French energy groups create Paris solar power R&D hub

Reuters

By Michel Rose

PARIS, Oct 29 (Reuters) - French energy giants Total and EDF said they were joining forces withFrench research institutes and schools to create a solar energyresearch institute south of Paris, with a 150 million euro($206.5 million) budget.

The planned Ile-de-France Photovoltaic Institute (IPVF),scheduled for construction next year in Saclay, is intended tocompete with leading institutions in the United States, Japanand Switzerland.

The group, which includes France's prestigious engineeringschool Polytechnique and government research institute CNRS,aims to attract about 200 researchers by 2016.

"We want to be among the very best, at least in the top fiveresearch hubs in the world," Jean-Francois Minster, Total'sscientific director and head of the new IPVF, told Reuters in aninterview.

Research activities will focus on five programmes, includingresearch on high-efficiency silicon cells and thin-film solarcells made using chalcogenide materials and environmental impactstudies.

France decided under former president Nicolas Sarkozy toinvest 2.5 billion euros in the Saclay campus, where some topschools and research institutes are already based. EDF startedbuilding its own research and development centre there earlierthis month.

Minster said the location was attractive because of theconcentration of science students and specialised private firms,in addition to a research tax credit (CIR), which meanscompanies can get up to 40 percent of R&D spending in taxrefunds.

"It's an innovation campus with very high-level students.What is important is the ecosystem we're in," Minster said,pointing at a recent MIT research paper that ranked the Saclaycampus as one of the world's top eight R&D clusters. [link:]

Total is the majority owner of California-based SunPowerCorp, one of the biggest solar panel manufacturers inthe United States.

The solar industry has been grappling with a globaloversupply of panels and falling subsidies in Europe, sendingprices into a tailspin in the past two years and hammeringindustry profit.

But solar energy is becoming increasingly competitivecompared with other forms of energy production, and solar powercompanies will need less and less public subsidies to getprojects off the ground, Minster said.

He pointed to a 70 megawatt solar power project Total ishelping build in Chile, which he said was the first such projectin which no public support would be involved.

Countries such as Italy and the southern United States, witha combination of high electricity costs and ample sunshine, willsoon see the same boost to solar energy as photovoltaic cellsbecome more efficient, he said.

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