Sun shining through the clouds on a geothermal power plant
Sun shining through the clouds on a geothermal power plant

The French are starting a new revolution – one in renewable energy.  Well, at least they are reviving one in geothermal power.  The country already has the second largest concentration of geothermal wells in the world, after Iceland, to heat 170,000 homes.  However, in a push to reduce carbon emissions while ensuring the country’s energy security, they tapped this old energy source against the cold.

Ségolène Royal, French minister of ecology, sustainable development and energy is spearheading the charge. Next month they plan to submit to the National Assembly a bill to help unleash private investment in renewable energy.  The savings from tapping geothermal power are enormous – 54% savings in electricity in one project sites of a geothermal project started in 2009.  Aside from this, two geothermal exploration permits have been granted – one to Electerre de France SAS to explore the Massif Central mountains, and another to Groupe Fonroche Energie to tap geothermal resources in the Pyrenees.  Groupe Fonroche Energie plans to invest about 82 million euros to explore the  “Pau-Tarbes” the 1000 square kilometers geothermal reserve in the Pyrenees.  This will allow the developer to tap waters heated to 150 degrees Celsius that can be used for power generation.  While the government gave grants for geothermal heating for people in Paris, a renewable energy bill will make it easier for power developers to finance the large upfront costs of developing clean energy sources, including geothermal.

The geothermal push is being undertaken to build the country’s credibility as it plays host to a United Nations summit meeting on climate change in December 2015.  At present, only 14.7% of the energy’s total energy consumption is derived from renewable energy sources.  The benefits of building renewable energy infrastructure, however, are clear.  Not only will this reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it will also reduce energy costs, and at the same time it will create an estimated 100,000 new jobs.

With the government rocked by division brought about by cabinet changes and overall dissatisfaction with the Hollande, the bill may even provide a common rallying point – a push for the environment and for much needed jobs.

A yes to the renewable energy bill is not just a yes for geothermal energy, but for geo, the earth.

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