Growing market despite the politicians

With 10,000 registered visitors, business was buoyant and brisk at last month's gathering in Paris of the French renewable energy industry, with financing companies out in force. But yet again the parallel conference was disappointed by the lukewarm political attention afforded the sector.

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With 10,000 registeredvisitors, business was buoyant and brisk at last month's gathering in Paris of the French renewable energy industry, with financing companies out in force. But yet again the parallel conference was disappointed by the lukewarm political attention afforded the sector

Business may be on the up for the wind industry in France, but yet again delegates to this year's Renewable Energy Conference, held mid-June in Paris, were disappointed at the lack of strong political support. The point was amply illustrated by the decidedly muted mood of the conference hall compared to the buzzing exhibition hall below where the Salon des Energies Renouvelables -- the country's largest renewable energy show -- was taking place in Paris for the first time. It is usually held every two years in Lyon.

Not that the thousand or so conference delegates went away entirely empty handed. In her opening address, environment minister Nelly Olin announced that the much anticipated circular to local district authorities clarifying how they should evaluate applications to establish the new wind development zones (ZDEs) would be issued in the coming days (page 35). Olin said she believed the circular will "reinvigorate growth." Later in the day, industry minister François Loos revealed a few tantalising details of the new tariff structure underpinning France's new market structure for wind energy, based on a fixed purchase price (page 35).

Loos's statements came in a question and answer session with André Antolini, president of conference organiser the Renewable Energy Syndicate, known as SER. Loos stressed that he wanted the renewables industry to be viable and the new tariffs aim to make it. They are high enough to generate development but not so high that "everyone was filling their pockets."

Even so, Loos indicated that France would be unable to meet its EU target of 21% of electricity from renewable resources by 2010, of which some 10,000 MW would be wind generated. Instead, the target date in the new Pluriannual Investment Program presenting government objectives for electricity generation for 2006-2015, which is currently before parliament, has been pushed back to 2013.

Radar pressure

Antolini took the opportunity to press the minister on the contentious issue of turbines and their possible interference on radar systems. According to SER, projects totalling some 3000 MW are blocked because of a recommendation by the defence forces, civil aviation authorities and meteorological service that no turbines be installed within 30 kilometres of radar as a precautionary measure pending further investigations (Windpower Monthly, April 2006). In response Loos felt it should be possible to find a technical solution and offered to create a "technical wind power committee" of scientists, industry members and government officials to resolve such questions.

The rest of the conference followed the regular format of four round table talks, this year on the theme of A Vous d'Agir! (For You to Act!) Topics included renewables in the political program, how to curb energy consumption and the role of renewables in daily life.

The liveliest session explored the political context from local to European level. The spark was mainly thanks to the presence of Beatriz Yordi from the renewables division of the EU's energy directorate. She admitted that Brussels is "not jumping with joy about the situation in France." There is some room for optimism, she said, but still lots to do, and hinted that the EU commission may penalise France next year for not doing enough to meet its renewables targets. A number of speakers from the floor seemed to think this would be no bad thing if it forced France to comply with EU directives.

As for the Salon des Energies Renouvelables, its Paris debut was deemed a great success. Over 10,000 visitors in the two days reserved for professionals ensured constant crowds around the 140 stands. Though the number of exhibitors was 50% greater than forecast, it still only equalled last year's total at the Salon in Lyon. And, as at Lyon, wind accounted for just 30 or so stands. This time, however, there were no nacelles or other crowd-pulling displays. Instead, most stands were decidedly small and the venue seemed cramped. Not that this damped the general enthusiasm. Florent Suplisson of Sepelcom, which organised the Salon, felt there was a real sense that things are starting to happen. "At the first Salon in Lyon six years ago, renewables people were like Martians," he said "whereas now we are mainstream."

Among turbine manufacturers, Spain's Ecotècnia had the largest presence in a prime location. Nordex opted for a more modest stand, though perhaps regretted it given the constant press of visitors. The company looks set to lead the French market in terms of megawatts installed in 2006. Repower and Enercon, also from Germany, were equally busy and even Vergnet, the French turbine manufacturer specialising in small machines for storm-prone regions, saw plenty of action. This despite the fact that it is concentrating almost solely on the export market, thanks to the 2005 energy law which "made life impossible" for the company in France by effectively ending support for small developments.

Of the other big turbine manufacturers, Vestas, Gamesa, GE Wind and Siemens were notable by their absence -- maybe because it is currently a seller's market, or simply due to an overdose of European trade fairs. Ecotècnia's Jean-Michel Zarza considered one exhibition in France every two years is enough given the investment in time and money involved.

Developers were also thin on the ground. Eole-RES, Ostwind, Eneria and Amec-Spie were the main players, joined by relative newcomers Hélios Energies, ADEOL, Intervent and Natenco. All professed themselves pleased at the level of interest. "There's a real buzz, much better than expected," said Amanda Baudry of Eole-RES. Eneria's Jean-Claude Schutz agreed that the Salon had been "very profitable," adding with perhaps a hint of understatement that he was "very pleasantly surprised."

Money me

By contrast, there was an unusually strong showing of banks and financiers. Of these, Nantexis, a subsidiary of Banque Populaire, is the undoubted market leader in France, having helped finance 460 MW of the country's installed wind power to date. Also touting for new business was Crédit Agricole's Unifergie, with some 200 MW under its belt, alongside start-ups such as Palatine Asset Management, a placement fund launched by Caisse d'Epargne in 2005.

Denmark's Difko was one of the few non-French investment companies represented. Difko buys up fully-permitted or completed projects and operates them on behalf of its Danish investors. Its French portfolio comprises 10.2 MW already operating at Port-St-Louis in the Bouches-du-Rhône and a 6 MW plant in Brittany scheduled for commissioning late last month. Project manager Ronny Hviid said the Paris Salon was worth the journey, bringing the firm plenty of "constructive contacts."

Investing in renewables was also the theme of the most well-attended conference session running parallel to the exhibition. It was a largely practical session, looking at the financial support available for setting up and developing businesses and the workings of carbon credits and white certificates. Other sessions covered technological advances, green electricity in France and Europe and the standardisation of electricity production.

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