France to exceed 1 GW of 2015 PV installations in major rebound

The construction of Europe’s largest PV power plant, the 300 MW Cestas plant, is nearing completion, providing a flagship project for France’s solar industry to look towards. The country is also increasing the size of some of its PV tenders and more broadly, its solar ambitions. CEO of French solar technical advisor kiloWattsol Xavier Daval says that it is a sign of things to come as a fundamental shift in energy politics takes place in the country.

pv magazine: What does the announcement that the target for PV capacity by 2020 has officially been increased from 5.4 to 8 GW mean for development of the solar market in France?

Xavier Daval: The increased target has been discussed for some time. The 5.4 GW target had already been reached and there were fears that this could compromise future public allocations of capacity. It should be noted that PV has been extended to 8 GW while onshore wind is at 19 GW and offshore 6 GW.

The announcement is in the context also of the official second release of the ADEME report on France at 100% renewable by 2050. Together they are two relatively weak signals indicating that the French political mentality toward renewable and specifically solar has definitely moved and exiting nuclear is no longer taboo. Incidentally, the original ADEME report was published in April and then temporarily removed from its website, as officially it was not considered a sufficiently mature document!

Increasing the 2020 PV target is more a temporary fix and the PPE (Programmation Pluriannuel de l’Energy) will be reviewed next year, including official targets for nuclear.

pvm: Why do you think the decision to increase PV goals through to 2020 was made, along with the doubling in size of the most recent large scale project tender?

XD: I want to believe that the obvious competitiveness of PV electricity become too attractive to be disregarded, especially when a massive amount of production capacity will have to be deployed if France starts to shut down some of the nuclear plants. The COP 21 context could also be of some influence on this shift in government mentality towards solar.

Obviously, when 1.2 GW of projects are proposed at an average price for the French consumer of €87.10/MWh, it is probably tempting to accept more that the 125 MW initially offered to the bidders. I should note that the lowest bid for solar was around €70/MWh compared to €82/MWh for wind!

pvm: How does this reflect French government thinking and its relations with the nuclear industry?

XD: The dogmatic politically correct thinking regarding nuclear energy is gone and today one can think otherwise without being accused of crime against French national energy security. The increasing price competitiveness of PV, thanks to our good solar irradiation, the state of France’s public finances, and political pressure to see reconciliation between Socialist and the Green party, should naturally lead to a great future for solar.

pvm: How do you imagine the additional solar capacity will be developed? Through the CRE tender system?

XD: Beyond 2016 France has to comply with European directive and implement CfD remuneration for all sources of renewable energy. So the next round of tender, perhaps in the form of the CRE-4, will introduce more complexity to the bidding process and financing might be more challenging (or at a higher cost): How to get the finance when the long-term revenues are less predictable? So this doubling of the tender capacity is more than welcome for the French solar industry.

pvm: While these are essentially positive signals for solar from the government, is the outlook for PV in France in 2015 equally positive?

XD: 2015 is a special year for the French solar market: Beyond the business-a-usual 400 MW tender capacity for projects larger than 205 kW, the 120 MW of medium size 100 kW-250 kW tender; and maybe the around 250 MW of distributed projects coming from old permits, previous tariffs and roof-top residential; the big impact will come from the 300 MW of the Cestas Plant being connected to the grid. So very likely France’s newly installed capacity for 2015 will cross the 1 GW threshold, that was only exceed once previously back in 2001, when 1.5 GW was installed. The most recent increases in tender capacities will only come into the market in 2016 and 2017.

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