A French community is now a net positive generator of energy, thanks to a study and pilot project to optimize the town’s energy use and production. In 2014 the larger region of Vitry-Champagne and Der signed an agreement with French electricity company EDF to study and implement a decentralized energy system. The goal was to enable the area to squeeze the most out of its energy use, to reduce costs of the system, but also to give business the key role in developing the process leading to an energy transition.
Three years ago the community of Vitry-le-Francois had already taken a hard look at its energy consumption, particularly in the industrial sector that used 52 percent of the energy for the area, compared to only 31 percent in the rest of France.
The sector offered an important potential for energy savings, which is why the community worked with EDF on a full review of energy use to understand the entire picture. According to Jean-Pierre Bouquet, mayor of Vitry-le-Francois and community president, they found that energy expenditures were the largest budget item for both households and businesses.
The objective yielded by the study was a no less than a 20 percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by households and businesses. To achieve this, the township developed 33 different projects in several categories: lowering energy use; utilization and valuation of local natural resources; job creation; and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. It sought to optimize its heating networks, improve industrial processes, and develop renewable energy systems.
As an example, the community extended its biomass heating system to the local aquatic center. No fossil fuel was to be used for heating equipment, going forward. The township also has biogas and micro-hydro projects set up, as well as wind energy farms in the area. Now, the community is already a net positive producer of energy, with a capacity of 365 GigaWatt hours that is expected to double by 2020.
According to Bouquet, being known as a Net Positive Territory is a great lever to get people involved in further action. “Sustainable development offers employment opportunity, and the sector is very promising. The community has training programs in place for young people in sustainable industry and services. This area is the largest industrial basin of the Marne River region, and to prevent economic erosion, an energy transition is a major opportunity.”
It’s encouraging to see the this kind of community effort to decentralize energy use. While US utilities are nowhere near to providing the same type of investment of time and resources, this kind of private-public partnership hold out the promise of an efficient process to evaluate community energy use and needs, and the ability of the community — including business — to embark on a new energy path.