Published on Tuesday 23 May 2023 | Article n°446
Listening to the reactions to the words of the President of the Republic on the occasion of the relaunch of the industrialisation of France, one wonders in what world we live, or rather the content of the PV projects presented intrigues. It seems that words are more important than action, that speeches avoid organising daily life, that the presentation of projects is more important than their realisation. We look at the words, but not at the people who say them. No attempt is made to determine whether the professional quality is sufficient to achieve the objective, the project, the mission. They don't want to judge relevance, but rely solely on the eloquence of the speaker. And we want to save money?
Don't you dare criticiseThe President's words are sacred and must not be challenged
Expectations of a European revival of the PV industry are highThis destroys any sense of practicality, concreteness or seriousness.
Don't think, don't doubt, don't reflectThis is becoming the French way of doing things, because of the need to recognise the quality of the leader.
This is the exact opposite of Meyer Burger's approach who starts small and tries to solve his problems so that he can grow from there.
Nobody dares to criticise
Who has dared to criticise the French President's announcements concerning the establishment of battery factories or the construction of photovoltaic panel gigafactories? Who doubted the plans of industrialists? On the contrary, everyone encouraged the reindustrialisation of France. Everyone thought that these announcements were real, solid, already made, already done! No one doubts that within three or four years France will have two huge factories supplying not only France, but also Europe.One is more accustomed to Brussels circles, expert speeches and Commission subsidies than to greasing machines, calculating the cost of supplies and organising businesses.
The other is ambitious, deliberate and all-encompassing, with plans to produce cells and panels as well as wafers and silicon, so as to have a complete chain. In its bid for success, Carbon already sees itself as a competitor to the Chinese, and more specifically to LONGi, the world number 1. Nothing is good enough for this company, which already sees itself at the top of the bill. Its managers know everything and fear nothing. But what do they know about industrial production, cell technology, cutting ingots and wafers, and silicon smelting?
It's distressing to see brilliant, competent and probably sincere men playing to the gallery, trying to convince people of a delicate, complex and innovative project, looking for financial support, compensation for an installation, and professional expertise.
Expectations for a European revival of the PV industry are high
However, the whole of Europe is looking for an industrial revival in the photovoltaic sector, and the first person to say that he or she can revive panel production is seen as a saviour, as the messiah, as God's messenger. Expectations are high. It's because we've lost the analytical capacity to make decisions. It's because we no longer have a sense of the concrete, the possible, the feasible. Any assertion by either party is no longer subjected to the mill of criticism, analysis and doubt.
All it takes is for the President of the Republic to want to reindustrialise France for us to believe that this has already been done, that he has taken the right measures, that he has devised an effective strategy. He has floated a lot of ideas without actually implementing them. Not only are his words being used as a pretext for action, but his listeners are simply approving him without looking for the flaws, the gaps, the shortcomings. Empty!
Don't think, don't doubt, don't reflect
It should come as no surprise that the political class has clearly understood this gap in the French mindset; it asserts without doubting and considers that its words are synonymous with action, decision, seriousness. If this were the case, there wouldn't be so many gaps in the functioning of French economic, social and political life. Can we say that schools work well in France? What about hospitals? Are there enough doctors and orderlies? Are there murders as a result of gangs settling scores? Don't you just have to go back through Roissy airport to see what France is like, with its broken-down escalators, imprecise directional signs, and lack of space to change when you arrive from a cold or hot climate?
We've created a society where you don't have to think, criticise or challenge anything any more, because the police are there to set you straight!
So, in photovoltaics as in all sectors, there is a lack of reflection, judgement and insight. You have to agree with everything you're told, everything that's in the zeitgeist, and not question anything, as if the political authorities, well aware of their weaknesses and shortcomings, would reproach you for your doubts, your incongruous remarks, or your challenges. But this is the consequence of the weakness of ministers, decision-makers and those in charge.
It's the exact opposite of Meyer Burger's approach, which is to start small and work out the problems.
As if to justify this doubt and the shortcomings of the two panel production projects, let's look at the different stages in Meyer Burger's launch into panel production. It started from an undeniable technical base in heterojunction, since it produced production equipment. So it confined itself to the two parts it knew how to do: producing cells and panels. Very quickly, the company realised that it was having problems obtaining supplies of wafers. The Chinese are not charitable souls; they are not going to supply ingots and wafers to a competitor who wants to emerge. After a long battle with suppliers unwilling to supply low-cost products, Meyer Burger turned to a very small Norwegian wafer company.Norwegian silicon company, and offered to supply them on condition that the company significantly increased its production capacity. With the certainty that silicon supply would be assured, Meyer Burger approached another very small ingot slicer and secured a supply contract.
It is still too early to say that a photovoltaic production line exists, but a favourable industrial environment is beginning to emerge. One clear feature is the production of heterojunction panels with higher efficiency rates than PERC and even TOPCon panels. Meyer Burger, with its professional expertise, circumvented the supply difficulties that the Chinese wanted to create. Gradually, it is establishing itself in the landscape with a production of 321 MW (megawatts) in 2022 after two years of trial and error! Meyer Burger deserves to succeed. The two French projects will encounter many problems before they succeed. Will they succeed? We hope so, but we doubt it.