Many decision-makers did not see this progress coming and, in the current debates, we see that many of them still have not taken into account the actual data of today's photovoltaics: we still hear many arguments which are no longer relevant to this energy. It's time to tell the real from the fake!
PV modules would use rare earths
The PV modules used today do not contain rare earths.
The main component is silicon: it is used to make the PV cells, which are sandwiched between 2 glass plates. (Glass is also made with silicon!)
But NB: no rare earth in photovoltaics!
There would soon be a shortage of silicon
Silicon, the 2nd most present atom on earth (just after oxygen), and easily accessible (everywhere in the earth's crust).
There is no shortage of silicon and there will not be. There is no shortage of raw material. Sometimes, due to high demand growth, there are demands that exceed the capacity of factories that purify silicon. This is temporary and resolved by increasing the capacity of these factories.
The scarcity of materials is therefore not an obstacle to the deployment of PV on a large scale.
In fact, if there were to be a point of vigilance, it would be on the silver, used as a conductor between the cells… we could have to replace it with another conductor, if the PV market continues its ultra growth.
About its economic interest
It's expensive and uncompetitive
This is no longer true at all.
This was true 10 years ago and even more so 20 years ago. The price of the panels was so high that the cost price of solar electricity was not competitive with the electricity network. The photovoltaic were therefore used where there was no possible access to the network (for example the retransmitters in assembly.)
But in 20 years that has changed in an extraordinary way! In 20 years the price of panels has been divided by 100!
This was achieved thanks to the countries which understood, 20 years ago, that there was enormous potential for lower prices, provided that the volumes manufactured were increased.
First Japan, then Germany, China, the United States clearly identified this potential: They subsidized photovoltaics to grow the market and thus lower prices.
And it paid off:
- From 2012 to 2022, PV prices have been divided by 10 (and they had already been divided by 10 in the previous decade. The prices of PV panels have therefore been divided by 100 in 20 years!
Other developments have made solar electricity competitive:
- The yield which was 10% in the 1970s, is 24% today and will approach 30% shortly...
- Lifespan has increased from 10 years in the 80s to over 40 years today. Manufacturers' warranties are 30 or 35 years, with less than ½% loss of power per year! In 35 years, a panel bought today will still work and will have more than 82% of the initial Power! What other industrial product has such a lifespan and such a guarantee?
- Inverters (which transform the direct current of the panels into alternating current which can be injected into the electrical network have gained in efficiency, and fallen in price)
- The business of operating a PV plant has become highly professional in 20 years.
As a result of all this progress, the price of PV electricity has come down dramatically. Solar PV is now competitive with other sources of electrical energy
- solar electricity costs between 5 cents per kWh (€50/MWh) (for a large ground-mounted plant) and 16 cents kWh (€160/MWh) for a small rooftop installation.
The nuclear power of the latest generation plants is more than 10 cents/kWh (100€/MWh)
Solar electricity is therefore now competitive, including in relation to nuclear.
And it's not over, the drop in solar costs will continue.
It is said that it costs a fortune in subsidies and requires a lot of public aid
It's not true at all anymore
Developing renewable energies has cost public money, the time to help the market take off, until this energy is competitive.
Today solar is competitive! Moreover, today, it is renewable energies that bring revenue to the State and not the reverse.
The amounts are very significant: the CRE (Commission de Régulation de l'Energie) indicates that, under current conditions, all renewable energy sectors in mainland France will represent revenue for the State budget, for a cumulative contribution , more than €30 billion for 2022 and 2023 The contributory sectors are, in order of importance: onshore wind power, high-altitude photovoltaics, hydroelectricity and biomethane.
By the end of 2024, renewable energies will have brought in more to the State than they have cost since they have been supported!
The PV would bring nothing to the municipalities?
The production of photovoltaic electricity is subject to the IFER, which is a tax levied for the benefit of local authorities. Part of this IFER is donated directly to the municipalities where the photovoltaic power plants are installed.
Order of magnitude: a ground installation of 20MW brings more than 60 € / year to local authorities (Department and community of municipalities) of which at least 000% directly to the Municipality.
A PV park in a municipality makes it possible to lower local taxes or finance local projects, without soliciting taxpayers!
The photovoltaic does not produce in cloudy weather and in winter. In France, it would hardly produce
A panel produces more in summer on a sunny day than in cloudy winters, that's obvious.
However, a PV panel does produce electricity all year round. As proof: telecom transmitters in the high mountains are powered by solar panels, all year round. They operate summer and winter.
The amount of energy produced over the year is significant.
