Didier Holleaux

Article by Didier Holleaux, Executive Vice President at ENGIE, published on LinkedIn in french, on October 10, 2018

The French energy industry is about a lot more than simply nuclear power; it is also about renewables, geothermal, urban heating and cooling systems, energy efficiency, natural gas as fuel for power generating plants and heating systems (because it emits only half the CO2 of coal), and biogas for utility networks and mobility applications. ENGIE already covers all these sectors. For example, in Paris, ENGIE is working with the RATP public transit authority to develop 100% biogas buses and dedicated refueling points. We are leading the energy transition, and although we already structure our business around a diversified energy mix, we are committed to ensuring that that mix becomes increasingly reliant on renewables.

Energy diversification and complementarity have an essential role to play in the world of the 3 Ds set out in the ENGIE vision: Decarbonized, Decentralized and Digitalized. We want to work alongside companies and consumers in their commitment to sustainable development on the local and personal scale. Our most important priorities are to help our customers improve the use they make of energy across every type of consumption: heating, cooling, lighting and mobility, as well as generating and supplying energy that is increasingly green.

Because we already lead the world in energy efficiency solutions and urban cooling networks, are the world number three in urban heating networks and lead the solar and wind power markets in France, it is our responsibility to develop the best solutions.

No single form of energy is able to satisfy every requirement at the best cost and with the lowest CO2 emissions, which is why we cannot believe in the all-electric or all-nuclear scenarios, and prefer more realistic solutions.

As an example, let’s take the instantaneous demand for energy in France at the peak time of 8 am on a cold winter morning: total demand at that time is 330 Gw. The power grid supplies between 95 and 100 Gw, with imports generally running at around 5 Gw. At 8 am on a winter’s morning, especially when the weather is cold, photovoltaic provides 0 Gw, and wind power contributes very little. Of the missing 230 Gw, gas currently provides 130 Gw. Although some people assume that the solution is to go more electric to meet peak demand, which decarbonized form of electrical energy would satisfy that level of demand?

We must therefore make the most of the complementarity between the individual sources of energy that make up the energy mix if we are to achieve the green growth we aspire to.

To achieve that, we cannot overlook gas. Gas is a fundamental vector of energy systems because of its ability to compensate for the intermittent nature of renewables. Gas has a major role to play in complementing renewables and replacing more polluting fuels, such as diesel oil and heavy fuel oil. It it is also important in the development of urban heating networks and mobility solutions, but the gas itself must also become greener: biogas produced by methanation and pyro-gasification must gradually take over from natural/fossil fuel gas. These are the reasons why we are investing massively in biogas and renewable hydrogen.

Natural gas is currently contributing to a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and pollution. And between now and 2030, between 15% and 30% of the gas injected into the supply network will be green gas - a 100% renewable solution that will eventually replace natural gas.
One of the benefits of our scenario is that it keeps many solutions open. Solutions such as onshore/offshore wind, photovoltaic, natural gas and green gases. We must give biogas its opportunity as we already have in the case of solar and wind power. When we began to support solar photovoltaic, it cost €700 per MWh. At that time, very few people thought that solar power would one day become competitive, but today, the latest bid invitations issued by the CRE in France set the price at around €60 per MWh. It is important to take the entire chain into account: hardware, infrastructures and storage solutions. Gas storage costs €5 per MWh, which is much less than electricity. What’s more, the gas supply chain now provides 160,000 jobs. Between now and 2050, a further 90,000 jobs will be created as a result of the strong trend towards green gases, to say nothing of the consolidation of agricultural activity in France and the other desirable secondary effects of biogas (reduced need for fertilizers, for example).

I firmly believe in the complementary combination of energy sources and in the essential presence of gas within the energy mix. It is the only realistic solution that will enable us to contribute fully to a responsible future and more harmonious progress.

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