A gigawatt solar factory in Europe? Why it must be in France

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Germany is the historical champion of solar, it took the lead back in 2000 and converted what was then prototype power generators into a real industry.

We all know the story: The market was growing, the German manufacturing industry – followed by other countries – took the “easy” route of externalization of its assembly lines in China. In parallel, several Chinese companies took the lead and, boosted by domestic demand, moved our industry to another level.

But the game is not over and European demand for solar panels is still growing. Therefore, when the module price is falling and efficiency is increasing, at some point transport becomes a fixed part of the price. With highly automated manufacturing processes, manpower cost is no longer enough to justify Asian-only manufacturing.

The time is probably right for restarting the European solar industry.

Gigawatt factory

At the moment, according to a series of press leaks, plans are being made on both banks of the Rhine for a gigawatt-scale factory. Even though Germany is still the larger European domestic market, however, the country is struggling to remove a 52 GW cap on solar which is set to mark the end of public subsidies.

We, in France, have been slower to adopt solar but that means the provisions of the government’s energy plan – the Programmation pluriannuelle de l’énergie (PPE) – offer huge potential. I have received several comments on social media networks calling for two gigawatt scale solar manufacturing plants in Europe, instead of one. I would love two plants – and more! But let’s take baby steps. Let’s build one before launching multiple outlets into direct competition.

I consider, today, the best option for the European industry is a French factory. For political reasons, such a move would definitely secure government support for our solar industry, from upstream manufacturing to downstream projects. And if France moved away from its current position of ‘sleeping partner’, to become an active participant in the solar world, Germany would have a strong ally to discuss the reconstruction of a European solar industry.

Xavier Daval is an international PV and energy storage expert and CEO of French solar technology consultancy Kilowattsol SAS, which he founded in 2007. He is an engineer and former Europe, Middle East and Africa director of a listed electronics manufacturer. Daval is also vice president of French renewables association the Syndicat des Energies Renouvelables, chairman of its SER-Soler solar commission and director of U.S.-based international industry body the Global Solar Council.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own, and do not necessarily reflect those held by pv magazine.