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Despite the Obama administration’s obvious love of solar power, the news that U.S. Vice President Joe Biden had been confirmed to speak at this year’s Solar Power International (SPI) exhibition was still received as something as a surprisingly big deal throughout the U.S. PV industry.

After all, although the sector in the U.S. is growing at a pace faster than the global average – with installation levels doubling annually ever since Obama’s "stimulus package" of 2009 first began to, well, stimulate things – solar still only accounts for 1% of the U.S. electricity demand.

Nevertheless, Biden rocked up to Anaheim this week to talk about solar PV’s transformative potential and its stunning record on job creation in just a few short years. The Veep said that the Obama administration supports permanent ITC extension, stating: "I know that I am preaching to the choir, but there are a lot of journalists in attendance and it is important to make people aware of what the U.S. solar industry has accomplished."

Currently buoyed by the 30% Investment Tax Credit (ITC), the solar industry could face a ‘cliff' at the end of 2016 if the current ITC is not extended. The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) commissioned Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) to posit two future scenarios where solar receives further ITC support, and where it doesn’t.

An extension would bring all manner of benefits, the industry argues, not least in employment figures and carbon emission reductions. But there are so far no guarantees that such an extension will be forthcoming, with SEIA CEO Rhone Resch telling SPI of the "dramatic impact" the end of the ITC could have on the solar industry.

It’s all going off

Amid the brouhaha of SPI, a series of encouraging developments emanated from seemingly all corners of the U.S. this week. Down in Jackson, Mississippi, the solar industry learned that Chinese solar company Seraphim Solar is nearing completion of the first phase of its 300 MW solar module fab, where it will produce its high-strength DuraFlex modules alongside its ExBox modules.

In what is the company’s first overseas venture, Seraphim Solar will now be able to sell these modules under the Buy American Act, which means they can be used in federal government projects. The company also said it will aim to have a 1 GW module production capacity in the U.S. within three years – a boast that GTM Research analyst Jade Jones noted as being rather bold, but not impossible.

In California, the lower house of the state’s legislature passed an ambitious bill to increase the renewable portfolio standard (RPS) to 50% by 2030. Once signed into law, California will be second behind Hawaii in delivering an ambitious clean energy coal. The new law also sets interim targets for 2024 and 2027.

Not to be outdone, Ohio muscled into the solar headlines this week with the announcement that S&C Electric Company has been contracted by Half Moon Ventures (HMV) to supply and build a 7 MW lithium-ion storage facility in the state.

Combined with a 4.2 MW solar PV plant, the installation will become the largest solar+storage system in the U.S. once complete, although a concrete completion date is not yet forthcoming, pv magazine understands.

On the wider utility-scale storage front, a new Frost & Sullivan report published this week has found that by 2024, large-scale battery storage will amount to 12 GW globally – worth annual revenues of around $8.44 billion.

Leading markets will be China, Japan and Germany, with lithium-ion technology set to remain the dominant and preferred battery type of c hoice for large-scale storage. "Battery storage has the ability to impart flexibility to the grid across a variety of end-use applications," comments Frost & Sullivan energy & power research analyst, Ross Bruton. "Its greatest advantages are the provision of distributed, variable renewable energy firming and energy time-shift, and rapid short-term electricity balancing for ancillary markets."

Dubai time for solar

A third, 800 MW solar tender was officially launched in Dubai this week, with commissioning expected to begin in 2018. While that date may seem a long way away, the fact that such forward-thinking and planning is now characterizing the UAE’s solar industry is seen as an encouraging sign that the country can achieve its goal of installing 3 GW of solar PV capacity by 2030.

The first 13 MW of the solar PV went online in April 2013, and the second phase is expected to be completed in early 2017. First Solar was selected to supply the modules for the first two phases. A consortium, led by Saudi-based ACWA Power and TSK, a Spanish engineering and construction company, was also recently taken on to develop, construct, own and operate the project.

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The second, 200 MW tender set a world record levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) figure of just 5.8 US cents/kWh. Commenting on the record at the Global Solar Leaders Summit 2015, running between September 14 and 16 in Dubai HE Saeed Mohammed Al Tayer, MD & CEO of DEWA, said, "This enabled us to increase the percentage of renewables in Dubai’s energy mix target from 1% to 7% by 2020 and from 5% to 15% by 2030, and raise the capacity of phase three of the Solar Park to 800MW based on the Independent Power Producer model." He added, "This is a landmark achievement that will put the UAE at the forefront of renewable and clean energy production in the region."

Trina could consider yieldco

On the back of the strength of the downstream solar business, China’s Trina Solar Limited said it was planning to spin off its PV project business from its manufacturing activities. Speaking at the World Economic Forum Meeting in China last week, CFO, Teresa Tan said a growthco model would likely be adopted, due to current issues with FIT subsidy payments and grid connection in its domestic market.

Agreeing with Tan’s comment that a growthco (focused on securing future assets) would be more appropriate for China than a yieldco (dividends are paid to investors through the sale of electricity), Bloomberg New Energy Finance analyst Nick Duan said, "Yieldcos are less practical for Chinese solar assets that are suffering from delays in subsidy payments and some idled capacity."

However, Yvonne Young, director of investor relations at Trina told pv magazine the company believes the FIT payment delays and grid connection issues are "temporary" and that the government "will eventually pay." It’s just "a matter of timing," she said.

As such, Trina has not ruled out the option of establishing a yieldco vehicle. "We haven’t decided yet to go with Growthco or Yieldco," said Young, adding, "but obviously with a yieldco model you need to receive stable operating cash flow from government FIT for the China solar projects in order to pay dividend, which become a challenge at present as everybody knows. However we don’t rule out the option of yieldco if the payment issue of FIT is solved."

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