The pv magazine weekly news digest

OK, it hasn’t. It really hasn’t. These past five days – which began with the beaming visages of a triumphant COP21 delegation and end with jubilation in the U.S as the House approves a spending bill with ITC extension – have been some of the most intriguing in solar’s history.

So let’s get right into it. As Europe went to bed on Wednesday night, rumors were circulating that the U.S. congressional leaders were locked in an almighty all-nighter debating whether or not to extend the 30% Investment Tax Credit (ITC) for solar for another few years.

By dawn, the shares of many leading U.S. solar companies had jumped on the back of this ITC talk, prompting a flurry of phone calls in the pv magazine office to analysts all over the world with their ears to the ground and their eyes locked on Congress.

And then details began to emerge. In an historic solar-for-oil deal, it appeared that a "sweeping bill" was set to be passed in which the ITC would be maintained at 30% through to 2020, and then stepped down in a measured fashion in the years to follow after that.

The intricacies of how such a deal came about trickled out. Chiefly, it appeared that the lifting of a 40-year-ban on U.S. oil exports was the sweetener, and that it was only a matter of time before the new bill was approved.

Limbo, certainly, but after many months of ‘what ifs’, here was near-concrete proof that the U.S. government was set to force through a bill that could deliver untold joy and opportunity for a solar industry forced to operate under a climate of uncertainty for much of 2015.

And opinion on the whys, wherefores and hows was quickly forthcoming. Ash Sharma of IHS Technology told pv magazine that without any ITC extension, the U.S. solar industry would have experienced 20% growth next year as developers rushed to beat the deadline, followed by around a 10% fall in 2017.

"That pull forward in demand won’t occur to the same extent with an extension of the ITC, so our predictions for 2017 demand have come down, meaning there will be much flatter demand," he said.

In extending the ITC, Sharma added, the U.S. solar industry would avoid a dreaded "cliff edge", thus stabilizing prices and demand for many years to come.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s (BNEF) Jenny Chase, meanwhile, added that the ITC extension may lead to more pressure on net metering. "My thought was that if this is going to be a solar boom to end all solar booms, something else will come into solar’s way and maybe this is net metering,” she told pv magazine. "The result would be great for the utility sector as utilities will buy solar because it fits the load profile, but they will want to step up the net metering war."

Chase also said that because such an extension of the ITC amounts to a Capex subsidy and not a FIT, the market for solar in the U.S. is likely to be much more stable, "because if the Capex comes down, the cost to government will come down as well."

However, by Thursday evening, and will no sign of the spending bill being passed, fears were growing that politicking was serving to stall, perhaps even derail, the extension. Despite a carefully crafted compromise by leaders of both parties, a myriad of roadblocks remained. Chief among them was a majority of the Republican Party opposing the bill because of an absence of anti-terror provisions.

On the Democrats side, the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus – which represents 10% of total House membership – labeled the budget "inadequate" in terms of its lack of support for black communities.

There is also discourse from environmental groups, which argue that the lifting of the oil export ban is counterproductive to any green impact more solar and wind power could have. Sierra Club delivered a nuanced statement condemning the lifting of the ban, but adding the caveat that the Democrats at least extracted a "high price" by securing the extensions of the ITC and PTC (the latter for wind).

As the industry braced itself for a few more days of uncertainty, the news came at 9:30 AM EST this morning that the bill was passed 316-113 – news that was met with wild jubilation at the SEIA and, no doubt, at thousands of solar offices across the U.S., and indeed, the world.

There was also something concrete emanating from California this week – an agreement among California regulators to keep solar net metering, with a few modifications thrown in, of course: this wouldn’t be the solar industry we all know and love if it didn’t have to compromise and constantly evolve in order to thrive. But thrive it will. That much is certain.

‘Tis the season for a UK panto villain

Anybody who has ever spent any time in the U.K. at this time of the year will know that the entire country goes rather crazy: the forthcoming Queen’s Speech on Christmas Day; the mad Christmas office parties; the pre-Christmas shopping and sales bonanzas; the mulled wine; the German markets… this incessant tick-tick countdown to Christmas is unavoidable.

And there is one tradition that rears its ugly head every festive season: pantomime. Every town and city across the land will right now be plastered with posters advertising some C- and D-list celebrities starring in woeful production of Puss in Boots, Oliver, Jack and the Beanstalk or Captain Hook.

Each one will invariably have a pantomime villain – a figure of pitiable fun on to which the audience can project their boos (and maybe booze in the less salubrious towns) and hisses.

Which means energy secretary Amber Rudd should never find herself out of work ever again over Christmas should she decide that this politics lark isn’t for her. Having been vocal in its support for the outcome of the COP21 Paris Agreement, the U.K. government then went ahead and cut the solar FIT by 64% for residential systems, effective from February 8.

Rather cleverly, this severe slashing of solar support was actually treated as something of a victory for the solar industry: the government had actually proposed cutting the tariff by 87% but "reneged" on its plans in the face of sustained – and expected – criticism.

A cynic might argue that this was all a calculated ploy by the U.K.’s Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) to try to earn some positive headlines while subjecting solar to the harshest cuts it has ever seen. A classic case of bait and switch, perhaps?

Whatever the intentions of the government, the reaction among the British solar industry was mixed. The Solar Trade Association (STA) welcomed the news that the FIT cut wouldn’t be as deep as first feared, but was critical of the quarterly caps on installation amounts. "This could be very damaging, although the government does appear to have taken on board requests for unused capacity to be recycled from one quarter to another, and a queuing system for projects that don’t get in on time," read an STA statement.

IHS’ Ash Sharma said that the changes would mean next year’s Q1 will be a record-breaker, but he lamented that the solar sector after April 1 will be unviable, with the cuts making it particularly hard for the commercial rooftop sector to take off.

Trina makes itself heard

Nestled alongside the two big stories of the week were three headline-grabbers from Chinese company Trina Solar. The first was the news that Trina Solar CEO had submitted a preliminary proposal to purchase all outstanding shares in the company, in what amounted to a management buyout proposal.

Should the remaining board members accept, Trina would become a private company.

Later in the week, Trina did what it does best and set a new world efficiency record for c-Si cells of 22.13%. Its p-type mono-crystalline silicon solar cell achieved that benchmark at Trina’s State Key Laboratory of PV Science and Technology, and was verified by Germany’s Fraunhofer ISE CalLab.

And finally, the company announced Thursday that it is to split its downstream solar business in two, with one focused on China and one internationally.

And in other news…

There was no other news. Well, OK, maybe the small matter of Triton Solar signing a deal for a $100 million printed solar cell fab in India; Mercom Capital forecasting global solar installations to hit 64.7 GW in 2016, and Frost & Sullivan reporting that Asia is likely to emerge as a dominant market for storage next year.

And that’s that. We’re off for a lie down, and a cool glass (or two) of celebratory beer. American, of course.

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