France: FIT opinion divided at PV Power Plant conference

At the same time France introduced its new FITs, the conference PV Power Plants – EU 2011 took place in Paris, on March 10 to 11. Around 250 participants discussed both the technological challenges faced by operators of large solar parks in Europe and current market conditions.

The majority of participants expressed disappointment over the French Government’s decision to drastically lower the PV tariffs. However, there was little discussion of concrete strategic aims. The full wording of the resolved changes must first be read and digested.

Thus Thierry Mueth of the French PV association Enerplan limited his lecture almost exclusively to presentation of the changes in detail. On the other hand, Bruno Cassin of Sillia Énergie, who is also active in AIPF (Association de l’industrie photovoltaïque française), proved to be more spirited. The association was only established in September 2010 when it became clear that the overblown promises made by President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2009 would presumably not be kept. Cassin wants to renegotiate and keep open the lines of communication with the government.

French module manufacturers in particular criticize the decision to cap additional installations at 500 megawatts (MW) per year. Meanwhile they have built up production capacities of 855 MW – whether or not this overcapacity can be made up for by exports is more than questionable. By lowering the remuneration to the current level, only those projects that are equipped with extremely inexpensive components will be able to operate economically. And for the most part they come from the Far East.

But not all of the market participants have such a critical view of the situation in France. Mounting Systems, a German company that has maintained a branch office in Lyon since September 2010, anticipates achieving approximately the same sales figures in 2011 as last year. The engineers at Valeco, a smaller project company from southern France that also invests in wind power plants, are also calm about the future. Other market participants are glad that at least the status quo will be maintained with the annual cap.

Florent Abadie of Enerparc was even able to see the positive effects of the preceding moratorium effected by the French Government. As a result, the industry will be able to adjust to the fact that there will be profound changes, said Abadie in his presentation.

Bureaucratic hurdles

Enormous bureaucratic hurdles represent a particular barrier on the French market. Nowhere else in Europe are the periods for planning, project engineering and approval of large solar projects as long as in France; a circumstance that played a role again and again in the discussions and table talk at the conference.

In spite of all of the political adversities, there was agreement that large PV power plants represent an important market segment in the solar industry, which will continue to develop in the years to come.

For the participants, the conference provided valuable input about European markets, technical and legal details, as well as information about the financing of large-scale installations. A third conference is already in the pipeline for 2012. However, where it will take place has yet to be determined.