French President calls for ‘Airbus’ style Euro solar manufacturer

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France’s President Francois Hollande has called for an ‘Airbus’ style model of collaboration for the European solar industry.

On Tuesday, Hollande said collaboration with Germany in the energy sector would be a “beautiful alliance”.

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“Germany has a head-start in renewables, but we have our vanguard in energy storage and power grids,” he said.

“We have to work together to expand new industrial branches. We are very proud of Airbus, now we want joint action for the energy transition.”

The announcement received a cool reception in Europe.

The German Economy and Energy Ministry told broadcaster Deutsche Welle it welcomed the plans and was open to discuss them.

It was unclear specifically what form of collaboration the president was referring to, however his overtures are in line with the goals of the ambitious HERCULES research project.

The project’s name is derived from High Efficiency Rear Contact solar cells and Ultra powerful moduLES.

The research collaboration between universities, research bodies and private sector firms including EDF and Meyer Burger, aims to drive cell efficiencies to 25% and module power conversion over the 21% mark while keeping the cost at around €0.7 per Watt.

The stated goal of HERCULES, which received a €7 million grant form the European Commission, reaches beyond the lab and is in line with Hollande’s nod to new industrial cooperation.

“The HERCULES strategy is to transfer the developed processes to the industrial scale by considering all major cost drivers of the entire manufacturing process chain of modules,” according to a statement released at the project’s launch.

“The concepts developed in HERCULES will demonstrate 25% efficiency at cell level, for above 340Wp modules produced in the partners pilot-lines, and pave the way to ultra-high efficiencies for the next generation of c-Si based solar cells devices,” it continued.

The project launched in November 2013 and is funded until the end of 2016.

Fraunhofer ISE chief Eicke Weber told the French newspaper Les Echos that Europe could either leave the PV manufacturing market to Asia or governments could help provide the same guarantees that helped create Airbus.

Increasing state support in Europe to a continental scale could be considered hypocritical given the EU’s response to China’s support of its own manufacturing sector.

“Ultimately, this type of project would need several billion Euro’s, with much of this falling at the taxpayer’s expense,” Finlay Colville, vice president of NPD Solarbuzz told PV Tech.

“It certainly forms an interesting anecdote at a time when the European Commission has just been asked to investigate government backed support of the Chinese PV manufacturing base as part of the anti-dumping investigations in Europe,” he said.

“European PV manufacturing and R&D has suffered over the past few years, having been heavily funded at the country and European level over many years. In particular, French and German investments into PV go back well over 10 years, with each having some of the first R&D institutes that were meant to bring domestic competitiveness to local PV manufacturers,” said Colville, adding that overcapacity had also hampered the PV equipment supply sector.

“There is no shortage of drivers at play to provide the basis for such a European superpower of the PV industry, but it has to be questioned if this is in reaction to the malaise that has befallen the European sector in the past few years, or is something that is market-led and could even come close to being cost-competitive,” he concluded.

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