The sun, a source of energy

Thomas Mareau

While the Minister for Ecological Transition Elisabeth Borne reaffirmed France's ambitions for the development of renewable energies in December 2019, in accordance with the objectives of the PPE, these are more than ever at the heart of the public debate. And among them, solar energy stands out as particularly promising and still largely underexploited.

Combining heat and electricity production, photovoltaic energy remains today largely a minority in renewable energy production. While various experts predict a global production of 540 GW of solar energy in 2020, Europe would only weigh just over a fifth in this production. Today, France is not a major player, as it only ranks sixth among European countries producing photovoltaic energy and the share of solar energy in renewable energies is only 2.7%.

The sun makes it possible to produce two types of energy. Solar thermal energy is produced passively by the sun's radiation, which heats a fluid, called a heat transfer fluid, produces heat. Electricity production is based on the photoelectric effect of the photons emitted by the sun, which are transformed into electricity when received by a photovoltaic panel.

In France, who are the main players in solar energy?

ENGIE is at the top of the list of solar energy producers in France. Two sites are operated by ENGIE: the Curbans power plant, which operates 105,000 solar panels, and the Gréoux-les-Bains park for 300,000 photovoltaic panels. The company's operations totaling a gross capacity of 900 MWc.

EDF is in second place among the major players in solar energy. At the end of 2018, its gross installed capacity represented 385 MWc. A specialist in photovoltaic solar energy production, EDF installs solar devices for businesses and individuals.

Finally, Tenergie is the third main player in the solar energy production sector. During the first half of 2018, its installed capacity was around 383 MWp. Currently, Tenergie operates 70 photovoltaic sites in the southern part of France, which it has also designed and built.

The oil giant Total is also engaged in solar energy production. Its know-how in the production of solar panels and the installation of photovoltaic power plants allows it to develop a gross capacity equivalent to 315 MWc today.

In France, other notable players are working to exploit solar energy: Voltalia, Neoen, Photosol, Urbasola, etc.

Raising capacities and ambitions by 2028

In France, solar energy production represents only a tiny portion of renewable energies, which themselves represent only 10% of French production. This low share is due to the very high share of nuclear power in the French energy mix.

The energy company EDF has already expressed its desire to commit to a massive investment of 25 billion euros in order to achieve 40% of renewable energies in the French energy mix by 2030. The objective for photovoltaics is to increase the current share of this energy from 2.7% to 8% of production by 2035. In line with its objectives of transition to greener energy, EDF will therefore seek to offer photovoltaic devices that are ever more sustainable and efficient.