Find out about Solar Photovoltaic Energy Systems

We all know that going green is the right thing to do to save the planet, and most of us are conscientious in sorting out our recyclable waste, but did you know that going green could also earn you extra money?

For some years now, the French electricity supplier EDF have been running a programme whereby they purchase electricity from solar energy systems sited on domestic property. That is to say, if you set up the right kind of solar panels on the roof of your property in France, you can produce electricity that is connected to the national grid and sold to EDF! And what’s more, EDF is currently paying up to 5 times more for the electricity you produce, than the electricity you buy from them. Sounds like the simplest of moneymaking schemes, doesn’t it? Well, it is and it isn’t.

Although the theory and installation of the technology is fairly straightforward, calculating your potential income and working with EDF is not. Thankfully, there are people out there who can help! We recently met with Thierry Duverger from Phoebus Energies & Environnements, the renewable energies specialists based in Carcassonne, to find out more about how the EDF programme works and here is what we found out:

Types of Installation

Thierry started off by explaining that there are two kinds of solar energy systems available for domestic installation. Firstly, there are thermal solar energy systems, which convert infrared radiation from sunlight into heat, mainly in order to heat your domestic water supply. Thermal energy systems are environmentally friendly and economic, with up to 75% energy savings when producing hot water depending on installation conditions. However, thermal energy systems are not the kind you need for electricity production.

For this you will need a photovoltaic solar energy system. Photovoltaic solar energy is the direct conversion of sunlight into electricity. In a photovoltaic system, connected to the national grid, the main components are solar panels installed onto a roof, which are then connected to a generator to convert the solar energy into DC electricity. This in turn is connected to an inverter that converts DC current to AC current, and then links to the national grid via a counter that measures the electricity produced. It is important to understand that in this scenario you will not be using the electricity produced for your own domestic consumption. This is mainly because EDF pays you more for the electricity you produce (roughly 60 centimes* per kWh), than it charges you for the electricity you use (around 10 centimes* per kWh). So your photovoltaic system will also have a separate counter linked to the national grid and to your domestic electricity outlets to measure the electricity you use.

Phoebus Solar Pannel Installation CarcassonnePhoebus Solar Pannel Installation Carcassonne
Other Considerations

It is also important to know what conditions need to be met in order to benefit from a photovoltaic system. Firstly, the aspect of your property is crucial. Solar panels must be fitted onto a south-facing roof. A north-facing roof surface will not receive enough daylight for the system to work. Nearby trees and shade will also determine, to some extent, the productivity of your system – Thierry Duverger showed us a particularly thorough graph that Phoebus create for their clients to explain how much electricity production to expect from their particular roof and their budget.

You should note that the pitch of the roof may also affect the potential amount of electricity produced, but this is not usually a problem as most homes have a standard roof pitch. However, the quality of the roof is essential – it should be in good condition and with a homogenous surface, that is to say not sagging or rolling in anyway. It is possible to fit solar photovoltaic panels to a separate structure away from the home, but in this scenario EDF will not pay you as much for the electricity produced (currently around 35 centimes* per kWh) – this is, apparently, to stop people from installing fields of photovoltaic panels on their land! So, to get the maximum amount from EDF the panels must be fitted to a domestic property – fitting panels to a garage roof where the garage is attached to the domestic property would conform. Most important to note is that the total amount of electricity produced must be less than 3000 Wc per household – which means a maximum of around 23m2 of panels. The size of your roof and its ability to accommodate the panels will therefore also affect the amount of electricity your system can produce.

Finally, and most importantly EDF will only work with registered and qualified solar panel installers. This is just as well, because whilst the installation is fairly straightforward (usually taking no more than a week), the administration involved in getting the correct permissions, insurance, EDF contracts, organising the EDF liaison who has to be on site when the power is connected et cetera is longwinded and complicated. Thierry Duverger, who has completed over 200 installation jobs to date, says that clients should count on a delay of at least 10 weeks from start to full completion of a project.

Phoebus Solar Pannel Installation CarcassonnePhoebus Solar Pannel Installation Carcassonne

So, assuming you have the right kind of roof, what are the costs and how much income are you likely to get?

Well, first and foremost it you need to be aware that there is a grant available for solar energy installation. However, the Languedoc-Roussillon Conseil Régional has a habit of changing the rules and values of this grant, so my advice would be to check with your installers when they prepare your quotation before starting a project. Also, you might have heard that the French government will give you a 50% tax credit towards solar energy installation. This is only applicable if you are tax-resident in France and is not applicable for all the costs incurred in such a project (for example, you still have to pay the full fee to EDF for connecting your system to the grid), and is linked to the number of people in the household. Nevertheless, even without this tax credit, the fact is that you will be earning an income from your electricity production that is not subject to income tax in France. And this income will not only help to pay for the cost of installation, but will also be promoting environmentally friendly concerns.

To give you an idea of what you might earn, Thierry has simulated a standard installation whereby the client is a 2 person household who are able to get the largest solar panel surface area installed on their roof, creating 2940Wc of power. The total cost of the installation including EDF connection, materials and labour but without the tax credit comes to €20,750*, the average annual production over 20 years is 3278 kWh, giving an income of €2329 per year. The project thus pays for itself within 8.9 years and over 20 years gives a profit of €25,829 equal to an investment of 9.34%. If the same client were able to benefit from the 50% tax credit, the total cost of the installation including EDF connection, materials and labour comes to €12,750, the average annual production over 20 years is still 3278 kWh, giving an income of €2329 per year. The project thus pays for itself within 5.5 years and over 20 years gives a profit of €33,829 equal to an investment of 17.55%. In both scenarios the client would save 7.9 tonnes of CO2 emissions over 20 years.

What next?

So, you see whilst in some ways it’s easy to make money from EDF, in many ways there are a lot of factors which make this a little bit beyond most people’s DIY skills. If you are considering going ahead with any solar energy installation project, Thierry’s advice is to seek out at least 3 detailed quotes from qualified professionals, and if there are dramatic differences in the stated costs and amount of income production demand explanations for how the company come up with their calculations. Make sure your installer can answer all your questions and concerns, including the provenance of the materials they use and their terms of engagement to ensure that they follow the project from start to finish.

For more information…</

Solar Power South FrancePhoebus Energies & Environnements are based in Carcassonne and provide renewable energy services in the Aude and Pyrenees-Orientales departments. For more information, please contact Thierry Duverger (bilingual, French/ English) on +33 (0)6 11 20 48 17.

* all prices quoted are rough estimates based on 2009 data and are subject to change

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