E.D.F. And First Solar To Build Largest French Solar Plant

Date: 28 July 2009
Source: Nytimes Blog
France’s state-owned utility is partnering with an American solar panel manufacturer to build a 90 million euro ($128 million) solar manufacturing plant that would be the largest in France, the two announced on Thursday.

A unit of Electricite de France and First Solar said that the plant would initially be able to produce enough panels to generate more than 100 megawatts of power under peak conditions.That is enough electricity to power about 20,000 homes.
 
The companies have not yet chosen a site or placed a date on the project’s start or completion.
 
The venture follows the Grenelle Environment initiative from President Nicolas Sarkozy in recent years, in which the government defined crucial points of public policy on sustainable development. The state provides incentives for the placement of solar panels on the rooftops of retail, commercial and agricultural buildings, and also plans to oversee the construction of solar energy plants in each of France’s 22 regions.
 
Jean-Louis Borloo, the French minister of sustainable development, said in a statement that the manufacturing project ‘‘will act as a magnet to draw further solar investments and green jobs to France and lead the way to affordable solar electricity.”
 
EDF Energies Nouvelles, a renewable energy company that is half-owned by the state’s Electricite de France, raised 500 million euro ($710 million) last year for expansion into the photovoltaic sector from its current activities in biomass, biofuel and biogas. It has committed to buying the new plant’s entire output for the first 10 years of production.
 
First Solar, which claims to be the world’s largest manufacturer of thin-film solar modules, has been rapidly bringing down its production costs.
 
Despite a flood of imported solar technology from China, experts say that France’s handful of solar panel manufacturers could prosper, especially if fossil fuel costs rise.
 
According to a recent forecast by Emerging Energy Research, a consulting firm, the installed capacity of solar arrays in France could reach 5,400 megawatts by 2020, or about 10 percent of all electricity generation. Today it is about 100 megawatts, or less than 1 percent of use. Strong demand is also expected from Germany, Greece, Italy and Spain, the report said.
 
Thomas Gregory, an analyst at Emerging Energy Research, said that quality issues with imported panels from China could give European manufacturers a boost.
 
“There’s definitely a market, and it’s much higher than it has been in previous years,” Mr. Gregory said. “Having a production facility in the E.U. is a good idea right now to supply developers putting up power plants in the E.U.”
 
But he said much of the benefit of the E.D.F.-First Solar partnership could come from the bragging rights of selling sustainable energy products locally.

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