The benefits of photovoltaic panels at home are well documented.
As well as offering insurance against future electricity price rises, they reduce reliance on CO2-producing sources of power, which are still used in France.
Supply chain problems from China
The homepage of the high-tension grid manager RTE includes a breakdown of the source of electricity used at any moment in the country.
On a sunny day at the end of May, 60% was from nuclear power, 15% from solar, and 6% from CO2-producing gas, to which can be added 1% from coal and 1% from oil-fuelled power stations.
The rest came from hydroelectric schemes, bioenergy and wind.
After a decade of steadily falling prices, the cost of solar panels has stabilised or even increased due to supply chain problems between Europe and China, where nearly all of them are made.
However, a few French manufacturers are starting production again.
If you have problems sourcing panels, it might be an idea to seek them out.
What do you want to achieve?
For homeowners with no fear of climbing roof ladders, it is possible to buy kits and install the panels yourself but the work will have to be approved by a certified electrician.
Before getting that far, make sure you have an idea of what you want the panels to achieve.
Options in France, each with slightly different regulatory requirements, are:
to produce electricity for your own consumption only (with batteries overnight for completely off-grid systems)
to produce for your own consumption and to sell the surplus back
or to produce only to sell to the grid
The basic equipment for all options is the same – panels fixed on the roof or ground, and inverters (onduleurs) to convert the direct current produced by the panels to a domestic alternating current.
Panels now have a life of at least 15 years, while inverters will probably have to be changed after 10 years.
Apply to mairie
All systems on roofs (or the ground if higher than 1.8m) must be registered with the mairie with a déclaration préalable de travaux.
In some situations, authorities can refuse permission – if the property is in a protected heritage area or located close to a historic monument, for example.
In these cases, coloured panels, now sold in France using technology discovered in Switzerland, may be a solution.
Designed to match the shade of the roof, they use a thin coloured polymer film placed between the glass and converters.
Use a registered electrician
Work must also be approved by Consuel (Comité National pour la Securité des Usagers de l’Electricité) if the installation is connected to the grid or has a storage system.
Official advice is to have an electrician with Reconnu Garant de l’Environnement (RGE) status to do the installation, but some sellers often include do-it-yourself guides and will even arrange for electricians associated with them to do the inspection and regulatory paperwork afterwards.
For off-the-grid systems, batteries should be added and a dedicated fuse box is needed to protect the system if you turn on too many appliances at once.
Once you have your system, get insurance against any damage to third parties.
Most household policies now have this as a free option, but check that it is activated.
Tax and VAT
To auto-consume and sell surplus electricity to the grid, choose a system of 3 kilowatt-crête (kWc), a measure used for total potential output at one time, or less. This puts you in a simplified tax regime.
Anything above this and you might have to set up a business to sell your electricity.
You will also have to pay a small annual tax called Tupe towards the cost of the upkeep of the grid.
Note that panels benefit from a reduced 10% rate of VAT up to 3kWc.
Selling back to grid
Enedis, the part of EDF concerned with the low-tension grid, is in charge of putting solar panel electricity on to the grid.
After you have made your déclaration préalable de travaux at the mairie, approach them for the rest of the paperwork.
They can also act as a go-between with EDF, which has to buy your surplus electricity, although you can sell to other companies as well, such as TotalEnergies.
The price is fixed by the government and is currently €0.10 per kWh (compared to a regulated price of €0.17).
To encourage people to install solar panels, and so help meet the nation’s renewable energy targets, the government offers a subsidy called prime à l’investissement.
For installations under 3kWc, the bonus is €390 per kWc, so if you have the maximum 3kWc system it will total €1,170.
The money does not come in one lump sum, but is spread over three years.
Kits for 3kWc, with eight panels, now sell for just under €3,000 online.
The bonus is either taken off your tax bill, or paid into your account if you do not pay income tax.
Depending on where you live, you may be eligible for other grants and support.
However, local authorities, as well as departmental and regional councils, are unfortunately allocating less and less.
For people who decide to sell all their electricity, the price is higher, at €0.18 per kWh.
Paperwork to sell your electricity
You must apply with a dossier to Enedis for a compte raccordement, which includes approval from the mairie, a plan of your property showing public access points and how it is connected to the electricity system, and a signed mandate.
Enedis must give a reply within six weeks, unless work on the grid is needed for your installation, in which case they have three months.
If all is in order, you will receive a formal proposition de raccordement, valid for three months while you install the panels.
Use Linky meter to measure electricity generated
It might include work which you will have to pay for – one example is if they have to change a small Linky meter for a more powerful one.
Once the work is finished, the link to the grid is done remotely through the Linky meter in 95% of cases, without the need for a visit.
To be paid, you have to measure the amount of electricity sent to the grid, usually once a year, by reading the Linky, and send an invoice to the company buying it.
It is a good idea to wash and maintain panels regularly to keep them producing at their maximum potential.