By Michel Rose
PARIS, Oct 29 (Reuters) – French energy giants Total
and EDF said they were joining forces with
French research institutes and schools to create a solar energy
research 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 to
compete with leading institutions in the United States, Japan
The group, which includes France’s prestigious engineering
school 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 five
research hubs in the world,” Jean-Francois Minster, Total’s
scientific director and head of the new IPVF, told Reuters in an
Research activities will focus on five programmes, including
research on high-efficiency silicon cells and thin-film solar
cells made using chalcogenide materials and environmental impact
France decided under former president Nicolas Sarkozy to
invest 2.5 billion euros in the Saclay campus, where some top
schools and research institutes are already based. EDF started
building its own research and development centre there earlier
Minster said the location was attractive because of the
concentration of science students and specialised private firms,
in addition to a research tax credit (CIR), which means
companies can get up to 40 percent of RD spending in tax
“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 Saclay
campus as one of the world’s top eight RD clusters. [link:]
Total is the majority owner of California-based SunPower
Corp, one of the biggest solar panel manufacturers in
the United States.
The solar industry has been grappling with a global
oversupply of panels and falling subsidies in Europe, sending
prices into a tailspin in the past two years and hammering
But solar energy is becoming increasingly competitive
compared with other forms of energy production, and solar power
companies will need less and less public subsidies to get
projects off the ground, Minster said.
He pointed to a 70 megawatt solar power project Total is
helping build in Chile, which he said was the first such project
in which no public support would be involved.
Countries such as Italy and the southern United States, with
a combination of high electricity costs and ample sunshine, will
soon see the same boost to solar energy as photovoltaic cells
become more efficient, he said.