France: High Solar Thermal Standing, But Shrinking Market
French people like solar thermal, but their wish to install a system seems to hardly come true. According to a recent survey among 1,008 persons, which was conducted by French survey company Ifop in January 2013, 5% claim to own a solar water heater and 4% a combined system for hot water and heating. Moreover, 17% of the interviewees are planning to install a solar water heater (vs 13% in 2012) and 16% a combined system (vs 12% in 2012). The target group of the survey was a representative mix of French adults in terms of sex, age, profession, region and living standard. The study, which had been commissioned by the certification body of companies in the renewable energy field, Qualit’ENR, also showed a high trust in solar technology: More than 80 % of the participants believe that solar thermal energy is a reliable technology – making it the ranking’s Number One, as the chart above shows. You will find the French Qualit’ENR summary PDFs from the beginning of January attached to this news piece.
Despite the positive image of solar among the population, the French solar thermal market for single-family houses has been shrinking for years whereas the sector for multi-family houses has grown rapidly. Having been asked by French Environment and Energy Management Agency, ADEME, to identify market barriers and set research priorities, about twenty sector professionals came together to publish a roadmap in late 2012 (see the attached document in French). The roadmap outlines today’s tough situation: installations are too expensive, too complicated and take too long to install. For example, the installation of a solar water heater in a single-family house needs a full four days.
The roadmap’s 2020 aim is to reduce costs by 50 to 80% per kWhth. It recommends penetrating the market with compact systems, which reduce installation work. “Our idea is to optimise the collector surface to better meet the customer’s needs, for example, by using a kit with a 2 m² panel and a 100 to 150 litre water tank,” says Philippe Gay, Mission Coordinator at French solar industry association Enerplan. Using an all-in-one compact system for homeowners is also a way to facilitate the installation. “These compact systems combine a solar water tank and a boiler in one box. They have been on the market for several years, but we have recently seen a growing interest in installations in multi-family houses,” explains Yves Carl, Marketing Director of German solar thermal company Viessmann in France. According to Uniclima, the French union for the heating, cooling and ventilation industry, compact systems account for about 20% of the solar thermal water heater market for single-family houses.
Optimising installations is necessary – but not enough. The roadmap proposes to have all new systems in multi-family houses monitored by 2015. “Specialists in fossil boiler technology check the installations in multi-family houses regularly, but they often have no expertise in solar. In the end, malfunctions are not immediately identified because the auxiliary heater takes over,” says Gay. “Hence, we are trying to get all installations in multi-family houses monitored, in order to reduce unnecessary inspections and target interventions.”
Last but not least: Training is seen as one of the roadmap’s crucial issues. When it comes to industry professionals, Qualit’ENR has already been providing the QualiSol certification to solar thermal installers and is preparing a specific certification for multi-family houses. This is an important step in a country in which the market for multi-family houses has been exceeding the figures of the single-family housing sector since 2012.
The text was written by French author and solar thermal specialist Lydie Bahjejian based in Paris.