Posted on Dec 22 2020 at 7:15
Green gas is finally taking off in France and its contribution to the energy mix, if it remains very minor, is starting to be significant. At the end of the year, the French gas network is connected to 201 production sites for biomethane, this renewable gas made from agricultural residues, organic waste from households and restaurants, or sludge from wastewater treatment plants.
“The industry has responded even during periods of confinement, which allows us to sign a record year”, welcomes Edouard Sauvage, general manager of the distribution network of GRDF, to which nearly 90% of the sites are connected. The French biomethane production capacity is estimated at 3.6 terawatt-hours per year, up 56% compared to last year.
Right to injection
Paradoxically, this boom can be explained in part by the prospect of regulations that are less favorable to producers. The government announced last year that the green gas feed-in tariffs would be revised downwards in order to limit the sector’s budgetary cost. This rate cut came into effect last month. In the period preceding the reform, many projects – they are mainly led by farmers – accelerated their schedule in order to benefit from the more advantageous tariff in force until now.
“We have seen a clear acceleration in 2019 and 2020, emphasizes Edouard Sauvage. It is explained by anticipation of tariff reform, but also by the EGalim law which establishes the right to injection. “ Voted at the end of 2018, this text provides that any producer can be connected to the gas network if he so requests. In fact, this is not necessarily economically viable if the site is too far from GRDF pipes or from the operators of the transmission network. GRTgaz and Teréga.
More generally, it is the arrival at maturity of a still recent sector that explains this enthusiasm, estimates Jean Lemaistre, secretary general of the France Gaz Renouvelables association. “The positive feedback from the first projects has prompted producers to get started in their turn”, he explains.
The share of biogas in French natural gas consumption remains low: around 1%. The government has set a target of 7% to 10% in 2028. It seems within reach given the volume of projects awaiting validation. GRDF has identified more than a thousand, representing some 24 terawatt-hours of production capacity, or more than six times the current fleet. “Not all will be achieved, but strong growth is in any case guaranteed for the coming years”, believes Edouard Sauvage. The Engie subsidiary plans to 6 terawatt hours from the end of 2021.
Lower the costs
The industry ensures that a slowdown will be inevitable thereafter, because the feed-in tariffs will be less attractive. Anxious to limit the cost of biogas for the consumer, the government asks the sector to reduce its costs. “We estimate that it is possible to reduce them by 30% by 2030”, continues Jean Lemaistre. But beware of parallels with the solar photovoltaic industry, the costs of which have collapsed in recent years, he warns. “For biogas, the price of equipment is on the rise and operating and maintenance costs are much higher”, he emphasizes.