Brussels, 4 December 2013
State aid: Commission approves EUR 21.3 million of aid to Soitec for the Guépard R&D project
The European Commission has decided that the aid granted by France to the Soitec group to help it conduct the Guépard research and development project complies with the EU rules on state aid. This project is aimed at developing a new concentrated photovoltaic (CPV) technology. The aid addresses a genuine market failure without unduly distorting competition.
Commission Vice-President Joaquín Almunia, who is in charge of competition policy, said: ‘EU state aid rules encourage innovation and allow public aid to be targeted on projects that contribute to European growth and competitiveness. The Guépard project is a very good example of this: it will develop a high-efficiency photovoltaic cell that will not only contribute to making solar energy more attractive but also provide a credible technological alternative to the European photovoltaic sector, which has recently been destabilised.’
At the end of the Guépard project, the aid beneficiary Soitec will have produced a high-efficiency multijunction CPV cell. CPV cells work by concentrating sunlight before transforming it into electrical energy. They are potentially much more efficient than today's silicon or thin film photovoltaic cells at converting solar energy.
The Guépard project will be carried out in cooperation with an SME (InPact) and a research institution (CEA-LETI). The lead player, Soitec, will receive EUR 21.3 million in state aid: EUR 5.9 million in subsidies and EUR 15.4 million in reimbursable advances.
After examining the file, the Commission concluded that the Guépard project was affected by market failures. In particular, the partner research institution is expected to make the results of its research widely known through academic publications and training. The Commission also recognised that investment in new solar technologies could be discouraged in the short and medium term, as the market has recently been destabilised by the dumping of Chinese solar panels. The Commission considers that the aid is necessary and sufficient to allow Soitec to carry out the project. In the absence of state aid, the company’s R&D efforts would have been considerably reduced: it would for example have abandoned development of high-efficiency cells, considered to be an excessive risk. This would undoubtedly have affected the development of the CPV sector. Finally, the Commission was convinced that the target market (ground-based solar power plants) offers good growth prospects, and that the risk of distorting competition could be removed. Soitec’s future market share will be minimal compared to the current market share of leading companies in the sector.
Soitec is an international group specialising in the production of semiconductors for the electronics and energy sectors. In the solar field, Soitec is specialised in optic concentration technologies.
The photovoltaic modules sector has a specific profile: since 2009 the average price of these modules has fallen by two thirds, while at the same time certain Asian companies have seen a sharp increase in their market share. Faced with this flood of low-cost solar panels from China, the European Union and the USA have recently adopted protective measures. In Europe, for example, the anti-dumping investigation carried out by the Commission led to the adoption of ‘price undertakings’ by Chinese exporters on 27 July 2013 (see IP/13/729 and IP/13/730). When conducting these state aid checks, the Commission took into account this specific characteristic of the photovoltaic industry, considering that public support for R&D could be justified by the time lag between adopting measures called for under international trade rules and the return to normal market functioning.
The non-confidential version of today's decision will be made available under case number SA35092 in the State Aid Register on the DG Competition website once any confidentiality issues have been resolved. The electronic newsletter ‘State Aid Weekly e-News’ lists the most recent state aid decisions published in the Official Journal and on the website.