Could energy storage be onto a winner in France?

We analyse recent market developments in energy storage in France – from Total buying into Aquion Energy, GDF Suez testing Eos Energy Storage batteries to start-ups such as Nawa Technologies. Photo credit: McPhy Energy

We analyse recent market developments in energy storage in France – from Total buying into Aquion Energy, GDF Suez testing Eos Energy Storage batteries to start-ups such as Nawa Technologies. Photo credit: McPhy Energy

It has been a mixed bag for energy storage in France recently. Three weeks ago came the news of faltering finances at Areva, one of France’s biggest power sector companies and a potentially significant energy storage player.The future of Areva’s energy storage programme is as yet still unclear and might not be known until a new strategic plan is unveiled in February.

Almost simultaneously with the Areva bombshell, however, another big French energy player, GDF Suezannounced it would be testing battery systems from Eos Energy Storage, a promising US developer. So what is to be made of the fickle French market?

On the surface, not much. This is arguably the least likely candidate for energy storage in the whole of Europe. It gets 75% of its power from always-on nuclear power plants, and even though this share is dropping it will still be at around 50% by 2025.

This makes France the largest net exporter of electricity in the world, pocketing more than €3bn a year from energy sales. As for renewable energy, well, France does not even make it into the top five markets in Europe for PV.

The picture is a bit more promising for onshore wind, and it is true France has been courting other more exotic forms of generation, such as offshore windconcentrated PV and tidal energy.

A platform for exports?

Nevertheless, the fact remains that most of these initiatives seem more about building a platform for exports than creating a major home market.

Certainly, France does not seem the kind of place that will suffer from renewable energy-induced intermittent supplies any time soon.

Nor does it appear to offer the level of support that some of its neighbours, such as Germany or the UK, seem to be putting into energy storage. Not much of an opportunity for the industry, you would thing. But you might be surprised.

In fact, the US Department of Energy’s Global Energy Storage Database lists France as being home to 27 projects, which is way behind Germany’s 60 but not too far off the 32 of the UK.

In fairness, most of the French installations are pumped hydro projects, which makes sense for a country awash in cheap nuclear power.

But there are also a number of electrochemical storage plants, such as the 1MW Reunion Island Pegase Project or Saft’s 3.3MW French energy and environment agency (Agence de l’environnement et de la maîtrise de l’énergie or ADEMEinstallation.

Energy storage business talent

The database also lists a couple of flywheel projects, a hydrogen storage test platform on Corsica and a thermal energy store linked to a concentrated solar power plant.

Beyond these projects, France also seems to boast a fair amount of energy storage business talent. French corporate behemoths such as Alstom, Areva, EDF Energy and GDF Suez clearly lead the market simply by virtue of their financial muscle.

Last month the petrochemical giant Total joined their ranks by acquiring an interest in Aquion Energy, a battery maker from Pittsburgh, USA.

Below this top-tier of potential energy storage players are a number of specialist providers, such as Clean HorizonMcPhy and Saft, which have established a solid reputation in the field.

And as revealed in our start-up roundup last month, France has no shortage of entrepreneurial ventures, either, with young companies such as AtaweyEnerstone and Nawa Technologies attracting investor attention.

So where does that leave the French market?

Scope for further projects

In an interview earlier this year for European Utility Week, Artelys chief executive Arnaud Renaud pointed out that France’s existing 4.3GW of pumped hydro storage somewhat limited the scope for further projects in the country.

Nevertheless, he predicted up to an additional 1.5GW of pumped hydro could be added to metropolitan areas between now and 2030.

Heat storage on heating networks could potentially add a further 10GWh, while electricity storage was unlikely to surpass 400MW, said Renaud, based on a study carried out for ADEME.

Elsewhere, though, conversations that Energy Storage Report has had with researchers indicate that the French electrical storage market could already be worth something in the order of USD$250m to $300m.

Philip Hiersemenzel of Younicos points out that the French overseas departments and territories “are very interesting for the microgrid business.”

Needing more flexibility

And even on the mainland, he muses: “Precisely because France has all those inflexible nukes but increasingly flexible demand, they need more flexibility… i.e. storage.”

French policymakers certainly do not appear averse to including storage in the energy mix. Last year a Government Innovation Committee listed energy storage as the first of seven ‘Ambitions for France’.

And one thing that should not be underestimated is the French administration’s ability to protect national interests.

After all, this is a country that routinely and unashamedly issues renewable energy tenders where it is acknowledged foreign vendors have little or no chance of winning.

That fact alone means it is probably safe to say France might not be such a bad market for energy storage after all. Particularly if you are French.

Written by Jason Deign

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