E.ON bets on US for bold solar push

E.ON, the largest German utility, has revealed in an interview with Reuters that it has a 1 GW pipeline of solar PV capacity in the U.S., and is banking on developing this capacity further on the back of President Obama’s recently augmented support for clean energy.

"If we want to achieve global climate targets then the U.S. has to take a key role and Obama is doing that now with the Clean Energy initiative that he has set up," E.ON’s COO renewable unit Michael Lewis told Reuters.

Despite E.ON boasting a 4.5 GW renewable energy portfolio, more than 95% of that capacity is derived from wind power. However, the utility is keen to pivot towards solar energy, and has begun investing heavily in the technology.

E.ON’s renewable expenditure is $11.5 billion since 2007, and last year 10% of its core earnings came via solar and wind power projects.

By 2016, E.ON’s spin-off of its traditional power plants, gas activities and energy trading unit should be fully completed, leaving the core company to focus solely on developing solar PV and wind projects.

Steps have already been taken in this regard. In July, E.ON completed its inaugural Californian solar farm – a 20 MW installation in San Bernadino County – before revealing its plans to expand its development pipeline across the country “using a flexible business model that allows us to work with utilities and others to own and operate projects, or build turnkey projects,” said E.ON Solar president Steve Trenholm.

In targeting the U.S., E.ON is hoping to tap into the growing pro-solar conditions that are being carefully nurtured by the president. Obama’s clean energy support – revealed this week – includes $1 billion in funding for loan guarantees for distributed solar projects, greater federal backing for the Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program, and a push for more solar installed atop military homes.

In Europe, E.ON has also been active in the storage sector, recently working with fellow German giant SMA on the development of a 5 MW modular large-scale battery – the first of its kind anywhere in the world.