While Germany, Italy, and even Spain (for some time) have nurtured their solar markets, France has fallen a little behind in the solar race. Compared to 37.5 GW of solar capacity installed in Germany, France only has 5 GW to date. Currently, solar meets less than 1% of electricity demand in France (which, actually, puts it in the same boat as the US).
This is why the solar space in Europe got pretty excited when France recently announced its intentions to build a 300 MW solar PV plant. The proposed plant is set to be the largest ground-mounted PV installation across Europe. It will come up in Cestas, near Bordeaux (South-West France).
The plant is expected to start feeding into the grid by October next year. While no official estimate of the electricity that will be generated was made available, a quick calculation using PV-Watts throws up a number of 336 million kWh/year.
Currently, the largest solar PV plant in France is the 115 MW Toul-Rosières Solar Park located at the Toul-Rosières Air Base. It is managed by the government-owned French utility EDF and is based on thin-film technology from First Solar.
The proposed 300 MW PV plant will be developed by Paris-based Neoen, which has reportedly raised $450 million for the project. As per its website, the company owns solar assets in France and Portugal. Neoen aims to install 1,000 MW of solar capacity by 2017.
On the price front, Xavier Barbaro, Neoen’s chief executive, made an interesting comparison with a nuclear plant in Britain. The electricity from the new nuke facility will get a guaranteed $145/MWh for 35 years. On the other hand, a 20-year PPA has been signed to sell the solar electricity from the proposed plant at a rate of $130/MWh. The very fact that solar can deliver at a lower price than a nuclear plant is a (very) big deal.
The solar panels will be supplied by the Chinese companies Yingli and Trina Solar, and also Canadian Solar. The plant will be built and operated by a consortium including French group Eiffage and Schneider Electric.
Fukushima notwithstanding, France is in no hurry to close down its nuclear power plants. However, in its recent energy transition law, the country announced plans to gradually reduce dependence on nuclear power from a current 75% level to 50% level by 2025. Renewables are slated to go up from the current 18% to about 32% by 2030.
It is quite interesting if you consider how the oil crisis of the ’70s affected energy policies of different countries. France, which lacked fossils, turned to nuclear, while on the other side of the globe, Brazil which is blessed with almost every energy resource you can think of, took to hydropower. And now, for their own different reasons, at the beginning of the 21st century, both the countries are going solar.
In case you missed it, you can read our detailed coverage of solar power in Brazil for more info on the landmarks being reached over there.