Jérôme Ferrier’s article for LesEchos.fr


Paris is currently preparing to host the World Gas Conference this June, and the 21st UN Climate Change Conference (COP21) in December. This is a unique moment: on the eve of a new reading in the Senate of the energy transition bill, France must lead by example on this issue.

But make no mistake: if France wants to lead Europe by example, it must not overlook gas in the way that it continues to do with this piece of draft legislation. All the stakeholders have worked for two years on its preparation, and we lived in hope that it would commit the country to a forward energy path that would safeguard our environment, at the same time as being economically tenable. So what happened? The truth is that gas is the glaring omission from this bill, because it has been lumped together with other fossil fuels destined for a 30% reduction in consumption over the next 10 years, with no consideration given to their respective carbon footprints. A distinction needs to be made.

France sees electricity as the only clean energy source, despite the fact that it is generated from a primary energy source – nuclear, renewable or fossil fuel – and that the national carbon balance must take account of the entire power generating chain. But for every 1 kWh of electricity generated, the amount of CO2 emitted by gas is around 450 grams, while the figure for coal is over 800 grams: that’s more than 80% higher! When the Global Carbon Project (GCP), a leading international body, confirms that the world reached a new record level of CO2 emissions in 2013, France continues to burn coal, the majority of which is used to generate electricity: our coal consumption rose by more than 20% in 2013. We are using coal-fired power plants while less polluting gas-fired plants stand idle. Better (worse) still, EU carbon emissions fell by 2.5% in 2013… and France saw its increase by 0.6%.

Since we know that coal causes substantial harm to our health (according to the Health and Environment Alliance), France must take the lead in Europe by demonstrating the need to restrict its use and demonstrate that gas is not only the ideal transition energy source, but also the ideal destination energy source in conjunction with renewables as one component in a target energy mix that combines protection against climate change with a better competitive position for our economy.

Most importantly, it is an energy source with more than two centuries of reserves distributed around the world. It is also an easily accessible source of energy thanks to highly developed infrastructures, such as transmission and distribution networks, storage facilities and LNG terminals. It is the best partner for renewables, because it can respond to the intermittent nature and excess generation issues inherent in renewable sources. Gas is an energy source that will become increasingly green, thanks to the production of biomethane in France from household and agricultural waste. Six facilities are already injecting biomethane into French gas supply networks. Lastly, gas is a competitive source of energy.

The solutions are all there and within our grasp. As Beijing puts its weight behind gas as fuel, France decides to exclude gas from its definition of what a clean vehicle is. Why? The recommissioning of gas-fired power plants and the replacement of aging coal-fired plants with new gas-fired facilities could reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by more than 60% per kWh generated across the full lifecycle. Why are we not offering our partners the opportunity to bring their currently cocooned gas combined cycle plants back into operation?

Accessible, affordable and environmentally respectful: gas is not an energy source of the past, but a powerful asset for our country. It could be the route to French leadership in controlling the challenge of climate change, and spearheading a European and global energy policy.