In France, on average 1kWp (i.e. 5m²) approximately 1300 kWh/year (1,3 MWh/year), or a little more than half of the average electricity consumption of a French person (2200 kWh/year).
In France, although we are only at the beginning, in 2021, solar PV has already provided 3% of the electrical energy consumed in France (compared to 2,8% in 2020), (3% = 14,3, XNUMXTWh)
Solar panels would only work if they are facing exactly due south
A panel produces the annual maximum if it faces due south. But it only loses a few % if it faces south-east or south-west. Today the panels are bifacial, this also means the rear face produced: if it is oriented towards the ground, electricity is produced thanks to the luminosity reflected on the ground, which is called the albedo. The orientation and inclination of the panels is a question of optimizing production, but we have a real flexibility of installation.
About environmental suitability
Does a PV installation provide more energy than was consumed for its manufacture?
Yes ! Much much more!
In France, a PV system using monocrystalline silicon modules provides the energy that has been needed for its manufacture is less than 2 years for years. It has even fallen below 1 year with the latest generations of panels, which use less and less material, for increasingly strong power). However, a panel lasts more than 40 years. A panel therefore provides 40x more energy than it consumes during its manufacture. This ratio is therefore excellent and places photovoltaics among the best energies.
A PV panel pollutes and cannot be recycled?
Fake and totally fake
In mass, nearly 95% of a module at the end of its life is recovered. The sector is perfectly organized.
Today we recover silicon (from glass and cells) to make glass again. The aluminum frame (another material that recycles very well). The silver metal which is used for electrical connections. Only 5% of non-recycled material remains, but the improvement continues.
Recycling is well organised: the eco-organism SOREN is responsible for collecting used panels and recycling them. Recycling a panel costs nothing to its owner, whatever the brand and the origin of the panel, because an eco-contribution was paid initially to finance the collection, sorting and recycling.
France is one of the leading European operators in this recycling activity.
In short, a solar panel can be recycled very well and the sector is well organized.
A PV system would emit a lot of CO2
Solar energy is one of the sources of electricity with very low CO2 emissions!
A PV installation (on a roof based on monocrystalline silicon panels) emits on average
30 gCO2eq/kWh. (This, integrating the entire life cycle, including if the panel comes from China)
This is 16 to 33 x less than fossil fuels. (Fossil energy plants (gas, coal or fuel oil) emit 500 to 1000 gCO2eq/kWh.)
This is 8 x less than the average of the electrical energy of the European network (the average emissions of the European electrical system were 231 gCO2eq/kWh in 2020, i.e. 8 x more.
Not only does PV emit little CO2, but, with the extension of the lifespan of a panel, and the prospect of manufacturing panels in Europe, technical progress in manufacturing means that this ratio could still improve by going down until this ratio can be further improved by falling to 15g then 10 CO2eq/kWh!
In short: photovoltaics is one of the best solutions for producing carbon-free electricity.
A ground-based PV installation would degrade soils
The producers of PV installations, from panels installed on the ground, undertake to dismantle everything at the end of the project (in 30 or 40 years) if it is not renewed for a new period (which will often be done by placing a new generation of panels). It's quite simple because the supports are usually fixed on piles driven or screwed into the ground (without any concrete).
NB: note that any large ground-based PV installation is subject to an environmental impact study prior to obtaining its building permit!
Photovoltaic on the ground is visually hideous
All is relative !
It is certainly not invisible, but it is often very discreet: many people drive every morning next to a PV field (on the ground along a highway, without knowing it, because hedges installed on the outskirts hide the site well.
In any case, it's not high up, it doesn't make noise… the visual impact is often very limited.
In any case, it is less visible than a coal-fired power station, a nuclear power station, etc., etc.
NB the impact study takes into account the visual impact during the design of the project.
About plant operation
Solar panels require a lot of maintenance
Of all the means of producing electricity, photovoltaic is the one that requires the least maintenance: no mechanics, no moving parts, no fuel to bring, etc.
This is why our satellites are all electrified by solar panels (it is not necessary to send a “maintenance astronaut” every month!) But also beacons at sea, telecom transmitters in the high mountains, alpine refuges, etc. Wherever it is difficult to send a maintenance technician, the photovoltaic was chosen above all for its ease of maintenance.
It is also this simplicity that explains why the panels have a 35-year guarantee.
However, in a PV installation there are also electronic inverters. They generally have a lifespan of 10 to 15 years. They are usually controlled remotely and replaced when necessary….
In short maintenance yes, but much less than other means of electricity production.
Is a solar panel fragile?
