solar-franceDespite ambitious goals and a 14-fold growth expected between 2008 and 2020, solar thermal suffers major difficulties on the French market due to a lack of consistent support to the sector, poor communication and a lack of experience and training.

Until 2006, the solar thermal yet benefited from a favorable policy to strongly develop and represent nearly 200 000m² of panels installed each year.

Alcimed consulting company in innovation and development of new markets, discusses the challenges and obstacles to rise to the development of the solar thermal market in France.

A left behind by the government sector in France

The absence of a national plan of support and the priority given to other renewable energy sources have resulted in a limited market at 300 000m²/year, stagnant for 5 years. Indeed, unlike our European neighbors, Germany and Austria in mind, solar thermal is the poor relation of renewable energy in France. It thus represents 1.1% of ENR in Germany against 0.3% in France, difference tends to increase despite sunshine 20% higher in France.

► A state support to the sector dotted with 2012 Thermal and Heat Fund

Two special cases illustrate the difficulties and inconsistencies associated with government support to the industry: 2012 thermal regulations (RT 2012) and Heat Fund.

The initial objective of the RT 2012 was to promote innovation and some energy, especially solar thermal. Finally, the final text allows alternatives such as solar water heaters thermodynamic, less efficient, less expensive to install and easier to sell to professionals. Unlike the effect initially sought, RT 2012 favors older and/or less efficient technologies, to the detriment of solar thermal.

The current method of calculating the Heat Fund, taking into account only the investment costs and not operating largely favors biomass at the expense of solar thermal. This is particularly unsuitable for this technology, including the energy source, the sun is free.

► A breach of this renewable energy

One way to work towards the development of solar thermal energy is the energy that communication, both among the general public and professionals. Today, there is a profound misunderstanding of the potential of the technology coupled with an amalgam with photovoltaics, which allows the production of electricity and not heat. A significant proportion of clients and potential users associate and solar and electricity, changes in tariff of electricity and difficulties limit the photovoltaic sector especially investment in solar thermal.

► High cost due to a lack of training and structuring

The initial price of solar thermal systems, nearly 6,000 euros for an individual solar water heater is excessive compared to other energy sources (biomass, water heater including thermodynamics) and compared to other European countries. Indeed, France has not developed this energy from an economic point of view and did not structure its value chain accordingly.

This has resulted in a lack of professionalism of the offer from the French players, particularly in the installation and operation/maintenance. For example, installing a solar thermal system requires skills of plumber heating and roofing, panels to be installed on the roof. This dual expertise is very little developed in France, the lack of training and experience French installers and generates longer exposure time and risk premiums on uncommon sites for general companies.

Two countries out their game: Germany and Austria

In this context, and despite less favorable than the sunshine France, Germany and Austria have focused on early solar thermal and structured a strong industrial sector at national level. This industrial and political will helped create markets of sufficient critical mass to sustain all the industry players and allow them to become European and global leaders, like Vaillant, Viessmann or GreenOneTech.

Moreover, thanks to the important facilities to make and initiatives of all stakeholders in the sector volume, Germany and Austria have trained and experienced installers, can quickly achieve good facilities. This favorable ecosystem now allows a 30% reduction compared to France, the final cost of a solar thermal system for users, mainly due to a much lower installation cost.

Actions to be implemented to develop a strong industry

From the perspective of Alcimed, except for the heat storage, solar thermal is not a strong technological challenge but represents a real economic and industrial opportunity for France. Its development is preferred but more brakes shall be lifted:

– Better integration of solar thermal solutions,
– An increase in competence of installers,
– A more important place in the French energy mix and finally,
– Grip of the communication by the government.

Simplification and better integration of solar thermal solutions is one of the preferred by manufacturers to develop solar thermal pathways. France has many general actors in the heating sector, but few companies specializing in solar thermal. Thus, powerful but simple to install systems that would make energy more competitive vis-à-vis the thermodynamic solar water heater for example.

Faced with these difficulties, the development of skills in the design and installation of solar thermal solutions is another major lever to create a critical mass sufficient market to structure a French chain. In this context, the development of specialized manufacturers and distributors, able to train and advise users and installers of solar thermal systems, and thus participate in the distribution of solutions is essential to the growth of the sector.

Finally, it is necessary to reconsider the place of solar thermal in the French energy mix and give it greater visibility in the image of that which it occupies in Austria and Germany. Governments have a crucial role to play. Beyond the existing incentives and a necessary simplification of regulations, the government must quickly take over industrial engaging actions essential to the education of the population in solar thermal communications. The players in the industry today focused on maintaining their activity, no longer have the means.

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