Can Texas follow in France’s footsteps in their transition to renewable energy?

This blog post was originally published by a student studying abroad in Angers, France. The theme this summer is sustainability and the professors and students are exploring all the ways France is a leader in environmental conservation and sustainability. You can read more about the students’ time in France online at Sustainability in Angers, France.

Believe it or not, France and Texas actually have a few things in common when it comes to their potential to transition to clean energy. For one, they are both enormous energy exporters. France has been a world leader in electricity exports for the past decade. Texas, on the other hand, is the largest exporter of oil in the U.S. The U.S. Energy Information Administration recorded that on April of 2018, the Lonestar state actually exported more barrels of crude oil than they imported for the first time ever.

In this discussion of clean energy, discovering that Texas is on track to become the third-largest oil producer in the world isn’t really something to be proud of. However, there are advantages in having energy independence. The state even has it’s own power grid, which makes it much easier to transition to renewable energy production. It also helps that Texas is a national leader in wind energy and according to the Solar Energy Industries Association(SEIA), they are ranked 6th in solar production within the U.S.

France also has quite a bit of energy independence thanks to a spike in oil prices from an “oil shock” in 1973, which led them to turn to nuclear energy. In 2018, 71% of electricity production came from their 58 nuclear power reactors, according to the World Nuclear Association. However, policymakers plan to change this. In August 2015 the French Energy Transition for Green Growth Law was passed, which plans to reduce their nuclear energy share to 50% by 2023 to make room for renewables. Additionally, 2 of their oldest nuclear power plants will be shut down by 2020. France also launched a “Big Investment Plan” in 2018 that includes putting 7 Billion euros towards increasing its renewable energy production capacity by 70%.

France aims to contribute to the UN’s goal to reduce 40% of its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 compared to their GHG emissions from 1990. This won’t be difficult for France at all. Nuclear energy itself contributes very little CO2 emissions and their second-largest source of electricity comes from hydroelectric power. Combined, nuclear and hydroelectric generates about 90% of total electricity production. They might already have one of the cleanest means for generating electricity, but France still uses quite a bit of fossil fuels for transportation and other non-electric appliances. The Big Investment Plan does also include investing in clean transportation, so France is definitely on the right path.

So in the grand scheme of things, Texas and France might appear to be quite different as far as the transition to clean energy is concerned. France already has incredibly low carbon emissions per capita, but Texas definitely does not. The similarities lie in their energy independence and leadership roles in clean electricity production. The SEIA projected that Texas would become the 2nd largest solar power producer (just behind California) by 2021. These new solar farms are also going to be placed around the wind farms already in place. The exciting thing about solar and wind power being used closely together is that they can share transmission lines. Additionally, both energy sources are generated at different times during the day. SEIA’s vice president of state affairs mentioned this in a recent article from KUT News.

As a native Texan, I know we take great pride in our state, as do the French in their country. It would be amazing if Texas could refer to France (which is roughly the size of Texas, might I add), as a guide towards moving towards renewable energy and decreasing carbon emissions. Except instead of using the success of nuclear energy to invest in renewables, we use our success in oil to invest heavily in renewables. It might even be more economical for us to build new solar and wind farms than to maintain existing coal or natural gas plants. I am in a position to challenge the booming oil industry in Texas, as I understand there are several economic benefits to this. However, reducing our greenhouse gas emissions is absolutely crucial right now. So why don’t we lead the way for a new, more sustainable industry?

Story by Jack Rippel ’20

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