the French are increasingly attracted to save money

the French are increasingly attracted to save money

The solar-powered panels are deployed on roofs. A source of economy and eco-friendliness, they are increasingly appealing to consumers.

The sky is hazy at the end of the morning above Clermont-Ferrand (Puy-de-Dôme). In front of his computer, Stéphane, aeronautical maintenance manager, finishes going through the files lining his desk. Like every day as lunch approaches, this savvy and amused technophile takes a look from his phone at the connected weather station installed in his garden, more than 100 km away, in a small town in Allier. Jackpot! In his countryside, the rays of the sun at the zenith strike at full force the photovoltaic panels fixed on his roof. With a few clicks on the Enphase Enlighten application, Stéphane remotely activates the heating of his hot water tank – a 3,000 watt cumulus –, the main consumption center of his house.

When he returns home in the evening, he has hot water and his electricity consumption from EDF is close to zero. “My approach allows me to consume at the best time,” summarizes the father. And with a double virtue, because not only do I reduce my bill, but I also participate, in a concrete way, in the ecological effort. »

Monitoring the weather, starting your washing machine when the sun shines, charging your electronic devices during the day rather than at night, no longer reasoning according to the logic of peak hours/off-peak hours, these reflexes have become daily for Stéphane, as for nearly 500 000 French households which also self-consume their photovoltaic electricity. There is no doubt, solar power is on the rise: in two years, the number of individual self-consumption installations has more than tripled, according to the French Observatory for Ecological Transition.

Economy and ecology combined

A saving craze for the climate, but also for household budgets. Because, in two years, the price of electricity has increased by around 40%. “Abundant and inexpensive energy is over, at least for the medium term, and the French have understood this,” says David Gréau, general delegate of Enerplan, a union of solar energy professionals. According to him, ecological and financial motivations are linked.

“At the beginning, only pioneers, convinced by the ecological nature, put solar panels on their roofs. Now the economic criterion is added to the equation, because self-consumption turns out to be very profitable. »

Owners of a small house in Hauts-de-Seine, Ariane and her husband are among the pioneers of solar energy in France. Approached in 2012 by an installer, the couple of scientists allowed themselves to be convinced. South-facing roof, absence of views and shade on the land, keen ecological awareness, everything encourages them to get started. They opt for eight photovoltaic panels and sign a full resale contract with their supplier for a period of twenty years.

“Increasing the production of renewable electricity is essential, so it seemed virtuous to us to do our part for the collective,” explains Ariane. If the full resale price from EDF seemed “extremely attractive” at the time, the cost of the installation was much less so. It was around 25,000 euros. A heresy in today's market.

A variable return

Indeed, drowned by the tidal wave of cheap Chinese photovoltaic panels on European soil (read box) , prices collapse. “The reality is simple: installers and individuals are flocking to Chinese panels, which are good quality and inexpensive,” says Frédéric Pierre, general manager of the EverWatt group, a producer on the front line of the recent French rush to the sun.

The performance of the panels obviously varies depending on the uses and the level of sunshine in each region. Haute-Garonne, Gironde, Isère, Bouches-du-Rhône and Hérault are among the departments with the highest installed capacity in France. But thanks to technical innovations, banking on the photons contained in the sun's rays now guarantees “30 to 40% savings on the annual bill”, assures Marine de Lamotte, strategy and innovation director at EDF ENR.

Bourbonnais that he is, Stéphane considers its level of sunshine “sufficient” to offer rapid profitability. Rigorously, he did his calculations. “Within six or seven years, what I will have saved in self-consumption and resale of the surplus will have reimbursed the purchase of the 6 kW of power installed on my roof between July 2022 and January 2024.” Stéphane and his wife will continue then sell the electricity that they do not consume according to the price set in the purchase obligation contract signed with EDF.

This enthusiasm, although real, is however late. It is impossible to hide the fact that France has long been the European Union's bad student when it comes to solar energy. “We start from afar, the penetration rate – in other words the number of equipped houses compared to the number of individual houses – oscillates between 4 and 5% in France,” explains Marine de Lamotte.

Figures far from those of our Dutch (20%) or German (15%) neighbors. These countries are less sunny than France but have favorable energy policies. Above all, the cost of energy is higher there than in France, which gets by thanks to nuclear power. These factors encouraged individuals very early on to turn to alternative energy sources.

The next step, which Stéphane, Ariane and many other budding energy specialists want: to acquire even more autonomy by storing electricity to use it as they wish. Currently, only 3% of individual photovoltaic installations are combined with electricity storage means. Without high-performance and cheap batteries, complete autonomy remains unrealistic and solar power can only play the role of additional energy.

Solar power at your fingertips

Advertising on the Internet, untimely canvassing, the photovoltaic energy boom brings its share of nuisances. So much so that in 2024, 45% of French people express their distrust in energy installers (Qualit'ENR study). To become more widespread, solar energy is freeing itself from installers and various lighter devices have appeared.

  • Solar kits. For a few hundred euros, DIY enthusiasts can easily get started with solar energy. “Panels have become common consumer items in DIY stores and this will accelerate the energy transition,” judges Nicolas Goldberg, energy expert for the Terra Nova think tank.
  • Signs for rent. Solar self-consumption is also growing thanks to the rental of panels. Less financially engaging, particularly for young couples who are refused bank loans, renting allows access to self-consumption and the resale of surplus electricity produced with maintenance and insurance guarantees on the equipment.
  • Panels ready to plug in. A large part of the price of photovoltaics is explained by the margin made by the company and the cost of the labor necessary for installation: “When we call on an installer, the price of the panels represents less than 30% of the total estimate,” indicates Thomas Cautier, founder of Sunethic. This company promotes 100% French solar solutions that can be installed by individuals themselves: ready-to-use panels that operate in a few minutes on the ground, walls or flat roofs and allow self-consumption without having to take out a loan.

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