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.

The EBRD has been assisting Ukraine with its slow transition towards greater renewable energy deployment – a journey made all the more important as the country looks to wean itself off dependence on Russian gas.

The negative weight of political influence has been keenly felt in Germany too since August’s amendment to the Renewable Energy Act (EEG).

Latest figures from the country’s Federal Network Agency have revealed that just 110 MW of solar installations were announced in September – the lowest single-month deployment since February 2011, with similarly low levels of deployment a distinct possibility for the remainder of the year and into 2015.

Between January and September, Germany had installed 1.6 GW of solar PV capacity – around half the amount added across 2013. As a result of this seemingly inescapable solar suppression, German wholesaler Energiebau has been forced to file for insolvency. The company, one of the largest in Germany, revealed that it was "unable to convince" its financing partners to support the exploration of new sales channels.

In more uplifting solar news…

The team at Solar Impulse – the solar-powered plane – is putting the finishing touches to the Solar Impulse 2 aircraft, which is scheduled to begin its round-the-world journey in March 2015 from Abu Dhabi.

pv magazine was invited to an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the plane tucked up nicely in its hangar in Payerne, Switzerland, last week. The impressive craft has more than 17,000 solar cells embedded across its 72-meter wingspan, fuselage and tailplane, and will attempt to circumnavigate the globe using only the power of the sun and onboard energy storage in the form of four lithium-polymer batteries.

While solar power’s ability to inspire the general public has never been questioned, the issue of cost has largely been a huge sore point. However, a world-leading solar PV researcher has said that solar costs will halve by 2025 to become the cheapest energy technology available.

Australian Martin Green has echoed predictions by the International Energy Agency (IEA) that costs for solar will continue to fall over the next decade to such an extent that PV will soon be able to undercut most other energy sources on cost.

"We are at 60 cents per watt manufacturing now, but we will get down to 30 cents per watt some time before 2025," Green said. "What will happen now, and we are starting to see it already, is that the world’s energy systems will start to evolve and adapt to solar technology."

Oct 31-Nov 7: That was the week that was. Be sure to follow @pv-magazine on Twitter for continued updates and breaking news, and check back next Friday for the next pv magazine weekly news roundup.

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