It's stronger than a roof window. It's equivalent to an automobile windshield… and stronger than tiles.
In short, it is not unbreakable, but it is not fragile.
About the vision at the national level, in the medium term
France is behind on its objectives
It's true, unfortunately
The multi-year energy program provides for 20 GW installed in 2023 and between 35 and 44 GW in 2028. In September 2021, 13,2 GW were connected, i.e. 66% of the 2023 objective. EU behind on its commitments. Catching up on the delay will cost the French Government (and therefore the taxpayer) €500 million.
France announces that it wants to accelerate and change scale and develop more “solar farms”.
A solar farm, is it photovoltaic on an agricultural farm?
This expression comes from a literal translation of the English “photovoltaic farm”. A photovoltaic farm is quite simply an installation of photovoltaic panels, on the ground, on a large plot, to produce electricity. In good French we should say a "photovoltaic power plant".
Developing more solar farms means developing more large-scale installations…
On this subject, it is said that the necessary surfaces would be hallucinating
Let's have the orders of magnitude in mind:
France has the ambition to multiply by 10 the installed PV power by 2050 (announcement recalled by the Pdt during his speech in Belfort in 2022. Multiplying the installed base by 10 amounts to reaching 100 to 130 GW installed in 2050.
=> production will then be 160 TWh/year, i.e. 25% of total electricity consumption (which will be 640 TWh/year)
What surface will it take?
If half is installed on roofs, car parks, the other half will have to be installed on the ground (it is necessary to achieve the objective and to produce a very competitive energy).
It would therefore be necessary to install 65 GW on the ground? This would require around 60 ha = either only 000% of the UAA, or 0,2 thousandths of agricultural land (*: France's total UAA is 2 million ha). And we would do this in 29 years (from today to 22), we would therefore have to find 2055 ha/year (2 / 700 = approx 60)
To have a point of reference: It is 10x times less than the land that is allocated each year to the construction of houses (27 ha per year on average over 000-2006)
No, the production of a large part of our electricity by solar energy does not require hallucinating surfaces. We won't have to make tough choices between energy sovereignty and food sovereignty!
So France is right to want to speed up!
Renewable energies would be a risk for the stability of the network?
For the moment we make about 3% of the electric mix in PV. The objective is to rise to 25% by 2050. This will not pose any risk to the stability of the network.
And it's RTE who says it: RTE is the operator of the electricity transmission network, changed in particular to ensure the stability of the network in the medium and long term.
In addition, RTE also stresses that it is essential to accelerate the development of renewable energies to meet the growth in electricity demand in France (regardless of the share that would be produced by nuclear power.)
To go beyond 25% after 2050, we will no doubt have to continue to improve our flexibility and storage solutions. Work is already underway, but there is no reason not to accelerate until 2050.
Solar panels are made in China
That's right… just like your cell phone!
It's true and it's regrettable: before the moratorium, industrial projects were in preparation. French procrastination made them give up… When we stopped the Chinese accelerated. They were right.
Fortunately, this is not inevitable: Giga Usines projects for the production of solar panels in France are once again under study.
It is economically quite possible, because the additional cost of a European workforce (compared to the Chinese workforce) is offset by the reduction in transport costs.
And we have all the skills to make a successful PV industry in France
- High-level R&D at INES
- Semiconductor champions (STM),
- Energy conversion champions (Schneider)
- Glass manufacturers Saint-Gobain
- Highly skilled in industrial engineering.
Several plant construction projects in France and Europe are underway.
But then does PV contribute to our energy independence?
It is necessary to distinguish between the factory and the fuel!
When a panel is installed, (wherever it comes from) it will produce electricity, where it is installed, for 40 years, without anything being imported (no gas, niche coal, or uranium, etc.)
The “fuel” is solar radiation. No country can turn off that tap. So even with imported panels, solar contributes to our independence.
And it will be even truer, even more satisfying, when we produce the panels in France...
So yes, PV contributes to our energy independence.
Let’s add that
- PV can be implemented very quickly if desired, in the heart of the territories
- PV also contributes to lower electricity prices and therefore to the purchasing power of consumers and the competitiveness of our economy,
- PV contributes to the decarbonization of our energy
- PV can provide useful services to the agricultural world
- PV will certainly contribute to the reindustrialization of France
It is urgent to evacuate false or outmoded arguments and sterile polemics.
Photovoltaics is one of the best reasons to be optimistic in the face of current challenges: We must commit ourselves to it in a united way, with enthusiasm...
Tribune by Stéphane Maureau, Managing Director – CEO of UNITe (LinkedIn).