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Yes, for three reasons. Firstly, despite the crisis and improved energy efficiency, our need for electricity is increasing as more and more of us are surrounded by modern, electricity-powered objects. Secondly, we must prepare for the arrival of heat pumps and electric vehicles: recharging several million batteries will require a large, and above all decarbonised production fleet, so as not to cancel out the ecological interest of doing without petrol and diesel. Secondly, it is necessary to prepare for the renewal of current means of production.
Renewable energies are becoming cheaper and cheaper. They are now competitive and cost-effective compared to non-renewable energy sources. Of course, the initial investments are significant, but when the “external costs” such as environmental impact and resource depletion are taken into account, the picture becomes clearer! Onshore wind is already competitive with traditional means of electricity generation. Hydropower is even cheaper. Finally, the cost of equipment is decreasing, in particular the cost of photovoltaic modules.
Wind turbines emit background noise, mainly low frequencies between 20 Hz and 100 Hz. This noise is caused by mechanical vibrations between the components of the wind turbine and the wind blowing through the blades. At a distance of 500 metres (minimum distance between a wind turbine and a house), it is generally less than 35 decibels: is less than a whispered conversation.
Wind turbines are also a source of infrasound. Noise measurement campaigns recently carried out by ANSES (National Health Security Agency) show that these infrasounds are emitted at levels too low to constitute a nuisance, let alone a danger. By way of comparison, the infrasound emitted by our bodies (heartbeat or breathing) and transmitted to our inner ear is more intense than that emitted by wind turbines.
Before a wind farm is built, studies are carried out to analyse the behaviour of birds and bats. This behaviour is taken into account when defining the location of the wind turbines. Installation should be done outside migration corridors or sensitive areas for breeding birds, such as nesting areas. In addition, there are systems for flanging wind turbines during periods of high bat activity.
All wind farms are regularly monitored for the mortality of these species. Work is currently being carried out by ADEME in partnership with the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the Ligue de Protection des Oiseaux (LPO or the Bird Protection League) and the Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle (National Museum of Natural History) to further reduce the mortality rate of birds and bats.
In a 2017 study, the LPO estimated that a wind turbine may be responsible for the death of 0.3 to 18 birds per year. By way of comparison, every year hundreds of thousands of birds die in France from flying into windowpanes, making this one of the main causes of their death.
France must move away from fossil fuels, and therefore turn to the electrification of uses (transport, industry, etc.). To succeed in this transformation, we must install new means of production in the national territory, such as wind power.
As with any construction or development, a wind farm modifies the perception of the landscape, natural landscapes already largely modified by urbanisation, roads, industries, etc.
Before installing a wind farm, it is necessary to take into account the particularities of the territory and the opinion of the populations and communities so that the wind turbines are integrated into the landscape, like other necessary infrastructures (power lines, water towers, etc.).
This is the purpose of the preliminary studies and the impact assessment: the characteristics of the landscape and its sensitivity are studied to verify the feasibility of the project and its harmonious integration into the landscape.
For information, in 2022, France will have approximately 9,000 onshore wind turbines. In comparison, Germany has 30,000 wind turbines in a territory 1.5 times smaller.
At the end of 2021, wind energy represented 25,500 jobs in France (an increase of 12.8% compared to 2020) making it the leading renewable energy employer in France. That’s 8 jobs created every day in France. Design offices, manufacturers of wind turbine components, companies responsible for the assembly, installation (civil engineering) and connection of wind farms, operations, etc., there are about 900 companies present in all the activities of the wind energy sector, thus constituting a diversified industrial fabric.
During the construction phase of the wind farm, local companies are involved in a wide range of trades.
The maintenance of a wind farm also contributes to the local economy during the operation phase. Three FTE (Full Time Equivalent) jobs are needed for the preventive and corrective maintenance of a farm of about 20 MW.
Training centres also restore the attractiveness of the regions that host them. From vocational training to a professional degree or an engineering diploma, wind energy attracts a number of young people, particularly for the maintenance and study sectors (mechanics, acoustics, turbine electronics, systems engineering, etc.). In total, there are some 300 training courses throughout France, from secondary schools to universities and grandes écoles, including continuing education centres.
This means the wind is too strong, too weak or the turbine is under maintenance. In total, these various wind and maintenance-related interruptions amount to no more than 10 to 15 days per year.
Note that the load factor of a wind turbine should not be confused with its operating time. The load factor is in the order of 20 to 25% for an onshore wind turbine and corresponds to the ratio between the energy produced during a period of time and the energy it would have generated over the same period if it had been operating at maximum power.
When the wind speed is too low (below 10 km/h), the turbines cannot start. Conversely, if the wind is blowing at more than 90 km/h, for example during storms, the wind turbines will automatically shut down to prevent breakage and reduce wear. Finally, maintenance and repair work on the fleets is necessary and regularly carried out, as in any power station. For safety reasons, these interventions require the temporary shutdown of the wind turbines. They are carried out as far as possible in periods of low production.
Various measures are already in place to enable the expression and consideration of citizens’ views:
During the development of a wind power project, presentation and consultation meetings are organised with the inhabitants to keep them informed;
during the public enquiry, municipalities within a 6km radius of the site are consulted and an investigating commissioner collects the opinions of all citizens who wish to give them. The public enquiry is the subject of a report which is taken into account in the examination of the application for an environmental permit.
