CESTAS, France, Dec 1 (Reuters) - French energy group Neoen on Tuesday inaugurated a 300 megawatt (MW) solar farm, Europe's biggest, which will produce power at a price below that of new nuclear plants.
Built on a 250-hectare site south of Bordeaux, the plant will provide power for 300,000 people and cost 360 million euros. It will sell power at 105 euros per megawatt-hour (MWh) for 20 years, well below the cost of power from new nuclear power reactors.
"We will deliver power at an extremely competitive price, similar to wind power, and at any rate cheaper than the cost of power from new nuclear plants," Neoen Chief Executive Xavier Barbaro told reporters on Tuesday.
French state-controlled utility EDF plans to build two nuclear reactors in Hinkley Point, Britain, which will produce power at a government-guaranteed price of 92.5 pounds per MWH, or about 130 euros. EDF's existing French nuclear reactors, mostly built in the 1970s and 1980s, produce power at a cost of around 55 euros per MWh.
Barbaro said the facility's solar panels are not oriented towards the south, but on an east-west axis, which allows them to produce three to four times more power for the same surface area.
The east-west orientation also allows the panels to produce more power early in the morning and late in the afternoon, which corresponds more closely to French power demand patterns.
The Neoen plant's 300 MW peak capacity is about one third of a nuclear plant, but a solar panel's "capacity factor" - the amount of time it actually produces power - is around 10 to 25 percent, compared to up to 90 percent for nuclear plants.
Barbaro said Neoen's Bordeaux solar plant shows that solar photovoltaic can be highly economical in terms of geographical footprint.
He also said while the solar panels are Chinese made, they make up only a minority part of the investment and that the main costs are related to construction, engineering, cabling and electrical equipment, for which there are many competitive French suppliers.
Neoen has said it aims to install 1,000 MW of capacity by 2017, about half in France. (Reporting by Claude Canellas; writing by Geert De Clercq, editing by David Evans)