09 November 2021

Photovoltaics cultivates its environment

ADEME, the French governmental agency for energy and ecology, released a photovoltaics roadmap in early July plotting the sector’s path to environmental excellence.
The roadmap comes on the heels of an amply documented study, carried out in consultation with the sector’s main stakeholders, and also sets its sights on increased French and European competitiveness in the sector. 
Celine Mehl, who is heading this ADEME initiative, explains how this roadmap came about and how it will be implemented.

 

Why is such a roadmap necessary given solar is acknowledged as an energy source that has one of the smallest environmental impacts ?

It is indeed. But room for improvement still exists and it was a good time to set down a path to be shared by all stakeholders.

This study notably concords with a context whereby the European Commission is bouncing ideas off the sector’s stakeholders on the implementation of regulatory and voluntary tools, like the Ecodesign and Ecolabel schemes. 
The first could become mandatory as soon as 2023 for photovoltaic system components, while the second would lead to manufacturers voluntarily offering and promoting environmental performance levels that exceed Ecodesign norms. 
Therefore ahead of our consultation, we wanted to establish an environmental panorama for photovoltaics, spread information on the stakeholders’ eco-assertive practices, identify shared progression paths so the sector can influence the criteria defined for these tools. Carbon footprints were one issue that came to the fore, having only recently been adopted as a criterion in these tools. 

Furthermore, looking at the country’s multi-year energy programme, photovoltaic capacity in France should reach 44GW by 2028 compared with the current installed power of just 12.6GW. Doubling down on French production and European capacities and making good use of exacting environmental labels constitute a strategic axis for keeping the sector’s ongoing development on the right ecological tracks. That implies further efforts toward the local sourcing of materials and recyclability of components.

This roadmap establishes a framework for governance of the sector’s development, notably via labels and via the consistency of European policies. 
It also urges manufacturers and developers to seize the opportunities that will result, for example in terms of eco-design or the lessening of impact on installation sites. In doing so, it poses the levers of increased competitiveness for the French and European sector.

 

Your roadmap identifies four major areas of effort. Can you remind us what they are and explain how you intend to go about implementing them ?

The work done so far blazes the trail for all stakeholders. 
The first axis, improving the technical and environmental performance of photovoltaic products, is first and foremost directed at manufacturers and the academic world, who must intensify their R&D in respect of products and their production processes.
The second axis concerns especially the French and European ruling powers, who must demand better environmental performance while harmonizing their methods of measuring it. Today for example, the carbon footprint of a module is calculated differently according to whether a PV module is installed on a farm (simplified carbon assessment) or on a building (FDES/PEP).
The third axis of effort, without doubt the longest lasting, involves reducing the consumption of materials and developing a circular economy. This is a shape-shifting challenge as it means working on the eco-design and repairability fronts at the same time as setting up recycling circuits.
Last but not least, the fourth axis concerns the impact on biodiversity, above all from solar generation farms, with an urgent need to centralize experiments, to pool ecological monitoring, to share good working practices, and to devise relevant indicators that can be used across all sites.

 

Will it be ADEME who steers this roadmap ?

Not strictly speaking. The roadmap is a snapshot of what has to be done, based on a very complete panorama common to the sector’s stakeholders. Now it’s up to each party involved to take advantage of this work and start implementing actions.
That will be the case for ADEME, notably via our call for projects (which will receive our funding), via the publications we issue, and via the events we organize. Our priorities are to track down and promote innovative stakeholders, share their experiences, and ensure the sector is informed of R&D and experimentation opportunities. 
As regards European lobbying, this roadmap also covers key messages that must be passed, in liaison with the photovoltaic sector strategic committee at the European Commission. 
I furthermore welcome approaches from stakeholders interested in working on these future environmental tools on a European scale: please do get in touch with us.

 

To find out more, download the study

 


Contact : celine.mehl@ademe.fr

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