Most of us will be experiencing some extreme electricity price rises in the coming weeks, but just across the channel electricity prices actually going down in France. Fuel has been at the top of the UK political agenda for months, and in the run up to 2015’s general election, things are set to get even hotter. France has some of the cheapest electricity rates in Europe - how?
One of the main reasons for France’s lower prices is the fact that it is largely dependent on nuclear power. This means that France is less susceptible to spikes and dips and the prices of oil and gas - something which affects the UK drastically at times. Nogent-sur Seine is currently home to 2 of France’s 58 reactors and together they provide a whopping three quarters of the country’s electricity. Currently the UK only has 16 nuclear reactors (with one in the pipeline) and they generate less than a fifth of our electricity requirement. This is a pivotal reason why France enjoys some the lowest bills in Europe and the UK is struggling to pay its electricity bills.
France went full throttle on the idea of nuclear power in its energy generation plans over 40 years ago and now it’s paying dividends. The oil crisis in the 1960’s gave France the nudge and they ran with the idea of nuclear without looking back. Currently they get around 70% of their electricity from nuclear sources, around 15% from renewable sources such as wind and hydro, which leaves only a 15% dependency on fossil fuels - an envious situation when you consider that rapid volatility of the wholesale fossil fuel market.
While it may sound worthwhile having nuclear power as the backbone for your energy generation plans, there have been events in the last few years which have led to many questioning the safety of nuclear, and whether or not it’s worthwhile. The disaster at Fukashima a couple of years ago in Japan had a huge impact on the worldview of nuclear power and its safety. It’s not only safety which is fuelling criticism from anti-nuclear campaigner however. Greenpeace have spoken out against the cost of maintaining a nuclear infrastructure, citing the age of the nuclear power plants and the expensive job of keeping them up to scratch.
With the cost of energy being so high on the UK’s political agenda, it’s little wonder that new plans for a reactor at Hinkley, Somerset have gained so much coverage. While it can be a huge boost to the economy and provide energy a lot cleaner than that of fossil fuels, funding and safety are now at the front of everybody’s mind.