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Five things to know if you want to install solar panels on your French home

Perhaps you are looking to avoid rising energy prices or maybe you are interested in going green. Here are five things you need to know about installing solar panels in France.

Five things to know if you want to install solar panels on your French home
This photo taken on 26 septembre 2018 shows solar panels on the roof of a house in Montmelian, Savoie. (Photo by JEAN-PIERRE CLATOT / AFP)

You can benefit from state-sponsored financial aid

If you want to add solar panels to your French home, you are likely eligible for some form of state aid. 

The first type of state aid you might consider is the “MaPrimeRenov” which is a government sponsored program to make homes more energy efficient in an effort to decrease emissions. If you are interested in this option, you must fill out the form HERE. Then, you will be contacted by a specialist from the fund that will discuss the project with you and offer some advice. If approved, you will be assigned a certified craftsmen to carry out the installation work. Keep in mind this is specifically for photovoltaic panels. 

Other options include the ‘zero rate eco-loan’ which allows you to finance energy renovation work in your home. Typically, the loan is paid out by a bank. It is interest-free and carries a maximum value of €50,000. However, keep in mind it is means-tested, so the amount would depend on your financial status. In order to qualify, you would need to prove the renovation work will improve your home’s energy performance – for which solar panels ought to be eligible. Learn more HERE.

You might also consider the “reduced VAT” – a reduction in the amount you pay on your ‘value added tax.’ You may be eligible for the reduced VAT rate of 5.5 percent, which applies to ‘energy renovation work.’ 

Finally, regional and local assistance exist for adding solar panels. You can find look into this on the website for your département. 

READ MORE: Living in France: How to cut your household energy use by 10% this winter

There are different types: photovaltaic and solar thermal panels

The most common type of solar panel in France is the “photovoltaic solar panel” or PV (Panneau solaire photovoltaïque).

These are typically fixed the roof of the home, and they operate by using photovoltaic cells to generate an electric current when hit by the sun’s rays. 

Within the PV type of solar panel, there are three sub-types in France:

“Monocrystalline silicon cells” – these solar panels are generally black. They are usually space-efficient and are quite long-lasting.

“Polycrystalline silicon cells” – these solar panels have multiple crystals, which gives them a blue colour. They are energy efficient, though they typically do not produce as much electricity as monocrystalline sillicon cells. 

“Amorphous silicon cells” – these have a lower energy yield, and they are best on flat surfaces.

You might also consider “Solar thermal panels.” Instead of producing electricity, they turn solar energy into heat. During the summer, this type of solar panel is capable of providing all the hot water needs for a home, but during winter it may be insufficient. Therefore, you would likely still need to install an auxiliary heating system for low temperatures. Oftentimes, these are less expensive than PV panels. 

READ MORE: French property: How planning permission rules change in 2022

The cost of solar panels

You will need to count on paying for the labour to install and connect your solar panels, as well as for the physical panels themselves. 

Pricing will depend on the power capacity of the panels, but as of 2022 (and without considering any government assistance), you can expect to pay approximately €9,000 to €15,000 to install solar panels in France. 

You can sell the energy produced back to the grid

As a private individual setting up solar panels, you can sell all or part of the electricity the panels produce back to EDF, the French national energy provider. 

However, your purchase rate for electricity will depend on your panels’ power output. To sell all the energy produced back to the grid, you will need to enter into a contract with EDF. Typically, for a “3 kWp” photovoltaic installation, you can expect to get back €0.1790 per kilowatt generated. 

The majority of users choose to sell their energy back via “EDF Obligation d’Achat” which offers 20-year contracts. Keep in mind that this option is only possible if the installation of your solar panels was carried out by an “RGE” qualified professional.

You can also choose to sell your surplus energy – meaning you use the solar panels for your primary needs and then sell the extra electricity produced back to EDF. In this scenario, the level of the premium also depends on how much energy your panels produce.

This has the advantages of going green and being less dependent on the electrical grid, while allowing you to generate some additional income, making your installation profitable more quickly. To qualify for this you must also have the installation done by an RGE qualified professional.

Finally, you can keep and use all of your own energy produced. In French, this is called “L’autoconsommation totale.

You should keep in mind that while this option does allow you to reduce your electricity bills and depend less on the electrical network, it is still quite difficult to be fully autonomous via solar panels, particularly during the winter months. If you go this route, you might want to look into purchasing a battery, which would allow you to store part of the energy produced and use it later. 

You need permission

Before you start installing solar panels, you need to check with several different local authorities to ensure you are doing so legally. First, you need to talk to your town hall (mairie). There may be municipal rules regarding changes you can make to the appearance of your home. This might force you to adapt your choice of solar panel (perhaps simply on the basis of colour). If you need a work permit, city hall would be the government body to give this to you.

Next, you need to speak with your copropriété or syndic, if you want to install panels in a co-owned building. The other co-owners will need to agree. 

Finally, you will need to look into your ‘local urban plan’ (PLU) to determine whether any of the rules regarding land use and the external appearances of buildings would prohibit you from adding solar panels. PLU’s might have specific constrains for installing solar panels, depending on the region. To learn more about this, you can contact your local “Direction départementale des territoires (DDT, which recently replaced the DDE).”

If you are constructing a new building, you will need to mention that you are installing solar panels in the building permit application. 

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Paris landlord fined for renting out 5 square-metre apartment

A Paris has landlord has been ordered to pay more than €20,000 letting out an apartment that measured just five square metres - below the legal minimum of 9 sq m for living space.

