Solar Energy has provided an intriguing report about shared solar and how its happens to be working in France. I follow with keen interest the impact clean energy programs such as these have, not just on selected communities, but on energy utilities as well. This is an interesting one.
FuturePerfect, where this story originated, commences its tale at an elementary school in the French community of Calvados, where a group of first-graders marvel at the school’s new roofline, now filled with solar panels.
“Officially inaugurated in May 2013, these solar panels are the first proof of success for Énergie Partagée—in English, ‘Shared Energy’—a community investment fund for renewable energy,” the site writes.
It all started in 2010 with a small group of citizens who wondered which energy model they ought to endorse for their country. Their region, Lower Normandy, historically bears the mark of nuclear energy. The highly controversial nuclear power plant of Flamanville will be the home of France’s first European pressurized water reactor, which has prodded citizens like Valérie Haelewyn into action: “We wanted to come up with something different in our region. The topic of energy offered us an opportunity to take back control over our own home, to shape our children’s future.” Énergie Partagée embodies the idea of inter-community action in the scope of a large civic project: private actors such as associations, citizens, and businesses join forces with public authorities.
This is a remarkable story of innovation, tenacity, and endurance. As you might imagine, financing a large public undertaking like this was a daunting task. While its is easy to point out how many might benefit, rounding up real funding often stops some of the best clean energy ideas before they even get started.
According to FuturePerfect, three schools were identified for the initial solar panel program, each located on the southern plain of Caen, a community of several towns totaling some 8,500 people. A shared-interest co-op was started in 2011, named Plaine Sud Énergie. The goal: with the support of ARDES, the regional association for developing a solidary economy, to raise public-private funding for installing solar panels on school roofs. Participating communities and their citizens fund the project by underwriting the co-op shares.
Unfortunately, that was not enough money for funding requirements. Patricia Oury, co-manager and co-founder of Plaine Sud Énergie, pointed out: “It is hard to start this all by yourself. We were unable to finance the three installations without help; our starting capital was insufficient to obtain any bank loans.”
Énergie Partagée then got involved. In June 2012, the association purchased shares in the capital of Plaine Sud Énergie in order to increase the investment volume.
Providing financial leverage for local champions of renewable energy
A quick look at the success of this project illustrates how Énergie Partagée provides leverage to local champions of renewable energy. The citizens’ capital raised by Énergie Partagée funds projects to generate renewable energy as well as to increase energy savings and energy efficiency. On the one hand, Énergie Partagée is an association that supports project administrators and creates networks between energy activists. On the other hand, it is a financing association, which has been authorized to collect and manage contributions from citizens for investment purposes since 2011.
Citizens’ energy model
The mission of Énergie Partagée is to build citizens’ capital in order to make investments more meaningful by bringing those who provide funds and those who use them back together. The French co-operative bank Nef is one of the founding members of this innovative financing structure.
In their first year of operation, the schools of Bourguébus, Garcelles, and Saint-Aignan have generated about 70,000 kilowatt-hours solar-powered electricity. This is no small feat, especially since this region isn’t known for abundant sunshine.
The output is fed into the general grid and sold to Electricité de France, EDF. The energy company agreed to purchase electricity at 40 cents per kilowatt-hour over 20 years. It has been projected the solar investment will break even within 15 years.
Looking down the road for other interested communities, Oury said, “We must use the success of this project to appeal to the public and its power to influence things.”
Oury now has a marvelous proof of concept worth sharing. If the economics make sense to all participants, the end result is a “win-win-win” for participating communities, public institutions, and the environment.
For those interested in gaining more information about shared solar, a website concerning shared solar exists. Called SharedSolar, it features this tagline:
Smart microgrids for energy access
The green energy revolution contains a remarkable amount of useful content that continues to expand. Great news for the environment, and fabulous news for people lacking access to clean electricity.
School photo in France via FuturePerfect