During the 50s, a period of vigorous post war reconstruction (helped by the Marshall Plan), France relied mostly on its domestic coal resources which supplied more than two thirds of its energy consumption. But during this period, the newly integrated national utility Electricite de France, EDF, was engaged in a grand endeavour, the equipment of France in hydropower: as early as 1960, hydropower was delivering 40 TWh, 60% of the French electricity consumption. By the 70s, all potentially economical hydraulic sites, both mountain and run-of-the-mill river dams had been built. EDF had even built the world’s first and still unique tidal power plant (La Rance).
In 1957, two significant events occurred: following the Suez Anglo-Israeli-French expedition, France experienced during a few months an oil embargo from the Arab countries, an embargo still remembered in 1973, and at the same period the first and only significant natural gas deposit began production in Lacq, near Bordeaux. The resources were large but the gas contains 10% CO2 and 16% hydrogen sulphide which is toxic and highly corrosive. Still the Lacq natural gas will replace all the previous “gaz de ville” made from coal at the outskirts off all major French town. Production was to peak in 1982: the French network of gas pipes is now fed with gas imported from Norway, Algeria and Russia.
As domestic coal production had been severely declining since 1963, by 1973 two third of the French energy consumption and 68% of the French electricity consumption came from oil, cheap oil imported mainly from the Middle-East.