Photovoltaic (PV) technology is set to become one of France’s fastest growing energy sources over the next decade, as dramatic increases in world oil prices radically shift the balance in favour of renewable energy sources.
France’s energy record is already very good – it has one of the lowest carbon footprints in Europe and is meeting its Kyoto Treaty obligations. France has seen energy consumption (calculated per unit of GDP) fall dramatically, with a reduction every year since 1982. It is already a world leader in other forms of renewable energy (producing 13% of its energy through renewables in 2004, notably through hydropower and biomass). PV growth has accelerated in the past year, as attractive tax rebates and other measures have taken effect. Further rapid growth in PV capacity in France is expected over the next decade.
While other European nations are nowadays discovering that they are too reliant on supplies of gas delivered from Russia and Central Asia, the French government has already set strategic targets for its overall energy policy. In the Energy Act of 2005, France established the following goals: to safeguard France’s energy independence and security of supply; to ensure competitive prices for industry and private consumers; and, finally, to fight against climate change and protect the environment.
The French government is promoting PV energy through feed-in tariffs – a rate paid to consumers for power fed back into the grid. At present this runs at €0.30/kWh in mainland France, with higher rates in Corsica and overseas départements (such as Martinique). Global trends in PV development favour small-scale, Building Integrated PV (BIPV) applications – and the government recognises this, by adding a premium for such schemes, reimbursing €0.55/kWh for BIPV generation.
Thanks to tax credits of up to 50% for PV production equipment, as well as the most attractive R&D tax credit climate in the whole of Europe, a number of new companies are expected to set up, or team up with French companies in order to develop the next generation of PV arrays.
One UK-based player that is already about to benefit from the predicted growth in PV sales is Europe's leading solar-energy company, Solarcentury, which specialises in building integrated solar-energy products. In March 2007, Solarcentury set up its French subsidiary in La Rochelle (in western France). According to Derry Newman, CEO, “The feed-in tariff in France is by far the most effective in Europe. With regional grants available in some areas on top of that, France is a very attractive market for us. Our building-integrated solar products are being specifically accredited for commercial and residential buildings in France, as we are determined that a wide variety of individuals and their buildings are given the very best opportunity to go solar.”