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So they went ahead and did it – British Prime Minister David Cameron looked like the cat that got the cream this week as his Conservative government finally pushed through the deal for the controversial Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant in England’s southwest.

After a week of unprecedented pomp and pageantry, Chinese President Xi Jinping put gilded pen to pristine paper to sign the deal that will see China’s state-backed nuclear company CGN take a 30% stake in the power plant for the next 60 years, with France’s EDF owning the remaining 70%.

For a ruling party that has long championed British industry, British jobs and British ownership, the deal was a curious one. And while Cameron and his fellow ministers were ‘Jinping’ for joy, the solar, wind and renewables industry rounded once more on the government in a hearteningly coherent and cohesive display of sound economics and the sole, unchallenged occupation of the moral high ground.

So let’s recap: once all construction, maintenance and subsidy costs are taken into consideration, the Hinkley Point C power plant will deliver nuclear energy for £92.50/MWh, way above the current wholesale price for energy in the U.K., which stands at £45/MWh.

A report issued this week by Good Energy and the University of Sheffield revealed that renewable energy in the U.K. has served to bring down the cost of wholesale electricity hugely, shaving £1.55 billion ($2.4 billion) on costs in 2014 alone – and solar and wind are only going to get cheaper as the years tick by.

The Solar Trade Association (STA) has been extremely vocal this week, first with the launch of its £1 plan and then with the publication of a report that revealed that solar requires 50% less subsidy than Hinkley Point C, and will more than match nuclear’s output over the next 35 years with just half of the public’s money supporting it.

"We are not saying that solar is the solution to all our energy problems, nor that it could completely replace other technologies," said STA head of policy Mike Landy. "However, the government needs to explain why it is drastically cutting support for solar energy while offering double the subsidy to Hinkley. It also needs to explain why it is championing overseas state-backed utilities over British solar companies which, given stable support, would have considerable growth prospects."

But despite this tide of evidence proving solar’s worth, the deaf ears of Government were in full denial mode all week, with the proposed changes to the FITs set to be enacted with nary a second thought to the enlightening and embarrassing evidence waved under the Conservatives’ noses every day this week.

Chile spices up its solar mix

Critics of solar power in the U.K. resort – like clockwork – to the age-old and disproved adage that solar doesn’t suit Britain’s grey climate. Hopefully these self-same critics would have little issue with Chile pursuing an energy future underpinned by solar PV, because that is exactly what is happening right now in South America.

pv magazine’s most-read story this week was a report detailing the 2.1 GW (ac) of solar PV currently under construction in Chile. By the end of September the country boasted 741 MW of operational solar power according to CIFES, with Chile’s National Energy Commission (CNE) confirming that a further 2.11 GW will be added between now and August 2017 – an unprecedented boom that will significantly alter the nation’s energy landscape.

"Many projects currently under construction are a byproduct of dynamics from last year, with high electricity prices sparking merchant development and several notable power purchase agreements with large industrial off-takers," said GTM Research senior analyst Adam James.

"However, a significant amount of new development is also attributable to the tender processes which have procured several hundred megawatts of solar. The boom we are seeing in construction is due to a combination of both factors."

China flexes its PV muscles

China’s rise to the top of the solar pile has been long expected, but only in 2015 has the nation really begun delivering on its ambitious targets and installation promises. This week the National Energy Administration confirmed that by the end of the third quarter the country had installed 9.9 GW of solar PV capacity this year, setting China on course – well, almost – to hit its recently increased annual target of 23.1 GW.

The NEA is still hopeful that China’s cumulative solar capacity can reach 150 GW by 2020, but problems pertaining to grid congestion persist – particularly in the provinces of Gansu (where 28% of its installed PV capacity is idled) and Xinjiang, which has one-fifth of its solar offline.

Elsewhere in China, Germany’s Avancis, which for years struggled to ramp-up its CIGS manufacturing footprint in Europe (prompting China’s CNBM to purchase it), revealed this week that it has broken ground on a new 1.5 GW CIGS fab in China’s Anhui province.

The initial 300 MW phase will begin production in 2017, delivering economies of scale that Avancis hopes can serve to dramatically lower the production costs of its thin-film technology.

CIG in Japan

Talk of lowering CIGS production costs segues us nicely to Solar Frontier, which revealed this week that it plans to lower the cost of production its signature CIGS modules at its 150 MW fab in Miyagi Prefecture, Japan, by 20%.

Solar Frontier CEO and president Atsuhiko Hirano has revealed to Bloomberg the company’s plans to lower production costs from $.50/W to $0.40/W within two years at the plant, targeting values as low as $0.30/W excluding depreciation. At this level, Hirano said, Solar Frontier could stay competitive, "even though there is further reduction in average selling prices in the market".

The president also confirmed that Solar Frontier plans to develop 1 GW of thin film production capacity outside of Japan in a cheaper locale in a further attempt to lower production costs in the future. The Miyagi plant, if successful in shaving production costs as planned, could act as a model for Solar Frontier’s overseas expansion, and a catalyst for further growth – adding to the 3 GW of CIS module shipments landmark achieved in the summer.

Double Deutsch

Despite meager construction of new PV systems in Germany, unusually sunny skies this year have already ensured a record supply of solar power in the country.

Initial estimates by the German Association of Energy and Water Industries (BDEW) indicate that Germany’s PV systems generated 33,193 gigawatt hours of solar electricity through the end of September – already accounting for a 5.2% increase over the entire 12 months of 2014. Indeed, every month in the third quarter this year surpassed last year’s figures by double digits, according to BDEW estimates.

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Far surpassing PV generation, wind power in September alone exceeded the previous year by 126%. Overall, wind generated 59,006 gigawatt hours through the end of September, BDEW reported – already 52% higher than the entire year in 2014.

Renewable energy contributed a total of 114,723 gigawatt hours of electricity in Germany in the first nine months of the year – 19.5% higher than in 2014 and nearly twice as much as the nuclear energy produced in the same period.

There’s jobs in them there hills

The pre-ITC phasedown rush is in full swing in the U.S., evidenced by Monday’s announcement that SolarCity is to hire 500 new employees in order to cope with an upsurge in demand. The company’s one-day hiring event covered ten states and on Thursday swelled SolarCity’s team to 14,500.

GTM Research Solar Analyst Nicole Litvak says SolarCity is hardly unique in adding staff. "SolarCity is most likely on a hiring spree now to prepare for the 2016 rush, as I'm sure all of the other big installers are as well," Litvak told pv magazine.

"They'll all be trying to close as many customers as possible in the first half of next year in order to have time to complete the installs by the end of the year, so the priority right now is to hire additional sales staff"

And over in LatAm…

Chile’s solar success continues to attract a high number of clean energy companies, with the latest round of tenders (links in Spanish) attracting companies such as Abengoa and Solairedirect. The 38 economic tenders closed on October 23, and issued project licenses for solar development starting from January 2017.

The small Central American nation of El Salvador also made a bit of a solar splash this week, with the government announcing the expansion of the tax incentives for renewables, which included the removal of a 20 MW benefit ceiling for solar.

It’s coming home

In Germany, the antidumping spat between China and the EU rumbled on this week as Germany-based protagonists EU Prosun and SolarWorld locked horns once more (links in German), while elsewhere a decision on the nation’s battery storage support scheme remained unclear, with a spokesperson for the German Ministry of Economics telling pv magazine that discussions are ongoing as to how best to extend the program.

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