How Covid-19 is affecting the French solar sector

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From pv magazine France.

“All our projects are at a standstill,” the president of the Photovoltaic Professions Group of the French Building Federation has told pv magazine. Franc Raffalli added: “Even if we wanted to continue we could not: the industry is halted for several reasons.”

Publicly-funded solar projects and private large scale schemes have all been paused amid the Covid-19 pandemic, according to Raffalli. He said: “We could not continue to work, since the site equipment rental companies no longer rent. On certain sites, the equipment is still available but, in the event of a breakdown no one is present to repair it. Technically it is, therefore, impossible to work. If the projects in operation are not really impacted by the current situation – urgent operations are assured – the work in progress is suspended. Foreign subcontractors have returned to their countries and transportation of equipment has slowed, making it difficult to source materials.

On the commercial side of operations at French solar companies, staff are homeworking. However, “it is difficult for commercial services to work efficiently since we cannot predict what will happen in the coming months,added the industry spokesman.

Policy confusion

Lack of manpower and equipment are not the only problems, with Raffalli telling pv magazine the construction industry has heard apparently contradictory statements from national politicians.

“After hearing the speech of [French president] Emmanuel Macron, who asked everyone to stay at home, the construction industry understood that it was necessary to stop going to construction sites,” said Raffalli. A total shutdown of all non-essential business activity was announced last week, implying teleworking for office staff and a halt to construction site activity.

“The prime minister [Édouard Philippe] had also specified that everyone would be on partial unemployment, and therefore compensated, said the PV industry representative. “In the building industry, we saw ourselves being defined as a ‘non-essential’ sector.

However, minister of labor Muriel Pénicaud appears to take a different view and has urged the construction industry back to work.

Confusion

“In the middle of the week, the tone changed,” said Raffalli. Partial unemployment pay is not being offered to the construction industry according to labor organizations the Regional Directorates for Enterprise, Competition, Consumer Affairs, Labor and Employment.

The ensuing chaos prompted the construction industry to call for a ten-day halt to activity to establish how workers and companies should operate. “The situation is unclear, no specific instructions have been given,” said Raffalli.

Even as announcements are made that partial unemployment can be granted construction companies a press release issued jointly by the government, union confederation the French Building Federation and the Confederation of crafts and small construction companies further muddied the waters. The document stated: “Building and public works companies are essential to the economic life of the country and its functioning, contributing to the daily needs of the French, like housing, water, energy, waste management, transport and telecommunications. It is therefore necessary to work towards the continuation of their activity to avoid a complete shutdown of the sites, which would destabilize not only the companies concerned but also the entire economy.”

Gradual recovery

“The recovery will take place gradually, depending on the site, said Raffalli. Construction material suppliers such as Saint-Gobain have already announced plans to reopen by changing their service methods.

As far as solar modules are concerned, “the lack of panels was felt before the crisis in France, when the factories were closed in China,” said Raffalli. French projects had to be postponed for periods ranging from 15 days to three weeks. “But production is slowly resuming there and when the sites resume in France, production in China will be more efficient,” said the solar industry spokesman. “The largest markets will probably have been supplied, with the panels being available for French sites.

Raffalli concluded with a bullish message. “In the photovoltaic sector, companies that have survived the past ten years are not going to collapse after this period of shutdown, he said. “This is not going to put them on the canvas.

Covid-19

Read pv magazine’s coverage of Covid-19; and tell us how it is affecting your solar and energy storage operations. Email editors@pv-magazine.com to share your experiences.