When is a solar farm not a solar farm? Answer: when it is located in a) the U.K. and b) on actual farmland. Confused? So are we. But the decision by British environmental secretary Liz Truss to remove common agricultural policy (CAP) payments from U.K. farmers for land used to harvest solar power rather than crops at least appeared to make sense to the Department for environment, food and rural affairs (Defra) last fall.
Or did it? This week a series of damning documents came to light that revealed Defras own officials had no idea just how damaging solar panels may or may not be to agricultural land in the U.K. Whats more, they had an even looser grasp on the size of the perceived problem, painting Trusss words that her "heart sinks" when she sees "row upon row" of "ugly" solar panels even more politically tinged than first feared.
So to recap: the U.K. governments decision to remove farming subsidies from farmers farming solar energy is a decision found to be based on flimsy and non-existent evidence. Trusss defensive comments at the time solar panels are best placed on the 250,000 hectares of south-facing commercial rooftops may still ring true, but such obfuscation will earn the minister few friends in the renewable sector.
Speaking of solar rooftops, Conergy UK announced this week that it has spun-out its British business into two distinct departments solar farms and a dedicated rooftop division. The developer is hoping to match and eventually exceed its MW installation rate across the rooftop sectors of the U.K., and is the first big name to follow through on the governments pledge to support this growing sector.
From the edges to the mainstream
Solar industry professionals will know full well that ‘niche’ products do not stay niche for long if they can prove their worth to a sector constantly seeking the tiniest improvement. As the module-level power electronics (MLPE) industry has grown in prominence, value, reach and reliability so too have its biggest players, which made the news this week that Israeli power optimizer company SolarEdge is looking to raise $125 million in an IPO relatively unsurprising.
The company has cornered a large share of the U.S. residential market in recent years, and boasts SolarCity as a leading client, affording it the confidence to go public a move that could seriously boost its ambitions to grow in Europe and expand further into Japan and the U.S. residential space.
Its chief rival in many of these markets is U.S. microinverter specialist Enphase, which this week published record-breaking financial results for Q4 2014 and for the entire calendar year. The company achieved a year-on-year Q4 revenue increase of 57%, posting $105.2 million for the quarter, while shipments reached 180 MW a 67% increase on Q4 2013.
A handful of the largest U.S. solar developers also released their Q4 financial results this week, most notably SunEdison, which managed to increase sales and narrow losses in the final three months of 2014.
Sales reached $610.5 million in Q4, which represented an 11% increase year-on-year, with net loss for the quarter slashed by 15.5%, coming in at $242.1 million. SolarCity, meanwhile, soared into 2015 flying high on the back of record home solar sales, despite a weather-enforced slowdown on construction of its highly-anticipated GW-size panel fab in Buffalo, New York.
"The areas renowned winter weather has been incorporated into our construction schedule," said CEO Brad Buss. "We remain on target to begin installing some equipment in early 2016 and reaching full annualized capacity of 1 GW in early 2017." On the companys earning call this week, SolarCity confirmed that it had added 21,318 new customers in Q4 2014, reaching a total of 96,659 for the year.
from healthy bottom lines to, well, health in general. Non-profit U.S. healthcare provider Kaiser Permanente revealed this week plans to reduce its nationwide carbon footprint by 30% – a mammoth undertaking considering the organizations widespread presence across the U.S.
Not to be deterred, Kaiser Permanente signed a series of 20-year PPAs with NRG Renew, pledging to purchase 70 MW of solar power, while an additional agreement with NextEra Energy will see the solar developer construct and install hundreds of rooftop and ground-mounted PV arrays at Kaiser Permanente properties over the next few years.
"Climate change isnt a distant threat," said the healthcare providers environmental stewardship officer Kathy Gerwig. "The health impacts of a changing climate can be felt today in the form of increasing rates of asthma and other respiratory ailments. By addressing climate change for the future, we are improving the health of communities today."
Another shining example
Solars transformative potential was also evident in Tanzania this week following the news that Off Grid Electric Ltd, has partnered with a suite of leading organizations, NGOs and funding bodies to provide one million solar homes in the country by the end of 2017.
With assistance from the IFC, USAID, OPIC, Sunfunder and SNV, the project is expected to provide clean solar electricity to 10% of the Tanzanian population once complete, generating up to 15,000 local jobs in the process. The initiative is also expected to bring in more than $100 million in investment into the country.