Will France be internationally competitive in new technologies in 2030? What about 2050? Yes, says a new government-sponsored report, provided that the country can hone its competitive advantages, prioritising sustainable development and taking a cross-cutting approach to technological innovation.

Innovation in France: More Structured Approach Required

The French Government Centre for Strategic Analysis has just published a report which looks at how innovative technologies can help to make the country’s energy, transport and buildings sectors competitive on the world stage in the coming decades, putting the emphasis on sustainable development practices as a lever for economic growth, preservation of the environment and social progress. The report looks at the current levels of maturity of the various technologies in the three sectors, and assesses how they are likely to compare at international level in the medium term (to 2030) and long term (to 2050).  The authors’ conclusion is that the outlook for technology in France is a rather fragmented, uncoordinated picture, which will make it extremely difficult to take a systematic approach to technological innovation – seen as absolutely essential – or to find a solid basis on which to set priorities. The report then makes four concrete proposals intended to enable France to achieve a competitive edge in new technologies that will foster sustainable development.

Four proposals

In order to achieve the basic objectives, the Centre for Strategic Analysis advises first of all not to attempt short cuts, but to follow the natural cycle of technical and economic development for any given innovation and study how the innovation can be integrated into the existing framework. In this regard, France’s policymakers also need to have a clear understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the country’s research ecosystem and overall industrial infrastructure. Secondly, the policymakers should encourage the use of competitive renewable energies for electricity generation, prioritising research, development and demonstration work on those technologies whose production cost is currently higher than a given level to be decided. The third proposal suggests broadening the approach to energy-efficient buildings to encompass larger areas – housing blocks or whole city districts – in order to take advantage of lower-cost local energy resources. Fourthly, investing in cross-cutting technologies will help France to make decisive progress, say the authors.

Breaking through the silos

Which technologies will be decisive when it comes to promoting sustainable development and fostering economic growth in France over the coming decades? The report’s authors have identified several areas which constantly come up in the three major sectors analysed: metrology (measurement techniques), nanotechnology, command-control systems – especially for ‘smart’ buildings with ‘networked’ equipment and services – and information and communication technologies (ICTs). The report makes it clear that reducing energy consumption and mitigating overall human impact on the environment is not just a matter of developing and applying new technologies. Companies working in the energy, buildings and transport sectors need to be part of a structured approach to innovation. In the buildings sector, for example, contractors in each individual area – construction, operation and maintenance – must be encouraged to break out of their narrow silos and work smoothly together, stresses the report.