ramp up output to demand as the costs are primarily fuel-heavy).
Le Pen’s commitment to support research and development of a nascent French hydrogen industry to reduce dependence on oil could be good news for the UK depending on its future relationship with gas, although for the environment it is dependent on what energy source France uses to make hydrogen.
Lastly Le Pen has stated that she is willing to allow fracking as long as it meets certain standards. The fracking ‘boom’ in America happened under a unique set of circumstances that has proven hard to replicate. However, France does have some of the highest potential shale gas resources in Europe. These are across two basins, one around Paris and another in the South-East. There could be a high political cost in approving licences to extract oil or gas from these basins. If France is successful in this, then it could be an incentive for the UK and other European countries. If, however, France cannot attract investors, or it proves too difficult to obtain social license, this would have big implications for shale oil and gas extraction in the UK and other European countries.