Hanergy targets Greece

Hanergy Chairman and CEO Li Hejun met recently with Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras in Athens to discuss the Chinese group’s investment plans in the Greek renewable energy sector. The chief executive of Greece’s official investment promotion agency, Invest in Greece, Stefanos Isaias, also participated in the meeting.

According to the Greek press, Hejun told Samaras that Hanergy is interested in investing up to €1.5 billion ($2.04 billion) in the Greek renewable energy sector to develop a portfolio of around 1 GW. This, the Greek press says, would come from both large-scale hydro and solar PV plants. Further investments targeting the Greek national electricity company, the Public Power Corporation (PPC), and a new research and development center for solar photovoltaic are also under consideration, according to reports.

Solar PV

Hanergy’s solar PV plans for Greece are not a new thing. In the summer of 2012, Hanergy submitted an investment plan to the Greek Regulatory Authority for Energy (RAE) with the aim of developing 1 GW of solar photovoltaic plants in the 2012 to 2016 time frame. Such a portfolio would require an investment of €1.8 billion.

A spokesman for RAE told pv magazine that the regulator examined Hanergy’s investment plans very carefully and decided to give the company the go ahead. Financial viability of the projects was guaranteed through the involvement of China’s Development Bank, which would back the projects, the RAE spokesman, who asked to remain anonymous, told pv magazine. The reason these projects didn’t go forward, RAE’s representative added, is that in August 2012 the Greek government passed a new law that suspended the submission of new photovoltaic system applications and the process of pending ones.

For this reason, Hejun told the Greek prime minister than Hanergy was interested in buying licenses from developers who cannot implement their projects, according to Greek press reports. RAE’s spokesman told pv magazine that "the Greek law makes this option possible. A license holder who for any reason does not wish or cannot proceed with his investment plan is allowed to sell the license to another investor and RAE needs to approve it." This was the case with Italian group Enel, which recently purchased licenses to develop 102.5 MW of solar PV plants in Greece.

Hanergy’s current solar photovoltaic portfolio in Greece includes 5.5 MW of ground-mounted projects.

R&D center and other investments

Among the investment ideas Hejun discussed with Samaras was Hanergy’s interest in setting up a renewable energies R&D center in Greece, although no further details were made available in the press.

Proponents of renewable energy have praised the plan, pointing out that it could capitalize on Greece’s excellent scientific knowhow. However, they add that the government has to first fix the country’s troubled higher education system, and quickly, citing that Greece’s two big universities, the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens and the National Technical University of Athens, have remained closed for the last three months due to a strike by their administrative staff that is largely backed by academics.

Research activity in private institutions, observers say, is directly linked to academic institutions, and the closure of universities does not facilitate foreign investments. Nevertheless, telecommunications giant Nokia on Tuesday opened a new R&D center in Athens, transmitting some well needed optimism into the country’s research sector.

The Greek press furthermore says Hejun expressed an interest in having the Chinese company buy a major share of PPC Renewables, the wholly-owned subsidiary of national electricity company PPC. Such a development would be crucial for the future of renewable energy investments in Greece.

Although PPC reported on Tuesday a €6.7 million profit in the first nine months of the year, the company also faces some threatening financial issues. A PPC spokesman said recently that "unpaid electricity bills to PPC have increased during the last two months by four million a day."

Electricity tariffs this year have increased significantly in the country and many households and businesses are unable to pay their bills. The situation for PPC is only projected to become worse in the coming months. Should the Hanergy Group becomes a PPC Renewables shareholder, the Greek utility company may increase its capital for renewable energies investments.

Invest in Greece also targets China

Eva Fragioudaki, communications director at the Greek official investment promotion agency Invest in Greece, confirmed that Isaias, the agency’s CEO, participated in the meeting between Hejun with Samaras but refused to comment further and referred to the Greek press for details.

However, Fragioudaki told pv magazine that in May Invest in Greece representatives accompanied the Greek prime minister and a Greek business delegation to China, where the agency organized two business forums in Beijing and Shanghai, respectively. Furthermore, Fragioudaki said, "we signed a cooperation agreement with the China Development Bank, with the main objective to promote economic cooperation between the two countries in priority areas such as energy."

The objective, as defined in the agreement, Fragioudaki added, "is that China Development Bank will promote Invest in Greece investment projects in Greece to Chinese enterprises and, after evaluation, will finance their implementation."

The Greek press says Hanergy representatives will meet in the following weeks with the head of the Greek Ministry of Environment, Energy and Climate Change to further discuss Hanegy’s investment plans.