pv magazine weekly news roundup: Oct 31-Nov 7

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Every Friday, pv magazine rounds up the biggest and best stories from the past week and packages them here in one easily digestible news nugget. So kick back, fire up the coffee machine and get up to speed with the latest comings and goings in the global PV industry.

The biggest story of the week was undoubtedly SunPower’s completion, five months ahead of schedule, of the world’s largest merchant solar PV plant in Chile. The 70 MW leviathan in the country’s Atacama Desert will sell the electricity it generates on the spot market – propelling Chile’s merchant power market to the global forefront.

"Think of it as the beginning of a trend that we are going to see in the rest of the world," SunPower CEO Tom Werner told pv magazine, confidently.

Italy’s Etrion owns 70% of the plant, with France’s Total owning 20% and a local Chilean developer the remaining 10%. Yet despite this ownership consortium, the Project Salvador plant can trace its roots back to the U.S. – 70% of the project’s costs have been met by the U.S. government’s Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC).

Elsewhere in South America, Brazil’s first federal auction specifically for solar power attracted plenty of interest, closing with 31 PV project contracts signed for a total of 890 MW. The federal auction will award 20-year power purchase agreements at an average price of $0.087/kWh – a price seen by experts as too low for today’s developers but potentially lucrative over the three years before the October 2017 completion date.

"Given the current taxes on PV equipment, those levels are too low," GTM Research solar analyst Adam James told pv magazine. "And given how high prices are on the spot market, it also seems unnecessary for prices to be that low."

In what is viewed as merely the first step in a long process, some of the 31 approved projects might not make it, warned James.

Rounding out Latin America, Honduras will be the recipient of 146.4 MW-worth of inverter solutions from ABB after the company this week announced a lucrative supply deal in the Central American country.

Not only will ABB deliver 52 2 MW inverter stations, medium voltage stations and string monitoring junction boxes for the project, but the power and automation company will also provide training and commissioning to local installers working on the project, which is to be located near to the city of Nacaome.

Speaking of ABB, pv magazine editor in chief Jonathan Gifford caught up with Paolo Casini, the company’s VP of marketing for solar inverters, to talk about ABB’s Power-One acquisition and the challenges and opportunities associated with bringing two strong solar brands together.

When politics and PV collide

As the Republicans gained control of both houses of the U.S. legislature on Tuesday, renewable energy experts in the U.S. commented that their control of the levers of influence in the Senate could bode ill for clean energy.

However, while these political developments will likely bring about a more hostile atmosphere for solar, clean energy policies being pursued directly by the Obama administration without congress could still thrive.

"Anything that congress is going to do to undermine environmental policy from moving forward is going to have to be signed off on by the president," Friends of the Earth climate and energy program director Benjamin Schreiber told pv magazine, in reference to the president’s efforts to regulate greenhouse gases.

However, Schreiber did warn that a Republican majority gives the party greater control over budget issues, stressing that funding for clean energy programs is likely to be cut in the future.

In Europe, the great big Russian cloud hanging over Ukraine continues to obscure solar PV ambitions that would, otherwise, be shining. Sergiy Maslichenko of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) told pv magazine that Ukraine’s 1.9 GW of installed solar PV is 58% of the country’s grid-connected renewable energy capacity – an impressive performance given the political turmoil of the past 12 months.