More and more companies are either selling, or installing, solar panels for people across France.
This, coupled with rising energy costs, continues to make solar panels appear an attractive alternative to gas or electric energy sources, for both homeowners and businesses.
Here we answer eight common queries about solar panel installation in France.
What types of solar panels are available?
Before switching to solar energy, it is important to know there are different types of panels, as well as different installation types.
The two main types of panels are photovoltaic panels and solar thermal panels; photovoltaic panels will convert thermal energy into electricity, and solar thermal panels turn solar energy into heat.
These can be used in conjunction with each other, but some financial aid schemes are applicable only to certain panel types. For example, you can only sell surplus energy if you have photovoltaic panels installed, as solar thermal panels do not directly produce electricity.
Installation types can vary between off-grid and on-grid systems, and while some installations are on the roof, others will be on the ground in your garden.
It costs around €10,000 for a modest-sized solar photovoltaic system and at least €5,000 for a solar thermal system heating hot water only and around €14,000 or more for one that also feeds into your central heating system.
Do I need permission to install panels?
You do not need formal planning permission (un permis de construire) but the intention to put installations on roofs (and those on the ground higher than 1.8m) needs to be notified to the local mairie, which has the right to object, via a déclaration préalable de travaux.
This can be done by sending a letter to the mairie, or online.
Installations on the ground (under 1.8m) that are less powerful than 3,000 wc (watt-crête, called Wp in English) do not need permission.
If you do not receive a response after one month, you can start work under the basis that your project has received tacit approval from the mairie (or two months in some areas with special conservation status).
The mairie may sometimes send a signed letter by the mayor confirming this.
If you request proof of permission, the mairie is obliged to provide you with a form stating they do not oppose the works; this may be useful if applying for loans or other grants.
What to do if the council refuses?
Usually, permission should be granted, however it can be denied in exceptional circumstances.
This usually happens if the building is in a zone protégée – in a protected heritage area, or close to an historic monument.
If your project is rejected, you can reapply within two months, giving reasons why the mairie should accept your request.
In a case such as the above it may be possible to use coloured panels which can blend into local landscapes.
These panels may be more expensive, but can help where permission is refused, and certain coloured panels (such as terracotta) retain up to 80% of the efficiency of traditional dark-coloured solar panels.
Can I use any installer?
Official government advice is to use a firm that has the RGE (Reconnue Garant de l'Environnement) certification.
Certain financial grants are only applicable if you install panels via an RGE-certified firm.
If your solar panels are to be connected to the grid or have a storage system, the work must be approved by Consuel (Comité National pour la Securité des Usagers de l’Electricité).
It is possible to install the panels yourself, if you purchase solar-panel installation ‘kits’, which may include panel providers sending a certified electrician to sign-off on regulatory paperwork and check your installation.
What can I do with surplus energy?
If you install photovoltaic panels and you are connected to the grid, it is possible to sell your energy back to the national supply.
In this case you have a choice to sell all of it (revente totale) or to use it for your own use primarily (autoconsommation) and sell back any surplus. You can get more for the energy in the first case but in the second you save on your bills and also qualify for a bonus to help pay for the installation (see below).
After receiving planning permission, you should contact Enedis (an offshoot of EDF that works with the low-tension energy grid) which can provide you with the paperwork necessary to sell the surplus energy.
There is a fixed price for surplus energy sales set by the government, which is updated every three months. This is divided into four tiers, depending on the size of the installation.
See here for the rates, depending on whether you are in revente totale or autoconsommation.
Is there help from the government?
Yes, if you plan to use your own energy and sell back the surplus, you can qualify for a bonus called Prime à l’autoconsommation for solar photovoltaic panels.
It can range from €1,290 to €9,000 depending on the size of the installation, and is usually paid out in instalments over five years.
For solar thermal panels you may be able to obtain an ‘Energy Savings Certificate bonus’ (Prime des Certificats d’Économies d’Énergie, or CEE).
The latter is a one-off payment from energy suppliers to help cover the cost of installation, which can be used by both businesses and households, that can reach up to €5,000.
You can only apply for this aid if your panels are installed by an RGE-certified company.
The CEE bonus is applicable to heaters that heat only your hot water, as well as ones that also feed into the central heating system.
Your claim for a CEE must be sent within 15 days of signing a contract with an installer, and you must send your invoice within 30 days of the work being completed.
Once the final form has been sent, you will receive payment from your chosen energy supplier within 15 days.
Before signing any contract, it is recommended that you use an online tool to assess the savings you can make, such as ENGIE’s simulator here.
Further assistance can come from other government subsidies, such as the MaPrime Rénov’ grant, or an interest-free eco-loan (up to a value of €50,000).
The amount available for MaPrime Rénov varies depending on the work you are doing and your household income.
You may also benefit from a VAT reduction when installing panels, depending on the size of the installation.
Read more: French eco-renovation grants increase as price of materials rises
Can I benefit from aid for my second home?
Both the Prime à l’autoconsommation and the CEE are applicable to second homes.
Properties will only be eligible for the CEE if they are more than two years old, however.
The MaPrime Renov’ can only be used for main homes, however. The same goes for the interest-free eco-loan.
Who can advise?
Before you go ahead it is worth talking over your plans with an adviser from the France Rénov system. This is free of charge and they can advise on choosing firms to do the work and ways of funding it and may be able to provide ongoing support with your project.
Do I need to be wary of scams?
Unfortunately, with the growing interest in solar panel installation, has come the threat of scams.
Recent scams have included companies that use dubious sales techniques, carrying out feasibility studies for prospective buyers, then asking them to sign a document attesting to this, but that was actually an order form to purchase panels.
Read more: Warning over solar panel firm and its sales tactics in France
Other scams include fake government websites offering loans.
A reader recently contacted us about a solar panel firm delaying their installation and being unresponsive to contact, wondering if it was within their rights to cancel the installation in this context.