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Harnessing the power of the sun for France


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EDF ENR specializes in the installation of photovoltaic solutions on roofs. When the company was founded in 2007, it built its foundation on two key problems in the sector. First of all, there were no European producers of silicon, a situation which still stands.

EDF ENR was able to tackle the second challenge, however: There was no industrial network for the installation of photovoltaic systems. There were tradesmen who could jump in and install the systems, but there were no nationwide providers of such services.

This is where EDF ENR stepped in, creating an industrial network that offers users security and provides the same quality of service throughout France. “Today, we deliver solutions for both private individuals and businesses, spanning from farmers and small or medium-sized companies all the way to major corporations,” explains Benjamin Declas, Managing Director since 2012. “For the time being, we are working exclusively with systems on roofs and parking garages, so we’re not involved with installing solar parks on the ground.”

EDF ENR offers the entire range of services, starting with the conceptualization of the system and how to finance it, followed by installation, and then upkeep and maintenance. The company can cover the maintenance for the two or three decades that the system is in use entirely with in-house staff. It can even assist customers with the contracts for feeding the electricity into the grid and other administrative matters.

“We work largely, though not exclusively, with photovoltaic modules that are produced within the EDF group,” Mr. Declas points out. “Photowatt, for instance, is a French manufacturer – one of only a few – based near Lyon. We also work with modules from the brand LG due to their exceptional quality and high energy output.”

In the decade since its establishment, EDF ENR has seen very positive development. About half of its turnover is generated by projects for private customers, but as the individual projects are generally worth less, the number of private customers vastly exceeds the number of corporate clients.

The company also expects to double the installations this year from last year. “In 2019, we installed 5,000 units,” the Managing Director notes. “For 2020, we anticipate 10,000 units. About 80% of those units we install in cooperation with external partners who are certified to work with us. We build the remaining 20% completely on our own.”

The French market is currently experiencing the trend of producers using their own electricity instead of feeding it back into the grid. This holds true for both businesses and private individuals. “We were the first to develop this system, and it has been in place since 2016,” Mr. Declas says. “It’s growing very well in France. Of 24,000 installations for private customers, 22,000 are for their own consumption. In this field, we have a market share of 25%, making us the market leader.”

However, EDF ENR knows that its domestic market is only one of many. The parent company has subsidiaries in Belgium, Italy and the UK, with which EDF ENR works closely. “We also keep an eye on what’s happening in Germany,” Mr. Declas says. “Germany is one of the pioneering countries and the European market leader. A lot of innovations in this sector have come from there. Italy and Spain also rank ahead of France, so we keep that in mind.”

EDF ENR was founded in 2007 by former managers of the company Telesol, a forerunner in the alternative energies sector. The start-up was partially acquired by EDF in 2009, and it has been a 100% subsidiary since 2010. “The acquisition enabled us to finance our growth,” Mr. Declas highlights.

We foresee developments coming from e-mobility. With new battery solutions for vehicles, the solar energy sector won’t be far behind. Benjamin DeclasManaging Director
Benjamin Declas

Today EDF ENR has its own branch office as well as a joint venture with Total called Sunzil, which is active in the French overseas territories. The company employs a staff of 500 throughout France and another 200 abroad. The Managing Director sees enormous potential for EDF ENR and its market.

Electricity in France is significantly cheaper than in other European countries due to the high amount generated by nuclear power plants. There is a directive, however, stating that the proportion of electricity generated using renewable energy sources needs to increase while the percentage coming from nuclear power plants decreases.

“At the moment, renewable sources account for only 2% of energy production,” Mr. Declas adds. “And that 2% is not just solar power, but also hydroelectric and wind energy. The goal is for half of the electricity produced in France to come from renewable sources by the year 2035.”

Mr. Declas also predicts that the company can continue growing considerably as the market leader. “We want to maintain our current market share in the solar energy sector,” the Managing Director says.

He came into contact with the industry very early on, at the age of 13, when he was living near the company Telesol. “Solar energy simply makes a lot of sense,” he continues. “It’s an eco-friendly product that is also economical. Society has already accepted it, which is the first key step. We’ve already won the price war. Costs have gone down substantially, and the production of solar energy has become much cheaper.”

The third and final step, as Mr. Declas sees it, is how to store energy. This battle has not yet been won, and there is still a lot of room for development. Some initial solutions for storing energy have been presented, but they are not ideal. “We foresee developments coming from e-mobility. With new battery solutions for vehicles, the solar energy sector won’t be far behind,” Mr. Declas says in conclusion.