French presidential election: what to expect for solar from the winners of the first round?

The first round of the French presidential election has said that Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen will now have to contend to become France’s next president. This result, which leaves the country’s traditional parties out of the competition for the first time, is in line with what polls had said during the past weeks.

Marine Le Pen is the well-known leader of the Front National, which has succeeded to improve the anti-immigration and nationalist party’s image over the past years, thus making it more attractive for moderate voters. Macron, instead, is a pro-Europe centrist that has created his own party called En Marche!, a political start-up and a completely new model, according to several observers.

Although Macron and Le Pen have failed to provide too many details on their respective energy policies during the electoral campaign, both contenders said openly that solar will receive due attention in their plans for energy and sustainable development.

Macron’s program for energy and renewables seems to reflect a strong continuation of the energy policy of France’s current government. Macron, in fact, has promised to maintain the current 2030 target for renewables, which aims at covering 32% of national electricity demand with clean energies, and the target of reducing to 50% the share of nuclear power in the country’s energy mix by 2030 from approximately 80% currently.

Moreover, Macron said he intends to double solar and wind installed capacity by 2022. This, Macron added, will raise €30 billion in private investments. France has currently an installed PV capacity of approximately 7 GW. The current target envisages the achievement of 10.2 GW of solar by 2018 and 20.2 GW by 2023.

Yet, Macron has said he will reduce the bureaucratic procedures to install solar and renewable energy, while smart grids and storage will be supported. On top of this, Macron has promised to close all of the country’s coal power plants within the next five years, and to stop granting further exploration permits for shale gas and hydrocarbons.

Taking into account the European vocation of Macron, it is also very likely that he will support the introduction of the EU Winter Package, aimed at creating a unified and decentralized EU energy market with renewable energies and storage at its core.

Le Pen’s program for energy, on the other hand, promises a “massive deployment” of solar and biomass, while it also envisages an immediate moratorium for wind power, which the nationalist candidate has judged as “filthy”. The unclear plans for solar and biomass, however, will be implemented “thanks to intelligent protectionism and economic patriotism, to private and public investments and to EDF orders.”

Furthermore, Le Pen said she is also planning to modernize the country nuclear power sector and to improve its safety, although she added that the Fessenheim Nuclear Power Plant, which has recently raised concerns about its seismic safety, will not be closed. Le Pen, after all, has always campaigned in favour of nuclear power and against the international deals aimed at reducing CO2 emissions.

As for the possible integration of the EU energy markets designed by the European Commission in the Winter Package, it is enough to say that Le Pen has always declared that France will exit the EU if she will become the next president. To have an idea of the kind of energy protectionism Le Pen has in mind, it has to be remembered its recent statement on the Hinkley nuclear power project in the UK, which is being developed by France’s state-owned utility EDF. Le Pen said that, if elected, she will study how to scrap EDF’s contract with the UK Government. “If clauses in the contract allow an exit from this project, we will study them”, said Le Pen’s adviser on energy Philippe Murer to Reuters in early April. The UK project is diverting the EDF’s resources, Murier specified, “at a time when it needs to increase spending to support the struggling nuclear industry at home”.

According to the most recent polls, Macron has more chances to become France’s next president, as two of the most important losing candidates such as Francois Fillon and Benoit Hamon have already endorsed him. Fillon and Hamon had obtained 19.9% and 6.0% of votes, respectively. Macron has won the first round with 23.8% of preferences, followed by Le Pen with a percentage of 21.5%.