Europe’s first GW-sized PV plant may be built on around 1,800 hectares of agricultural land spread across the four French municipalities of Allons, Boussès, Sauméjan and Pompogne, all of which are located in the Lot–et–Garonne Department, southern France.
In a short conversation with the project’s initiator – French consultancy company Eco Solution Energie – pv magazine has learned that currently there are five developers interested in the project construction: French energy giants Engie and Total (through its Irish subsidiary Amarenco), France-based solar project developers Neoen, Reden Solar (which has its headquarters in the region), and Valeco. Eco Solution Energy is associate developer with Neoen and participate in the global project coordination.
According to Eco Solution Energie’s spokesman, Jean-Yves Leber, the 1.2 GW project is now undergoing environmental impact approval process. “Although the project will be divided into several sections of various nominal powers, the environmental impact study will have to include the whole project. All of the interested developers are each conducting their own study,” Leber stressed. “But consortia among them will have to be formed, in order to make the project viable,” he further explained. It will most probably be the case regarding grid-connection too.
As for now, what has been achieved is the closing of the leasing contracts for the land, accordin to Leber. The owners of the agricultural surfaces decided to devote their land to solar, as it was to become in the medium term no longer useful for further activities due the current agricultural practices lack of resilience to global warming.
“The project started, as we were asked by the land owners to find a reasonable solution for surfaces which were to become no longer profitable,” Leber asserted.
The project, which is expected to require an aggregate investment of around €1 billion and to be divided into variable size sections, from 20 MW to over 200 MW, may face grid issues, however, as the area lacks the necessary capacity. Leber, however, pointed out two options: the construction of a 25 to 50 km transmission line with a capacity of 400 kV, which would connect the huge solar park with a less congested area, or an innovative 225 KV solution to be engineered by national operator RTE. With the first option requiring a longer period of time, which Leber estimates of around 7-10 years, the second option seems to be the most concrete, with no prejudice regarding the overall project cost.
Commenting on the likelihood that similar huge projects may be built in France, Xavier Daval, Chair of SER-SOLER, the solar commision of the French renewable energy association, and CEO and president of KiloWattsol SAS, has warned that these may, at first, have a low acceptance from the public, and if not properly introduced and discussed, may impact the future of solar in France.
“Although the French solar sector undoubtedly needs volume, including from big solar parks to support the energy transition of the French energy system”, he also stated. According to Daval, in fact, solar projects in France should be considered as base load and not peak load because of their predictability.
“The French community is still not ready for these big projects. We need the construction of solar parks of hundreds of MWs, but maybe not at the moment. On the other hand, we have many options for solar PV such as rooftops, carports, greenhouses or unused industrial surfaces, which may also provide big growth volumes”, Xaval also said. And then, there are the aforementioned grid constraints. “In India, when they built the first giant GW-sized solar parks, they made it sure they built the required capacity grid, which is something I am not seeing with this project,” he concluded.
France is already hosting Europe’s largest solar plant, the Cestas solar farm, which is 300 MW and covers a 250-hectare site near to the French city of Bordeaux.