The idea of organizing a French PV conference was warmly welcomed by some of our French contacts. "Are you sure? We have holidays coming up, an expo is taking place in the same period, we are waiting for new regulation and, if you do, you will need to do it in Paris and in the French language, otherwise forget about French speakers and participants". You can’t get more motivated to pick up the challenge, I thought. And without regret, because the Solarplaza conference last week in Marseille was well attended and a success.
Simple as the Italian market
"French like to make things complicated first, so they have a challenge to work on", I quote from a French senior executive and speaker at the conference. A foreign participant sighed and stated: "I wish the French market was as simple as the Italian market". Times have changed...as if the currently booming Italian market was a well organised paradise for investors a few years ago.
Femmes fatale and bureaucracy
Beautiful landscapes, great architecture, numerous historical places and castles, the best wines, beaches, mountains with snow, les femmes fatales and plenty of sunshine. France is one of the most beautiful countries in the world, ideally suited for solar PV. But, France is also different in many ways. A nuclear energy powered nation, and a utility monopolist closely tied with the government. EDF plays a crucial role in grid connection applications of new pv projects, currently leading to a multi GigaWatt pipeline. Sometimes, inscrutable relationships exist between the elite government officers and EDF managers. And, didn’t the French invent the word bureaucracy?
PV: looking like a normal power plant!
So far, France is a BIPV focused market. The FiT for BIPV is higher, but discussions about what BIPV is, are more complex. The government beliefs that this segment will create more domestic jobs, since solar modules in the end are just a building product. A fair conclusion. Now, let's hope that the new jobs created will not be a result of bureaucratic complexity.
Nevertheless, promising new developments are taking place. In Southern France, some bigger ground based projects have been built and others are planned. The first power shortages have occurred in this vital economic and beautiful touristic region. Although it is not easy to find a piece of land for a large PV project, it seems more easy these days than planning, permitting and building a new nuclear power plant. And,since wind energy has a bad image for some reason in this area, large scale solar will be one of the best and fastest solutions. Even EDF now seems convinced of this.
A French contrator explained: "During a pv roof project visit, the EDF people were surprised. Seeing the inverter and transformer room and recognizing the power devices, they reacted enthusiastically: "wow, this looks like a normal power plant!"
Educating the nuclear elite
As stated in a previous blog, France proves once again that it takes time to develop a market. Growing a market is not just opening up new sales offices. Government people and even more the elite MBA schooled nuclear supporters need to be educated. This will take more than serving one glass of its solar radiation based, most famous and indispensable product over lunch time...
There is reason to be optimistic. The potential for PV application in France is enormous. Like with a lot of things in France, a little more patience will be needed. And besides, Italy, has shown that a country known for bureaucratic complexity can turn into the number two market of the world.
The Sarkozy challenge
Time to work on education and a strong solar lobby. Why not start in the centre of power: a pv system for President Sarkozy. If the white house has solar panels, this world leader cannot remain without. Of course, French historical architecture ‘is something different’ and definitely ‘more complicated’ for PV application. But, isn't the French focus on BIPV and looking for challenges? Well, here is one to get started!