French manufacturers in trouble face Chinese competition

Systovi, one of the last two manufacturers to assemble the panels in France near Nantes, is looking for a buyer.

Paul Toulouse, CEO of Syst for two and a half years, is looking for a buyer for his solar panel company near Nantes.  (LAURIANNE DELANOÊ / RADIO FRANCE)

Expansion photovoltaic it doesn’t benefit everyone. Although the French are installing more and more solar panels on the roofs of their houses to generate electricity, very few are produced in France.

Faced with Chinese competition, one of the last two manufacturers to assemble panels in France is looking for a buyer as quickly as possible. This company is Systo, based in Carquefou near Nantes: 87 employees and 15 years of existence.

The production line has stopped

At the Loire-Atlantique factory, only one of the two production lines is in operation. However, the machines still smell new. “We completely finished the installation of this production line last October,” explains Paul Toulouse, CEO of Syst for two and a half years.

“Today we produce 300 to 400 panels a day. Unfortunately, part of this production is being stored because the order book is not enough to sell all of this production.”

Paul Toulouse, General Manager of Syst

at franceinfo

Syst's two production lines now operate alternately, with two teams alternating: one in the morning and one in the afternoon.  (LAURIANE DELANOË / RADIO FRANCE)

Panels are twice as expensive in China

The collapse in orders, which would have started last summer due to Chinese competition, explains Paul Toulouse. Chinese manufacturers no longer have access to the US market and sell their solar panels in Europe and “cut the price of their panel in half”explains Paul Toulouse, who illustrates his point.

“Today, if you are an individual and you want to equip your home with photovoltaic panels (editor’s note: for global installation, except for the panel itself), installing French panels compared to Chinese panels will cost you roughly €1,000 more, for a bill estimated at €8,000. Everything that makes the brand quality is no longer enough to convince customers to pay that price difference.”

In order to limit losses, Syst has reduced the assembly speed since January. From now on, Syst’s two production lines operate alternately, with two teams alternating: one in the morning and one in the afternoon. The management thus terminated the temporary contracts. Inadequate strategy: management is therefore looking for a buyer by mid-April. The announcement upsets employees like Yannick Fasseel, 46. This line driver joined the team 11 months ago.

Yannick Fasseel, 46 years old, Syst line driver for 11 months.  (LAURIANE DELANOË / RADIO FRANCE)

“I decided to make solar panels by saying to myself that this is the format of the future. The choice to create something in France that will allow us to escape global warming, so that the French solar panel will have a name and an existence.” And to see this project broken, it is disappointing, there is no other word. It’s a complete disappointment.”

“We’ve been promised protection for years”

Disillusionment also for Amelia Sicard, 41 years old. After four and a half years at Syst, the purchasing manager recalls the government’s speeches about reindustrialization and French sovereignty: “That We have been promised for years that we will be protected if Europe and France can finally put up barriers, or at least equality in relation to this competition, which is unfair, could help us.”

Discussions are currently taking place across Europe to change regulations and support French and European manufacturers. But these new measures will come “too late” for the current management of Syst. According to Paul Toulouse, significant effects will be felt in two years.

CEO calls on Europe and France to support local businesses and “facilitating access to the European market for imported panels”. So France stays “master of its energy transition”, advocates the development of a stronger sector for both assembly and components. Because if Systov assembles its panels in Carquefou, the group imports photovoltaic cells from China, like the vast majority of its competitors.

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