In addition, there are now different ways for a citizen to get involved in a wind project: they can be direct actors alongside communities, get involved in financing, and so on. Several mechanisms allow citizens to participate directly in the energy transition: it is up to us to choose the most appropriate one together.
After 20 to 25 years of operation, the wind turbines are completely dismantled (legal obligation) and about 90% recycled.
Steel and concrete (90% of the weight of an onshore wind turbine), copper and aluminium (less than 3% of the weight) are 100% recyclable.
The foundations must be completely excavated and replaced with soil of comparable characteristics to the soil in the vicinity of the installation. The concrete from the wind turbine foundations can be reused as civil engineering material, for road pavements or backfilling.
The blades, made of a composite of resin and glass or carbon fibres (6% of the weight of the wind turbine), are more difficult to recycle. Research is being carried out to improve their design and recycling capacity. These solutions being optimised include: using the composite as a fuel in cement works, grinding it down and incorporating it into construction products or recovering the carbon fibres by chemical decomposition at very high temperatures (pyrolysis). By 2024, the blades should be 100% recyclable.
Current onshore wind turbine technologies do not contain rare earths.
Photovoltaic energy comes from solar radiation, which is more than 10,000 times the world’s energy consumption in one year. It is an energy source that is considered inexhaustible and therefore entirely renewable. In addition, it is a clean energy source as the system generates electricity without significant damage to the environment: no noise, no vibration, no fuel consumption, no waste or liquid or gaseous emissions.
Like any manufactured object, a photovoltaic module requires energy throughout its life cycle: during its manufacture (extraction, processing and assembly of raw materials), distribution, installation and end-of-life (waste treatment). All this energy can be compared to the energy that the photovoltaic module will produce over a year, this is the energy payback time. In the case of a photovoltaic module installed in France, the energy payback time is about 1 to 1.5 years. Thus, over a lifetime of 30 years, a photovoltaic module will produce about 15 times more energy than it will have used over its life cycle.
Photovoltaic panels can be installed wherever there is land or buildings exposed to the sun. On roofs, photovoltaics have the advantage of producing energy where it is consumed and of occupying surfaces that already have another function. On the ground, the large spaces allow for the deployment of more powerful installations. Project developers prefer undeveloped land and wasteland, sometimes on former landfill sites.
But the panels never lie on the ground, they are raised and let the vegetation breathe. The two applications (floor and roof) are complementary.
There are no particular constraints for local residents (health or landscape) linked with the installation of a solar farm.
Apart from the construction phase, no noise impact is to be expected due to the distance between the solar farm and houses. In addition, there is no health risk.
Finally, in terms of landscape impact, SOLVEO Energies undertakes to maintain and develop vegetation cover between a solar farm and houses so that there is no visibility of the houses towards the solar panels themselves.
The standard of living of the local residents could even increase thanks to the infrastructures put in place, in agreement with the developer and the municipality, within the framework of the implementation of the project (educational trails, public lighting, etc.).
SOLVEO Energies is at the disposal of the municipal council and local residents to identify developments that are adapted to the life of the municipality and the needs of the inhabitants.
The development of solar farms raises questions about competition with other land uses, such as agriculture, forestry or urbanisation. In view of the national push to develop photovoltaic production and the finally relative availability of “reconvertable” areas, the surface area of solar farms should largely extend into agricultural and natural areas over the next few years.
Moreover, since 2018, there has been a strong interest in the sector in agrivoltaics, which aims to combine electricity production with agricultural production. The concept of agrivoltaics has been gaining ground for many years and has now become a fundamental challenge in the energy transition.
It has been found that shading of photovoltaic panels can provide additive and synergistic benefits (e.g. reduced drought stress in plants or added value for animal welfare). The impact on the agricultural environment will be fully integrated into the project design.
An agricultural project adapted to the local context will be developed with the help of an independent consultancy. Local issues will be taken into account and all stakeholders (owners, current operator, municipalities, local residents, etc.) will be involved.
The objective is to find an agricultural synergy and to sustainably increase value for farms.
The substances in question, when present, are completely isolated from the external environment. In this respect, the issue of collecting and recycling end-of-life panels is crucial. European associations such as Ceres and PV Cycle have been created for this purpose. About a dozen recycling plants are operational worldwide. In addition, photovoltaic panels are now covered by the European directive on waste electrical and electronic equipment, which makes producers even more responsible for collection and recycling. Finally, the Alliance Qualité Photovoltaïque (AQPV) mark guarantees that the manufacturer has carried out a life cycle analysis of its products.
This is already happening: electricity can be stored, for example in batteries or in the form of hydrogen from water. This hydrogen is then converted back into water and electricity in a fuel cell. The advantage is that electricity is made available for consumption whose source of production (sun or wind) is no longer necessarily available.
The only constraint is that care must be taken to ensure that the efficiency of the operation is optimal, i.e. that not too much energy is lost in the process. Research is looking at other storage processes: flywheels, thermal storage, methanisation (production of methane from hydrogen and CO2), redox reactions, compressed air, etc.