The pv magazine weekly news digest

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When Scotland is dishing out hope that solar power’s future in Europe may not be as flaky as first feared, you know it has been a strange week for the PV industry.

A week that began with sunny Spain proving its solar worth despite its national policy towards solar being more confusing than a pintxo menu, ended with Scottish Energy Minister Fergus Ewing telling his British counterparts south of the border that, while they might be happy to turn their back on support for PV, those progressives up in the (decidedly gray and chilly) north of the British Isles will continue to carry the flag.

The U.K. has received a bit of a kicking all week. Following Scotland’s pledge for a solar policy independent of decisions made in London (where have we heard that before), a host of voices have called-out the Conservatives on their apparent anti-solar stance.

First up was blond-haired firebrand and deceptively incisive London Mayor Boris Johnson, who, despite his avowed Conservative leanings, stuck the boot in on Prime Minister David Cameron by questioning just why one of the U.K.’s most popular, fastest growing and increasingly affordable energy sources was having its support slashed.

"Solar panels have got cheaper, which is the government’s reason, I think, they are cutting the FIT," Johnson said. "But I think it would be wrong if the cut actually stops people from investing in solar, because clearly it has many, many attractions."

Next up to deliver a withering takedown of the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC)’s decision to slash the FIT by up to 87% was former U.S. VP Al Gore, who said he was "puzzled" by the government’s about-turn on its support for solar.

Gore then appealed to the government’s patriotism and pride in leading global affairs by urging: "It is time for the U.K. government to honor and live up to its legacy, and return to its global leadership position, domestically and abroad, by supporting an ambitious international agreement in Paris that unleashes the power of the private sector to create a global clean energy economy.

Biden his time

Speaking of Vice Presidents, incumbent Joe Biden wowed the crowds at Solar Power International (SPI) last week, and for the thousands of you dear readers who could not be in California last week, he wowed you again here at pv magazine, which brought you his entire speech earlier this week.

Biden waxed lyrical about the potential of PV to an – enrapt but admittedly partisan – audience, announcing a new $120 million competitive grant program to further support solar, and outlining the environmental and health benefits of a future world where clean energy reigns.

"Just imagine how much more we can do," Biden said. "How many jobs, imagine how many fewer cases of premature death, heart attack, childhood asthma… imagine the net savings to consumers and taxpayers. Folks, because of you, we are on the cusp of something huge here."

India goes solar supernova

Something huge is also stirring in India, where reports have suggested that the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is mulling increasing the country’s renewable energy goal to 40% by 2030 – a target that would require the installation of 250 GW of solar PV capacity by that date.

Sound fanciful? Well, according to Bridge to India’s Vinay Rustagi, it might well be doable. "India desperately needs more energy and actually has very few options. The two main pillars of growth are going to be solar and coal. I see no reason why 250 GW is not achievable in 15 years. I believe the financial and operational issues are relatively more manageable. The key is going to be ensuring the transmission grid is robust enough to incorporate this and of course, there is the intermittency issue. If storage can become commercially attractive in 4-5 years, the biggest impediment to growth of renewables in India will be overcome."

It’s beginning in Africa

With India now pretty much cemented into the pantheon of PV leaders, attention is increasingly turning to tapping the potential of Africa, with this week seeing $200 million raised by the African Renewable Energy Fund (AREF) to support small- to medium-scale renewable energy projects in sub-Saharan Africa.

The Nairobi-headquartered fund is supported by some of the biggest development and investment banks in the world, and will steer this funding into a range of solar power plants in regions that have little-to-no access to grid-connected electricity.

Pim van Ballekom, VP of the European Investment Bank, said: "Our combined backing for the African Renewable Energy Fund will provide both financial support and share technical experience essential for smaller renewable schemes being implemented for the first time."

Data, data, everywhere

Leading U.S. solar state California has had a busy week on the PV front, but the most interesting development to come out of the Golden State was the news that Equinix, the largest provider of data centers in the world, is to source 105 MW of solar power from SunEdison to power its entire California operations.

What this means is that the world’s five largest web brands will soon be powered, by proxy, by solar power, because a number of Silicon Valley giants use Equinix for their data hosting provision.

Equinix has signed a five-year PPA with SunEdison to tap 105 MW of power from its forthcoming 150 MW Mount Signal II solar farm. "Equinix’s purpose is to power the digital economy and we believe that it is important to do this in an environmentally sustainable way," said Equinix Americas president Karl Strohmeyer. "This PPA is a major milestone in achieving our long-term goal of reaching 100% renewable power."

Also in the news…

NRG announced at the beginning of the week that it will spin-off its renewable energy business in an effort to be "nimble, lower cost and cash sensitive", with funding on clean energy ventures set to be capped at $125 million a year.

This disappointing scaling back of the utility’s clean energy commitment was followed a day later by the news that REC Silicon ASA may be forced to shut down its remaining U.S. production capacity in Moses Lake, Washington, if the ongoing trade war between the U.S. and China continues for much longer.

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