Floating solar: Europe’s largest power plant is French

Built thanks to participatory investment of around 17 million euros, Piolenc power plant in the Vaucluse is looking to illustrate the considerable potential of the floating solar market in Europe and worldwide.

France now has Europe’s most powerful floating solar power plant*. Inaugurated on October 18, 2019 as part of the O’MEGA1 project, this facility with a capacity of 17 megawatts (MW) has ambitious aims: thanks to the 47,000 photovoltaic panels that take up half of an artificial lake**, almost 10,000 people (around 5,000 homes) could be supplied with electricity each year. This power plant’s production will also avoid the annual emission of 1,096 metric tons of CO2 into the atmosphere.
“Because it can be set up on spaces that are unutilized or ready for conversion (drinking water reservoirs, industrial areas, flood plains, quarry lakes), this floating infrastructure offers the possibility of an energy transition free from conflict over land use, facilitating the projects’ acceptability by the community,” believes Éric Scotto, CEO of Akuo Energy, which developed this project in collaboration with the company Ciel & Terre.
Designed to promote the concept of citizen energy, the project is also based on financial innovation on a local scale: via crowdfunding, anyone who owns a home in the Vaucluse or the neighboring departments can acquire a stake in the power plant. As the owner of the artificial lake hosting the infrastructure, the Piolenc municipality will also receive an annual rent for 50 years.
“We are showing everyone that fighting climate change requires a collective effort,” continues Éric Scotto. “The aim of this approach is to encourage citizens to become involved in financing the energy transition using the region’s stakeholders (…) The idea is to increase the acceptability of these projects. The impact on the local region is particularly beneficial.”
According to the project’s instigators, setting up similar power plants on all the artificial lakes and dams in France would make it possible to produce 10 gigawatts of energy, i.e. the equivalent of ten nuclear reactors.
* Floating photovoltaic facilities are positioned on water; they mainly “float” on the lakes of former quarries or water reservoirs. They thus offer the advantage of avoiding land-use conflicts, by rehabilitating unutilized surfaces.
** The power plant was set up on the site of a derelict former aggregate extraction quarry subsequently converted into an artificial lake.

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