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French policy and investment favours solar PV
The French Government is aggressively developing its solar power infrastructure, investing in photovoltaic (PV) plants and providing tax breaks for commercial and private producers of the renewable energy. Although still lagging behind Germany, the world’s largest producer, France hopes to emulate its neighbour’s success through generous feed-in tariffs, which require utilities to purchase renewable energy at a premium rate.
Wael Elamine, of the French renewables association Syndicat des Energies Renouvelables, says: “Germany is eight or nine years ahead of us, but we are growing at about the same speed. It is now French law that we will reach 5.4GW by 2020 – where Germany is today”.
France knows it will have to work hard. By the end of 2008, it had installed only 87MW – around four times that of the UK – and there have been delays of up to six months for PV installations to be connected to the grid. But the country has a history of bedding-in ambitious energy policies, as its large number of nuclear power stations demonstrates.
Recent developments indicate the country may reach its solar goal.
In May 2009, French sustainable development minister Jean-Louis Borloo kickstarted the renewed push for solar power when he announced an investment of €1.5 billion for new PV plants. This would effectively quadruple solar output to around 300MW.
As well as the capital investment, the French Government now offers the highest feed-in tariffs in the world, at €0.33/kWh for ground and roof-mounted PV, and€0.6/kWh for the latest building-integrated forms. The UK languishes at the bottom of the league, offering a maximum of just 0.06€/kWh.
EDF Energies Nouvelles, the renewables subsidiary of France’s major power provider, has been quick to capitalise on the favourable tax and market conditions. In July, it announced a joint venture with a US PV supplier, First Solar, to build France’s “largest solar panel manufacturing plant”, able to produce around 100MW of PV capacity each year.
Surprising amid this rush for the golden rays, though, is the country’s silence on concentrating solar thermal power (CSP). Neighbouring Spain is cutting a clear lead here, with a target of 500MW installed capacity by 2010, and a feed-in tariff system in place since 2007. Six plants are already up and running, with a combined capacity of 81MW, and another 12 are underway.
France may choose to leapfrog the infrastructure development stage, investing instead in importing CSP energy from sunny North Africa. French-speaking Algeria is gearing up to source 5% of its energy from solar by 2015. The New Energy Algeria company has recently been set up to explore how solar ‘exports’ could help Europe meet its renewables targets. ~– Alex Johnson