Paris landlord fined for renting out 5 square-metre apartment

A court heard that tenant François, 66, was led to believe the small space was 11sq m in size – two metres above the legal minimum of 9 sq m for renting an apartment. 

In reality, François – who paid a monthly rent of €400 – would find that no only was the apartment illegally small, it had been advertised as “furnished,” but it offered none of the essentials. 

He lived in the 5m2 space for seven years, and finally – after his landlord brought him to court for failing to pay rent after being hospitalised for a serious accident in 2019 – François was awarded €19,463 in losses and an additional €2,000 for “moral damages.” 

François’ experience is not unique – according to the Abbé-Pierre foundation, 1.3 million people are poorly housed in Île-de-France (the greater Paris region), and the rental of apartments smaller than 9 sq m has been on the rise. 

Although the city has strict limits on apartment size, the minimum living standards that landlords must offer and a rent cap, the chronic shortage of housing in the city mean that many people are willing to accept illegal rentals.

In Paris specifically, there are more than 58,000 illegal rentals according to the latest figures from the Right to Housing (DAL). 

One of these housed Massi, a 42 year old waiter who works at a Parisian brasserie. When Massi moved to France from Algeria, he sought the assistance of an agency to find in apartment. Unaware of French law regarding minimum renting standards, Massi accepted a 4.7m2 studio in Paris 20th arrondisement, for which he would pay a monthly rent of €550. 

After the appearance of mold, two dead rats under the refrigerator, and leaky pipes, Massi contacted the landlord who advised him to “open the windows,” according to Le Parisien. The waiter eventually contacted the city’s sanitation department.

“It was like living in a tomb,” Massi told Le Parisien in August.

According to Jean-Baptiste Eyraud, a spokesman for DAL, situations like those of Massi and François are “an illustration of the housing crisis.”

Eyraud blames the problem on “landlords who take advantage of people in precarious situations to rent substandard housing.”

French law stipulates that a rented accommodation must be at last 9sq m, with minimum height of 2sq m. This means that the “habitable volume must be at least 20 cubic metres.”

Rent controls  

In addition to minimum size constraints, apartments must also conform to price per metre. This is called “l’encadrement des loyers” in French. 

These rent controls apply to cities and communes in France where “the number of housing units offered for rent is significantly lower than the number of people who want to become tenants,” according to the government website Service-Public

As for Paris, a 2021 report showed that at least 40 percent of apartments advertised in the city were technically illegal, because they exceeded the ceilings set in place by municipal ordinances.

On average, apartments in Paris were found to be €121 more than legal limits.

While this is an improvement from 2019, when 44 percent of ads were illegal, in excess on average by €150, only about 30 cases were being processed in 2021, according to Sortira Paris

Landlords risk a series of five fines for advertising and renting apartments that do not respect rent caps – ranging from €300 and €1060.

Furnished vs. unfurnished

Apartments must also be listed as either furnished or unfurnished. 

At the base level, a ‘furnished’ apartment should come equipped with the following items: A bed and bedding, including a duvet or blanket; Curtains or other means to block out outside light in the room used as a bedroom; Cooking hob; An oven or microwave oven; A refrigerator with a compartment for storing food at -6C, or a freezer;  Dishes for eating and cooking utensils; A table and at least one seat; Storage shelves; Light fittings; Equipment to maintain the accommodation.

READ MORE: Renting property in France: Should I go for furnished or unfurnished?

Energy ratings and ‘sales evictions’

Another dilemma facing tenants in Paris are “sales evictions” – when landlords prefer to sell their apartments rather than to do work to update or refurbish them. According to ADIL, the public network of lawyers specialised in housing and tasked with defending laws regarding ‘decent lodging,’ “the issue of sales evictions is real”.

This is largely due to a new law that will take effect starting in 2025, when property owners will no longer be able to rent apartments or homes with a G (the bottom) energy rating. The effort is part of the state-wide goal of ‘ecological transition’ – specifically with the objective of decreasing the presence of high-emitting properties.

Nonetheless, advertisements for such properties – those with the bottom two energy ratings of F and G – have multiplied by 2.5 in recent years.

The head of rental website Bien’Ici worries that sales of such properties will create an “imbalance in the rental market,” citing a rise in tenants, particularly retirees, who have received notices that the landlord intends to sell the apartment.

Experts worry this could lead to a rise in evictions.

General expense and competition

Renting in Paris is at least 20 times more expensive than it was 60 years ago, according to reporting by Franceinfo

Over the last several decades, prices and competition for apartments have been rising. For one-bedroom apartments in France, Paris is the most expensive with the average apartment advertised at €1,292 per month. In 2022, someone working a minimum wage job in France earned €1,269 after taxes for a full-time job.

READ ALSO: How much money do I need to live in Paris?

On top of high prices, those looking to rent in the Paris market must contend with intense competition. Applicants must come with a complete dossier (you can learn more about how to build one HERE). 

The site manager for rental website particulier à particulier (PAP), Laetitia Caron, told Le Parisien in September that “The rental market has become extremely tense due to high demand, up 7 percent compared to 2019.”

In just 48 hours, the site registered over 350 dossiers submitted for a studio apartment in the city.  

What solutions?

Paris’ city public officials have promised to address these issues. Ian Brossat, the head of housing for the city, said he hoped to take legal action against “slumlords” renting apartments that are not sufficient in size or decency. 

Additionally, the French government set up the hotline number, 0806 706 806, where any person – tenant, owner, or otherwise – can call to report “unfit housing.”