The pv magazine weekly news digest

But let’s start at the beginning with perhaps the biggest story of the week: on Monday the world learned that over the weekend (well, on Sunday May 8 to be exact), a blissfully sunny Germany saw renewables meet 95% of the country’s energy needs, for a short while at least.

At around 11am, confirms data from Agora Energiewende, strong wind and blue skies across the country meant that wind and solar capacity reached 20.83 GW and 26.11 GW respectively. Aided by a further 5.14 GW of biomass and 2.75 GW of hydro, the cumulative 57.8 GW of power being fed into the grid from renewable sources was enough to meet almost all of the country’s requirements.

This even served to tip power prices into the negative, with the lowest price, €-130/MWh, achieved at 2pm that day, which meant that Germany was in effect paying commercial customers to consume electricity. Agora Energiewende said that the power system adapted to the large amounts of renewables being fed into the grid rather nicely, although Germany’s grid, like most others, is still a little cumbersome when it comes to responding to such sustained inputs of clean power.

Storage dominates

Which brings us nicely on to the issue of energy storage. Throughout the week the issue of battery costs, investment and installations have dominated the pages of pv magazine, led by the news on Monday that French oil giant Total had acquired lithium-ion battery developer Saft in a $1.1 billion deal.

The oil industry moving into renewables and storage is nothing new, but the size and timing of the deal set tongues wagging, particularly in storage circles – the sector has been waiting for its time to shine, and the financial might of Total may just give Saft the extra juice it needs to really start making inroads into global markets.

Logan Goldie-Scot from Bloomberg New Energy Finance told pv magazine that the acquisition gives Total the expertise in a market that will double in size in 2016, in terms of total deployed capacity.

"Saft manufactures batteries for a number of applications, but the grid-scale storage division is likely to be most attractive for Total," he added. "For Saft, financing is the major rationale behind the deal. Total’s € 21 billion balance sheet would strengthen Saft’s hand when bidding for larger grid-storage contracts".

Indeed, the supervisory board of Saft has already approved the takeover and announced it to be "in line with the interests of the company, its shareholders and its employees".

Later in the week, French utility Engie followed in Total’s footsteps by snapping up an 80% stake in Californian battery startup Green Charge Networks, which specializes in storage solutions for commercial and industrial (C&I) customers.

Engie has a large and expanding network of customers across North America, and has recently made moves to grow its renewable energy portfolio, including the signing this week of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with South Africa’s Eskom to develop 100 MW of concentrated solar power (CSP) capacity in the country.

Battle of the batteries

Allied to these sizable (and most welcome) investments, fierce competition within the battery storage space threatens to break out between Germany’s Sonnen and Tesla of the U.S. Both companies have been proactive in marketing aesthetically pleasing and increasingly affordable home storage solutions to customers, and Sonnen revealed this week that its first quarter sales had beaten those of Tesla’s Powerwall… but only just.

In an interview with pv magazine, Sonnen CSO Philipp Schröder said that the company had "sold 2,600 PV battery storage units in the first three months of 2016, and thus more than half of our previous [year’s] sales have been achieved."

Last year, the Germany-based manufacturer shifted 4,000 of its Sonnen batteries globally, making Q1’s performance so far rather encouraging. In contrast, U.S. firm Tesla recently published data showing that it had sold 2,500 Powerwalls in the first quarter of the year.

For Sonnen, serial production of the company’s new Eco battery began in April this year, and this new model accounted for 50% of Q1’s recorded deliveries, Schröder confirmed.

In its domestic German market, Sonnen has a dominant 75% share of the storage sector, and for the year to date has recorded notable success in two other mature residential solar markets – the U.S. and Italy.

Tesla, meanwhile, made great strides this week in the U.S. state of Vermont, where local utility Green Mountain Power announced that it had begun installation of Tesla’s Powerwall lithium-ion residential battery systems for its customers, as the first utility in the United States to do so.

The Powerwall is being offered under three arrangements: one where the customer owns and operates the battery, another where the customer owns the battery but allows GMP to access it for grid services, and a third where the customer leases the battery which GMP owns and utilizes.

What else is in store?

Well, we did say that storage dominated the news this week, so there are two more tales to tell before we move on to other topics. Best known for their microinverters, U.S. firm Enphase Energy this week rolled out its AC Battery in Australia and New Zealand, where it hopes that the high penetration rates of residential solar – combined with the modular nature of the Enphase battery – can prove a winning formula for the company.

"Enphase received strong interest from homeowners in Australia and New Zealand when we announced the Enphase AC Battery in October 2015," said Nathan Dunn, managing director of Enphase Asia-Pacific. “The feedback we’ve received to date from our partners has been extremely encouraging and I am delighted that Australia and New Zealand will be the first region in the world where we will be selling the Enphase Home Energy Solution."

And back in the US of A, Chicago-based S&C Electric this week completed a 7 MW lithium-ion energy storage project, which is connected to a 4.3 MW solar PV plant in Minster, Ohio. According to S&C, its 7 MW PureWave system installed in Minster provides fully integrated storage management and power conversion for 3-MWh of lithium ion-batteries.

"Energy storage systems are so much more complex than the chemistry of batteries. If just one piece doesn’t work in concert with the rest of the system, the impacts to owner’s return on investment are huge," said president of the U.S. Business Unit for S&C Mike Edmonds. "It’s essential for success, to have an integrator – who is able to implement the power electronics, controls and high voltage into a successful solution".

SMA leads the way

For all the buzz and excitement around energy storage, it was perhaps reassuring this week to read that some things just haven’t changed. Chief among this Status Quo was the news from IHS that Germany’s SMA is once again – for the fifth-year running – the leading inverter supplier in 2015 in terms of global revenues.

However, and there’s always a ‘however’ in this industry, China’s Huawei is closing fast, actually beating SMA in terms of MW shipped, but failing to secure top spot in revenues because of its pre-eminence in the lower-cost Chinese market. Ditto Sungrow, which placed third, while Israel’s SolarEdge is riding the residential wave of the U.S. to grow tremendously – the power optimizer specialist grabbed 6% of all global inverter revenues in 2015.

A Latin love affair

This week’s Ernst & Young Renewable Energy Country Attractiveness Index (RECAI) noted two discernible trends – Europe, at least in terms of its appeal to clean energy investors, is on the decline, while the markets of Latin America are proving supremely attractive.

Chile, Brazil and Mexico were all recognized in the top ten of the RECAI, which Chile leading the way for LatAm in fourth place behind the U.S. in first, China in second and India in third.

However, European markets did not fare quite so well, with the U.K. slipping to its lowest-ever position (13th), Germany falling to fifth and France ranking eighth. “A non-committal approach is putting the attractiveness of the U.K.’s renewable energy sector on a landslide,” commented Ben Warren, Ernst & Young Global Power & Utilities Corporate Finance Leader. "The current approach is going against the grain of almost universal global support for renewables, and is masking the U.K.’s advantages of a growing energy imperative."

And finally…

With SunEdison’s inevitable bankruptcy being eventually confirmed in late April, the company may have hoped that its woes would subside somewhat. This week proved that no such shuffling off into a quiet corner has been possible, however, with the news that its Yieldcos – TerraForm Power and TerraForm Global – have been granted extended time periods for the filing of their annual financials – doing the rounds.

Further, SunEdison has been forced to delay its Q1 2016 filing – a delay that is bringing further problems for TerraForm Global.

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