The pv magazine weekly news digest

The refusal of customers to be suckered into a festive splurge in favor of a fevered, headlong rush to the January sales has been reflected in the world of solar, it seems, with analyst Mercom Capital‘s latest quarterly report revealing a bumper start to the year for solar investment.

A global spend of $3.4 billion on solar in the final three months of 2014 – in itself a considerable number of solar panels – mushroomed to a humongous $6.4 billion at the start of this year.

Amongst the points of interest in the data were the significant role played by the expiry of popular solar incentives on both sides of the Atlantic – the renewable obligation certificate (ROC) regime in the UK at the start of the month and the end of the federal income tax credit (ITC) in the U.S. … at the end of next year – talk about panic buying.

The draw of Africa’s huge mobile-phone-toting off-grid markets saw the continent the subject of two of the first quarter’s biggest venture capital-funded deals and the other notable fact was that debt financing exploded, quarter-on-quarter, from $1.5 billion to $5 billion so, just as with Christmas, everything is being bought ‘on the never, never.’

Google is watching your heating

SolarCity, the solar leasing company which is taking over the U.S., this week announced selected customers signing up for its solar leasing plan – is there anyone left who hasn’t put pen to paper already? – will be offered a free Nest thermostat as the partner company rolls out its intelligent air conditioning system.

Lucky punters will save further dollars on their energy bill for heating and air conditioning systems on top of the amount using a SolarCity roof array will shave off their outgoings.

The catch? For customers hostile to world-domination style mega-corporations, it’s worth noting Nest was acquired by Google in January 2014 and the same mega corp is a tax equity investor in SolarCity’s residential leases – but don’t expect that, or this weekly round-up, to feature on any search engine.

Obama takes a jolly … important visit

The news that the U.S. has launched a $20 million package to attract further private investment into renewable energy projects in the Caribbean and central America is welcome enough but, given 20 big ones is a relatively trifling amount in a national budget which deals in the currency of trillions increasingly often, did president Obama really have to attend in person?

Maybe the president felt that, on this issue, it was vital he understand the scale of the problem to be addressed in the Caribbean with his visit to Kingston, Jamaica. After all, the tourism industry is the largest energy user in the region.

Running like clockwork

Swiss battery maker Leclanche this week announced it would be supplying the 2.8 MW lith-ion battery park that, together with 1 MW of solar power and 4.5 MW of wind, will comprise what it is claimed will be ‘the world’s first MW-scale renewable energy and storage system.’

Leclanche’s bid for the contract was probably helped by the fact one of its major shareholders – Danish company Recharge – will supply €3.5 million ($3.8 million) worth of financing for the project on the Portuguese island of Graciosa, in the Azores.

The project will mean 65 per cent of the island’s electricity will come from renewables and more importantly, Leclanche’s batteries mean there will be the potential for the island to be entirely powered by renewables.

It’s a big deal for the beautiful sun-drenched paradise that, and with developer Younicos described as a ‘German-U.S.’ company, maybe president Obama will turn up to flick the switch.

Russian banks annexe Ukrainian assets – what a turn-up

This week we also discovered Russian president Vladimir Putin’s enthusiastic attempts to wind back the clock half a century will extend to Russia’s state-owned banks seizing 200 MW worth of solar power plants in the Crimea.

Plants across the region, which was part of the Ukraine, were scuppered after Russia annexed it and slashed solar FIT payments from €0.446/kWh ($0.48/kWh) to just €0.057/kWh ($0.06/kWh). Remarkably enough, that left solar projects unable to repay debts of an estimated €800 million ($862 million) to a bevy of Russian lenders who will, presumably, turn up to take control of their assets dressed as pro-Russian lender Ukrainian ‘rebels.’

In a final slap in the face to the region’s original PV investors, said banks are reportedly in talks with the Russian government about new power purchase agreements, a rise in FIT payments, state subsidies for developers, transferring debt to third parties and other measures to attract Russian investors, it presumably not having occurred to them that if such conditions had previously been waved through, their loans would be secure anyway.