Record quarter for residential and commercial solar

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A record quarter for residential and commercial solar installation and a huge rise in debt financing saw total investment in solar almost double in the first three months of the year compared to the previous quarter, according to clean energy communications firm and consultancy Mercom Capital.

Mercom’s latest quarterly report on global solar investment revealed debt financing for solar, up to almost $5 billion from $1.5 billion in the October-to-December period, contributed to a total quarterly solar investment figure of $6.4 billion, compared to $3.4 billion at the end of 2014.

Among the trends revealed in the report it emerged the UK drove large-scale project acquisitions in the quarter and two of the biggest venture capital (VC) funded deals were connected to off-grid installation programs in Africa.

With large-scale project acquisition funding down to $953 million across 44 projects, from $898 million in 49 projects in Q4, 2014, four of the biggest five acquisitions were in the UK with the second largest deal, SunEdison‘s $110 million sale of a 168 MW project to its own TerraForm Power yieldco, the odd man out.

The biggest large-scale project acquisition was Lightsource Renewable Energy’s purchase of 14 UK projects amounting to 34.2 GW for $155 million. Capital Stage acquired a portfolio of seven UK projects with a total 53.4 MW of generation for $104.3 million and Bluefield Solar Income Fund was involved in two big deals, one for a 49.9 MW project in Norfolk developed by Trina Solar Luxembourg (EU) Systems, for $84 million and a second for three UK projects amounting to 48 MW for $83 million, paid to Wirsol Energy.

SunEdison and TerraForm – the yieldco, which separates out already operating solar assets with predictable returns to protect investors from risk – also distorted the debt financing figure for the quarter with both entities accounting for $2 billion of the $5 billion figure for the first three months of the year.

With venture capital (VC) funding sliding from $315 million, in 16 deals, in the previous quarter to $189 million, in 26 deals, the third and fourth largest announced deals were connected to African off-grid projects.

Fenix International raised $12.6 million to install mobile-payment solar charging stations and asset financing company M-KOPA Solar raised $12.45 million for solar home system sales to off-grid communities in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. The UK also featured again, thanks to the $12.3 million secured by Oxford University spin-out company Oxford Photovoltaics for its thin film perovskite cells, including a significant investment from its alma mater.

Conergy banks $45m VC cash injection

U.S. private equity company-owned developer Conergy secured the biggest slice of VC cash with a $45 million lift and single-axis tracker company NEXTracker had a cash injection of $25 million.

The continuing rise of third-party solar was again reflected in Mercom Capital’s report with analysts pointing to the fact the expiry of the U.S. federal income tax credit (ITC) for solar ‘draws closer’ as the reason behind a record three months for residential and commercial installations of $1.9 billion in 10 deals, up from $1 billion in eight deals, quarter-on-quarter.

Of the bumper figures, $1.7 billion was invested in third-party solar with market leader SolarCity taking the lion’s share.

Given the ITC will continue until the end of next year – when the portion of a solar installation redeemable against income tax will reduce from 30 per cent to zero for home systems and 10 per cent for commercial premises – there could yet be further record quarters in store.

Large-scale project funding fell heavily, from $3.4 billion, and 33 deals, in the previous quarter, to $2.5 billion in 29 deals with Abengoa‘s 100 MW Xina Solar One CSP project in South Africa topping the pile at $660 million.

The largest PV project funding was secured by ACWA Power‘s headline-grabbing 200 MW second phase of the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoun Solar Park in Dubai which benefited from $344 million and grabbed the world’s attention with its promise of sub-six cent power.

Big projects in France and Jordan

Despite the ailing market in Europe, Solairedirect banked $194.4 million for 13 projects in France totalling 136.8 MW and a second Middle Eastern project made the top five deals with Shams Ma’an Power Generation PSC securing $129 million for its 52.5 MW Jordanian project.

Penn Renewable Energy completed the top five financing deals with $125 million for three projects totalling 37 MW in Canada.

Public fundraising activity fell from $1.6 billion to $1.3 billion, according to the Mercom report with balance-of-system company SolarEdge‘s $126 million Nasdaq listing the only IPO in the three-month period but merger and acquisition (M&A) activity was up, quarter-on-quarter, with 29 deals, up from 21 at the end of 2014 with the draw of the MENA region again apparent as French developer Global EcoPower acquired Moroccan counterpart Nova Power for $15.4 million.

The biggest four M&A deals, though, were dominated by Far Eastern companies with Chinese player Canadian Solar acquiring San Fran-based developer Recurrent Energy for $265 million. Another Chinese developer branching out overseas was SPI China (HK), which bought an 80 per cent stake in Australian wholesale distributor Solar Juice for $25.5 million.

The quarter’s second biggest acquisition saw China-based Macrolink New Resources pay $198 million for a 600 MW building-integrated PV (BIPV) production line from thin film manufacturer Hanergy Thin Film Power Group, as well as a significant stake in the Hanergy Group in a possible sign others are following in the wake of Shunfeng CEO Cheng Kin Ming with his ambitious plans for the smart cities of the future.

Thai independent power producer (IPP) EGCO Group paid $37 million to raise its stake in Thai developer Natural Energy Development from 33 to 66 per cent for $37 million in the first quarter’s other big M&A deal.

Mercom reported it had tracked 190 large-scale projects in the first three months of the year, adding up to 7 GW of new solar worldwide.