France’s Own Energy Transformation

La Poste uses H2 vans by © Renault

Not too long ago, France’s capital had been the venue for the UN Climate Change Conference COP21. Even if hydrogen and fuel cell technology was not a separate item on the agenda, it is a good bet that many of the around 40,000 participants – from government officials to business associations and unions to environmental and religious organizations – have developed a basic understanding of this technology and its potential to combat climate change.

There is little reason to believe that either sustainably created hydrogen or its use in highly efficient fuel cell systems to support a globally more sustainable and ecologically viable energy supply and transportation will be considered in any agreement in the near future. The interests as well as the political, technological and social conditions of the 195 UN member states are simply too diverse. Still, the pressure is on in politics and the societies of industrial nations to develop new solutions.

Even France, the country known for its civil use of nuclear energy, shows signs of a change in energy supply strategies. Under President François Hollande (see fig. 2), the French government has launched various initiatives and has passed several new regulations since 2013, all in the hopes of making the country’s economy fit for the future and “green up” the entire energy industry.

Francois-Hollande-webFigure 2: François Hollande at the UN Climate Change Conference COP21, © Présidence de la République

Re-industrialization and renewable energies
One of the focus areas of the national strategy for the re-industrialization of France (Nouvelle France Industrielle, NFI), which the French government had already introduced in 2013, is sustainable transportation, with batteries and hydrogen playing a central role. For example, the document sets the following precisely specified targets: Install 20,000 additional public charge points for battery-driven cars until the end of 2016; reduce CO2 emissions of new cars manufactured until 2021 by 30 percent; establish two industrial centers for batteries and hydrogen by 2017 as well as create up to 25,000 jobs by 2030 in the energy storage segment.

The spring of 2015 also saw the passing of a law on energy transformation (LOI n° 2015-992 du 17 août 2015 relative à la transition énergétique pour la croissance verte), in which hydrogen was specified as an important energy carrier and storage medium within a national renewable energy strategy. This law has allowed France to pave the way for the establishment and the further expansion of a hydrogen infrastructure. The relevant plans have meanwhile been presented by the consortium H2 Mobilité France. This consortium consists of French partners from the industry, science, the communities as well as the national hydrogen association AFHYPAC (Association Française pour l‘Hydrogène et les Piles à Combustible) and the European FCH JU. The consortium has been funded and supported by the French Ministry of Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy and the French environmental and energy agency ADEME.

France creates H2 cluster
The plans for expanding the H2 infrastructure are based on the results and experiences France made between 2012 and 2014 during the European HIT (Hydrogen Infrastructure for Transport) project together with Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden. All four countries have developed national deployment plans for hydrogen infrastructures, which were agreed upon and aligned with each other as part of the project to enable coordinated border-crossing H2 filling station deployment along the major traffic routes in Europe.

Economic considerations led France to choose a cluster approach for its national deployment plan. This means that in the beginning, filling stations will be installed in certain cities and conurbations and initially used to supply vehicle fleets locally and across the region. The specified starting clusters are the Normandy region, Rhône-Alpes and Franche-Comté. The filling stations in those clusters will be connected in a second step along main traffic routes, while considering hydrogen connections to neighboring countries.

Electric cars with fuel cell range extender
To cut costs and reduce the risks to fleet operators, the project relies on battery-powered cars, for example, the Renault Kangoo Z.E. They will be equipped with range extender systems based on fuel cell installations by French manufacturer Symbio FCell to up their mileage. This reduces the price of the car compared to vehicles running only on fuel cells, as the fuel cell system and the hydrogen tank do not need to be as big. The same is true for the infrastructure costs, since it is enough at first to install smaller filling stations across the cluster. Main partner and biggest fleet operator is the French mail service, La Poste.

National planning for 2015 included the installation of 15 H2 filling stations and the operation of 200 vehicles, whose number is to be increased to 30 H2 filling stations and 1,000 cars in 2016 alone. The targets are bolstered by the infrastructure deployment plans of European initiative Hydrogen Mobility Europe (H2ME), of which France is a member. This initiative was founded in summer 2015 with the aim of establishing a hydrogen network all across Europe and introduce fuel cell vehicles to the market. Among others, it is based on the agreement about a collaboration in the area of (border-crossing) H2 filling station deployment, which the French Minister of the Economy, Emmanuel Macron, and the German Minister for Economic Affairs, Sigmar Gabriel, concluded during the French-German government consultations at the end of last March.

Several other countries have meanwhile joined the H2ME initiative: Iceland, the UK as well as the Scandinavian nations of Denmark, Norway and Sweden. Austria, Belgium and the Netherlands have supported the European collaboration as observers. H2ME has clearly stated the target of bringing 200 fuel cell cars and 125 delivery vans with fuel cells as a range extender to Europe’s roads by 2019, as well as setting up 29 new H2 filling stations in the ten participating countries during the same period. These plans, in turn, are closely intertwined with the countries’ market introduction strategies.

French Power-to-Gas projects
In addition to its activities in the transportation sector, France has also set the foundation for hydrogen to become an important source of energy supply. To enable the (intermittent) storage of power generated by renewables, France relies on hydrogen from Power-to-Gas. The feasibility of this approach was demonstrated by different projects, such as GRHYD (Gestion des Réseaux par l’Injection d’Hydrogène pour Décarboner les Énergies) in Dunkerque or MYRTE (Mission hYdrogène Renouvelable pour l’inTégration au réseau Electrique) on Corsica. The construction of a first megawatt pilot system is scheduled by 2017. Three of the organizations involved in this project are energy provider Engie (until recently called GDF Suez), energy systems provider Areva and the operator of the French gas grid, Gaz Naturel GRDF.

Author: Alexandra Huss

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