[Tribune] “Make energy efficiency a priority”

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That’s what many experts say. If nothing is done, we will be without power within 15 years. In an unstable geopolitical context, and beyond the choices that seem necessary in terms of the energy mix, the issue of electrical energy efficiency urgently needs to be addressed, says Gilles David, CEO of Enertime.

The current events and the war in Ukraine remind us a little more every day how dependent our societies and our economies are on our supply and production capacity for energy, and electricity in particular as far as France is concerned. Without Russian gas and oil, some of our European neighbors are wondering how to heat themselves and keep their factories and economies going. A matter of sovereignty and prosperity for all of us.

If we are less vulnerable in France, the fact remains that the energy issue needs to be updated. And especially because our country has opted for “all electric”. Like the other countries, France will experience significant growth in electricity demand by 2050[1]† A growth that will not fail, if nothing is done, to generate a risk of electricity shortages.

In this context, and in addition to the choices that seem necessary in terms of the energy mix, the question of electrical energy efficiency needs to be urgently raised.

An unavoidable shortage?

If the choice of “all-electric” is not new in France, it is presented today, in the name of the necessary decarbonisation of our economy, as the alpha and omega of energy production. Last stronghold of fossil fuels, the car market is also undergoing its electric revolution. In 2021 alone, 10% of vehicles sold were electric vehicles and 17% were hybrid vehicles[2]† A change that should also accelerate in the coming years as some major cities prepare to ban diesel vehicles in the short term.

And this phenomenon can also be observed in industry, in particular with an increasingly systematic recourse to the electrification of industrial processes. The blast furnaces are converted into arc furnaces; foundries are switching from gas to electric induction. The reduction of iron ore will now be done with hydrogen, often locally produced with electricity… And this transformation process will not fail to increase the electricity demand. Such as these air-to-air heat pumps that will replace oil-fired heating in homes, but whose low efficiency, in case of extreme cold, requires increased electricity production.

However, our production capacities and infrastructure do not seem to be able to cope with the emerging demand. So, while nuclear power is often presented as the cornerstone of the system, the French nuclear fleet is showing its limits. Of the 56 reactors, 12 were shut down at the end of February. In addition, production in 2022 and 2023 should not exceed 90% of what it was in the 90s. If we add to this that a significant part of our fleet will have to be upgraded to extend the service life, that the announced new units only operational within 15 years, we can clearly measure the criticality of the situation.

And even renewables, presented by some as THE solution to all our ills, continue to suffer from shortcomings that are difficult to compensate: limitations inherent in an energy that remains intermittent and linked to climatic conditions often shared over a large territory. and due to the scarcity and cost of alternative energy sources, such as gas, planned to supplement them.

Make energy efficiency a priority

Although everything seems to invite us to do so, little is being done to reduce our electricity consumption. While the 1973 oil crisis had led us to promote a general austerity of energy, today awareness and decision-making seem much more difficult and late.

In industry, for example, electricity is often still treated as if it has the same value as heat. An accepted idea that very often leads to promoting the degradation of exergy[3] from a high-temperature source available year-round in the smoke of a factory to a low-temperature source that can only be used for four months of the year. Wouldn’t it be smarter to convert this heat into electricity that allows us to do much more all year round?

Because, contrary to what proponents of a certain degrowth claim, it is possible to do more with less. Far from this rebound effect that would want every efficiency gain invariably lead to a consumption surplus. A law that is sometimes tested against constant energy prices and availability, but is ineffective in a situation of scarcity, when saving means limiting losses.

It is therefore time to consider and understand electrical energy efficiency as a strategic means to create additional production capacity. And to do this, it would be appropriate, to begin with, to give efficiency projects a fee equal to megawatts to that produced by the Flamanville EPR, plus the price of transportation (TURPE[4]† At this rate, significant savings can be made and capacity can be freed up.

It is time to act in this direction. Our prosperity and our future are at stake.

1 https://www.connaissancedesenergies.org/quelle-consommation-delectricite-en-france-en-2050-la-bataille-des-chiffres-220218
2 https://www.20minutes.fr/economie/3208347-20211231-automobile-marche-francais-plus-bas-2021-vehicules-electriques-plus-haut
3 https://energieplanete.fr/exergie/
4 https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tarif_d%27utilisation_du_public_network_d%27electricity

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