Photovoltaic Energy In The French Market: What You Need To Know
15 November, 2020

The French energy transition is part of a larger movement that involves the development of the European internal market and the European energy transition, coordinated at the European Union (EU) level.

EU member states have collectively set ambitious energy and climate targets. The multiannual energy program (PPE) articulates France’s strategy to achieve its targets in addition to other national policy objectives. Among others, but relevant to renewable energy deployment, France plans to strengthen interconnections and exchanges with neighboring countries to improve the security and stability of France’s grid.

The objectives of the PPE are ambitious: to double installed renewable energy capacity by 2028 compared to 2017. As part of this growth, solar install capacity is planned to grow to a 10% share compared to less than 2% currently.

One main impediment to rapid growth of the photovoltaic market in France is the cumbersome administrative procedures. Based on my company’s experience on a project developed from scratch over 10 years in France, it takes a minimum of two years to obtain the necessary authorizations to build a solar park in France (one year for the environmental study over each of the four seasons, one trimester to analyze results and get building permits, and nine months for building permit authorization, including the public inquiry period with an investigating commissioner named by the government). It can take much longer if the land is environmentally sensitive, and it can take two additional years to get a tariff and be grid-connected (you have two years to start up your plant, and on the other side, the grid operator needs two years between the first study and the connection date). Reducing these deadlines would confirm France’s proactive movement in favor of the energy transition with an acceleration of the construction of solar power plants. This acceleration is essential in order to achieve the goal of doubling installed renewable capacity by 2028.

Until now, for a ground project, a developer needed to manage many independent administrative procedures to obtain authorization, including environmental, agriculture, water law, forest clearing and, of course, building permit procedures (which combine all prior approvals and also includes the regional firefighter policy).

One of the key benefits of solar is the decentralization of energy production. It creates jobs throughout the country, but it also creates new and different veto points in the development process, which can slow down renewable energy growth.

The grouping of municipalities into a collectivity is a brake on solar development in the sense that the economic benefits no longer go to the municipality itself, but to the group of municipalities in the community. So, when a municipality does not own the land, it supports the obligations and potential constraints linked to the establishment of a photovoltaic park alone, while it is the group of municipalities in the community that benefits from the economic advantages. 

The multiannual energy program is supported by French photovoltaic tenders delivering a feed-in premium. If you win the bid, you can secure the selling price of the energy produced for 20 years, according to energy regulatory commission (CRE) rules. To maintain this momentum, the government works on new tenders (CRE5); based on my observations, this will likely start in 2021.

The tender is not yet officially published, but based on what I’ve seen, it looks like the volume allocated for ground projects will represent 2 gigawatts per year. Further, there are a few specific rules that I think will make it into the final version and that developers will need to respect:

• Only new installations that have never produced electricity before can compete. No work related to the project can have been carried out at the time of submission of the tender.

• In order to preserve the woods and agricultural areas and minimize the environmental impact of the projects, only installations that are compliant with land requirements as defined in the CRE tender rules (no woods, no agriculture lands, etc.) can compete.

• The installations that can compete in the new tender are the ones in which the sum of the installation power and the power of installations that are at a distance of less than 500 meters is less than or equal to 30 megawatts-peak for the application period, not including degraded lands with no limit.

• Most important is respecting the carbon footprint for the production of modules. The calculation method is specific to the French tender. This will require a specific supply chain and separate production for module manufacturers to calculate the carbon footprint when producing modules according to CRE rules. This specificity reduces the number of competitors because some module suppliers refuse to launch production solely for the French market. It also increases the selling price of modules, with an extra cost of 0.1 euro per watt-peak.

French tenders also require ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 for modules and electrical equipment involved in the transformation of the electricity. Companies in charge of the installation must have ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 certifications and a professional qualification for their work. These certifications and qualifications must be issued by a certification body that is accredited by the French accreditation committee (COFRAC) or by another accreditation body recognized by the European Co-operation for Accreditation (EA) or International Accreditation Forum (IAF) for the specific accreditation.

To conclude, meeting the PPE’s solar goals by 2028 will be challenging. Perhaps creating a unique administrative office to manage and synchronize all authorizations would be a big step in helping to achieve these targets.

 

POST WRITTEN BY
Joern Hackbarth

EVP, Global Head of Engineering and Construction, Sonnedix, overseeing the design and construction of assets for global solar PV platform.

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