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ENVIRONMENT

France generates electricity from offshore wind farm for the first time

France's electricity grid has received its first ever power generated by an offshore wind farm, as the country looks ahead to what could be a difficult winter.

France generates electricity from offshore wind farm for the first time
Photo by Eric Feferberg / AFP

“The Saint-Nazaire offshore wind farm produced the first megawatt hours from French offshore wind,” said the consortium owning the park and grid operator RTE in a statement.

The Saint-Nazaire offshore park, the first in France to come into service, will eventually have 80 wind turbines, which will be gradually installed by the end of the year. To date, 27 wind turbines have been installed since April.

More offshore windfarms are due to come on stream in the months ahead at Fécamp (Seine-Maritime), which is expected to be operational early next year, followed by installations at Saint-Brieuc (Côtes-d’Armor) and Courseulles-sur-Mer (Calvados).

Europe is the world leader in offshore wind power, but France is lagging well behind much of the field. The UK had the largest offshore generation capacity in 2020, followed by China and Germany, while the first offshore windfarm was installed off the coast of Denmark in 1991.

France has plenty of wind turbines on land – a form of energy that Emmanuel Macron backed during debates before the presidential election when his far-right opponant Marine Le Pen pledged to end all new wind farms and dismantle existing ones.

In an interview with local media last week Macron insisted that France would not be exposed to power outages next winter, despite the fact that many of the country’s nuclear reactors are currently offline for safety reasons. In May, 27 of the country’s 56 nuclear reactors were shut down.

“When we need to, we will get supplies from the European market,” Macron said in an interview published by a number of regional newspapers, despite the tension on European energy market following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Thomas Pellerin-Carlin, director of the Energy Center of the Jacques-Delors Institute, added:  “To say that there is no risk of a power cut in winter is almost always factually false. Especially since 2022 is likely to be the lowest year for nuclear generated power in decades.”

Grid operator RTE warned, in a 2021 report, that France would be at a ‘low point’ in terms of electricity supply security until 2024 because of the “lower availability of the nuclear fleet and the closure of the last coal-fired power stations”.

Meanwhile,  importing electricity is a limited option. “We have 13 gigawatts (GW) interconnection with our neighbours. We are limited by physics, we cannot import more ,” Goldberg said. “Last year, we needed almost all of our imports. This winter, that might not be enough.”

Last year, France quietly relaxed restrictions on the maximum number of operational hours for its remaining coal-fired power stations. Today, the only one still producing power is Cordemais, in Loire-Atlantique, after Saint-Avold, in Moselle was shutdown in March. It could be reopened, if necessary, to supplement the power grid in time for the winter.

RTE could also introduce a number of measures to avoid general powercuts, experts have said. It could pay industrial customers to shut down power to their sites to ease the pressure on the entire network. It could reduce power to the entire network to reduce consumption, or it could introduce rotating load-shedding, by cutting power to certain areas for up to two hours per day in the morning or early evening.

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ENVIRONMENT

French riviera: Unesco tsunami warning for Marseille and Cannes

Unesco has announced that the Mediterranean - including the French cities of Marseille and Cannes - will be at risk of tsunamis within the next 30 years, and therefore has included it in its tsunami protection program

French riviera: Unesco tsunami warning for Marseille and Cannes

The risk of tsunamis in the Mediterranean Sea is real – on October 16th, 1979, a tsunami, caused by a landslide, hit the coast of Nice and killed a dozen people. More recently, the Greek island of Samos in the Aegean Sea was hit by a tsunami in 2020.

But the climate crisis and rising sea levels mean that experts fear that in the future they will no longer be rare events along the Mediterranean coast.

Unesco has therefore announced that it will be adding thousands of communities to its Tsunami Ready Plan, including the French cities of Marseille and Cannes.

Experts fear that tsunamis in the Mediterranean could reach up to a metre in height and are almost guaranteed in the next 30 years.

According to Unesco’s calculations, “there is a 100% chance” that tsunamies will occur in the Mediterranean “over the next thirty years.” Therefore, the UN organisation has called for public authorities to institute their multistep programme, which would encourage awareness, warning, and prevention mechanisms for at-risk coastal communities. 

The preparedness program seeks to ensure that these cities and towns, like Marseille and Cannes, will have the necessary response mechanisms in place by 2030.

The Tsunami Ready program, which has already been piloted in dozens of communities across the Caribbean, Pacific and Indian Ocean regions and was prepared by Unesco experts, establishes twelve indicators to be respected by the communities concerned. This means that Marseille and Cannes will be expected create plans for identifying tsunamis threats and build community awareness and preparation for how to cope with tsunamis.

The twelve readiness indicators are shown in the graphic below:

Communities must meet all 12 indicators, which cover Assessment, Preparedness, and Response, will be recognized as ‘Tsunami Ready’ by the UNESCO/IOC.

Tsunamis are usually caused by seismic activity (78 percent of them) – like the deadly Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004 that killed over 210,000 people, but 10 percent are also caused by volcanic activity and landslides, like the tsunami that hit the Pacific island of Tonga in January. Meanwhile, the rare 2 percent are caused by meteorological activity.

However, the increased concern for tsunamis along France’s Mediterranean coast is in part due to rising sea levels (resulting from the climate crisis) and the need to better monitor underwater volcanos.

Rising sea levels can lead to an increase in the power of tsunamis – up to tenfold. In some parts of the world, such as Macao, scientists estimate that  tsunamis will have twice their current impact by 2050.

Even a tsunami of 50cm high can do a lot of damage – what sounds like a small flow of water is actually capable of lifting a car and depositing it several dozen meters away.

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