France's 300 MW Cestas solar plant inaugurated

It was a long time in the making, but this week Europe’s largest solar PV plant was finally brought online.

The Cestas solar farm, which is 300 MW and covers a 250-hectare site near to the French city of Bordeaux, was connected to the grid earlier this month and has already begun producing solar power at a price cheaper than that offered by new nuclear plants.

Developed by Neoen for a cost of €360 million ($382 million), Cestas will see its solar energy for a price of €105/MWh ($111/MWh) for 20 years, which is on a par with wind power and cheaper than the cost of new nuclear energy, confirmed Neoen chief executive, Xavier Barbaro.

France’s older nuclear plants, built in the 1970s and ‘80s, deliver nuclear energy for around €55/MWh, but newer nuclear plants – such as the controversial Hinkley Point development in the U.K., which is being built by French utility EDF – are set to deliver energy for a government-guaranteed price of around €130/MWh.

Barbaro told reporters at the plant’s inauguration that its east-west orientation (solar farms at this latitude are usually oriented with a southern azimuth) means it can produce three-to-four times more power for the same surface area. This also means early morning and late-afternoon production is higher, mirroring more closely typical demand patterns from the French grid.

The plant is comprised of 25, 12 MW sub-plants and was delivered to the grid via a consortium of largely France-based contributors, including French infrastructure company Eiffage and Schneider Electric.

At 300 MW, it is easily the continent’s largest single array, and will play its part in pushing France towards 1 GW of new solar PV installations this year, with the country on course to match that in 2016 and 2017, according to projections from Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF).