Analysis: Market mechanism uncertainty clouds ambitious targets

FRANCE: The French onshore wind sector is set to benefit as the government proposes ambitious new targets, but uncertainty surrounds the forthcoming transition to a market mechanism.

The French industry is discussing an ambitious target, aiming at 24-27GW by 2023

The onshore targets released for discussion in November offer two scenarios for 2023: slower growth giving 21.8GW-23.3GW and a more ambitious trajectory aiming at 24-27GW. On the other hand, plans for offshore fall far short of expectations.

With installed capacity just over 10GW, the new targets imply an annual build rate of 1.5GW-3.25GW, compared with current growth hovering around 1GW.

"We are very satisfied with the volume, and both scenarios are very favourable," said Marion Lettry, assistant executive commissioner of trade body SER. The targets are generally in line with the French aim to source 40% of electricity from renewables in 2030.


Reaching even the lowest target, however, will require continued efforts to simplify the administrative process and speed up deployment.

While this is heading the right way, from January 2019, the guaranteed premium purchase price for onshore wind will be replaced by a market mechanism in line with EU guidelines.

The general principles for all renewables were outlined in a discussion paper released in September and will be followed by specific decrees for wind in due course.

The system will be similar to the UK's contracts for difference (CfD), with a target price set by the regulator for operating plant and probably competitive auctions for new projects, although the latter remains unclear.

Producers will receive a "reference market price" based on the price earned on the wholesale market. When the reference market price falls below the target price, the producer receives a top-up payment, and pays the difference back to the government when the inverse happens. 

Operating wind plants – and possibly those awarded by tender – will also receive a "management premium" to compensate for the additional market-access costs.

Overall, the French CfD should ensure "a level of remuneration that covers the cost of installation while maintaining normal profitability," the government said.

Much to the industry's relief, the government has declared that operating plants that opt for a French CfD will be able to revert to the guaranteed purchase price, but can do so only once and within a period of three years.

Furthermore, there will be a buyer of last resort in the event that the producer can not find an aggregator or if its aggregator goes bankrupt. Both provisions are crucial for securing finance.


While many questions remain, SER is "satisfied with what we know so far," Lettry said, but the French Wind Energy Association FEE is less enthusiastic.

The formula for calculating the French CfD introduces too many uncertainties and risks increasing the cost financing and therefore of wind energy, warned FEE's special adviser on economics and operations, Pierre-Albert Langlois.

Other concerns include the timeframe for determining the reference market price. The longer the period, the more projects in very wind areas will be over-compensated and others under-compensated, said FEE president Frederic Lanoe. And "the industry is not convinced that [auctions] will result in sufficient volumes," he added.

While it is perhaps too early to say if the new system will boost or hinder deployment, Lanoe believes there is a very real risk it will destabilise the market, just when volumes are rising again.