05.11.2020 | A good way to increase the acceptance of wind and solar power
France has put its foot on the accelerator on the expansion of renewable energies for some time now. By 2030, France wants to cover 40% of its own energy needs with renewable energies. These targets are ambitious and will only work if all players play their part. The acceptance of solar plants and wind farms is ensured by participatory financing possibilities among the population.
Axpo’s French subsidiary and photovoltaic expert Urbasolar put together tailor-made financing initiatives to allow local actors to optimize their share of the economic benefits of solar energy projects while taking part in the energy transition. This means that the local population can directly invest in renewable energy sources through participatory fund-raising campaigns. With this type of financing there is something in it for both sides: the developer can invest the money again in other renewable projects and the citizen receives an annual return on his investment.
For the Axpo subsidiary Urbasolar this system proved to be highly rewarding; it was able to raise 10 million euros through more than 25 citizen funding across France in the year 2019, exceeding its annual target by 20%. These funds contribute to the financing of various types of photovoltaic systems: ground-based power stations, parking shades, buildings and greenhouses.
Several projects have so far been successfully financed with the help of participatory or crowdfunding: One is in the city of Toulouse, where Urbasolar built a freestanding solar park on the site of a former factory destroyed by an explosion in the year 2001. Another one was the first floating solar plant, atop an artificial lake in an old gravel pit in Peyssies, Toulouse. The latter generates an output of 5MWp and around 6GWh of electricity a year.
For the local population, participatory funding means that they can invest in such sustainable projects – such as a solar energy plant – and get a return in form of an interest rate for their stake. Urbasolar conducts these campaigns as locally as possible, aiming especially at those living in proximity to the photovoltaics stations and employees working at those sites. The goal is to facilitate ownership of the projects by the various local populations.
Axpo endeavored a similar project in Switzerland; it recently launched an employee involvement program where staff can invest in solar roof built on top of the Campus Baden. Thereby, Axpo employees can yield an annual interest rate while taking part in the clean energy transition. The employee participation was five times oversubscribed and was therefore a great success. The campaign shows that such projects would also have a promising future prospect in Switzerland.
In 1996, the French government introduced the first RES-S (renewable energy sources for electricity) auctions or tenders mechanism to promote investment in renewables. Later on, in 2000, the French Energy Regulatory Commission (CRE) developed special tender programs (so-called CRE tenders) to promote investments in renewable energies. This initiative is part of the French government’s ambitious target for solar energy, namely: doubling existing solar capacities by 2023 and a fivefold increase by 2030. They allow for a participation from citizens by means of participatory fund-raising campaigns, involving and motivating them to more sustainable energy production. Other European countries, such as the UK and Ireland, have similarly launched a tender mechanism in 1990 and 1993, respectively.
In France, RES tenders have proven to be extremely effective in practice and have consequently lead to a significant - boom in renewable energies. In Switzerland, by contrast, there is no such comprehensive tendering system or framework in place to promote investments in renewable energies – at least not yet.