The pv magazine weekly news digest

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There are a number of certainties in this world beyond the usual death-and-taxes trope. The U.S. topping the medal table at the Rio Olympics; fall-like weather arriving across most of northern Europe by mid-August (seriously, summertime should be officially brought forward one month), and dogs doing that bark-and-poke-with-paw dance whenever they’re thrown a hot piece of food.

And in the solar word, it’s no different – certainties stalk the calendar with the same regularity as night follows day. And so it is every three months that the quarterly financial reports from the world’s solar firms pour into the pv magazine inbox.

As journalists, it’s akin to herding cats, but with a more satisfactory outcome. Hence, many of this week’s largest stories revolved around H1 and Q2 financials. But that’s not really what the weekly digest is interested in. Rather, this end-of-the-week wrap is flavored with more exotic tidbits from the world of solar, and this week’s offering is certainly topped with a spicy salsa flair.

Setting the bar low

“With pride we are able to say that we reached a historic price”. Chilean Energy Minister Máximo Pacheco could not contain his joy in presenting the results of the supply auction convened by the National Energy Commission (CNE).

The 12,430 gigawatt-hours awarded, which will be provided starting in 2021, obtained a median price of US$47.59 per megawatt-hour (MWh). With this, the cost of electricity has been reduced by 63% from the the first large auction held in 2013 ($129/MWh), and 40% from the auction in October 2015, where renewables came in at a median price of $79.30 per megawatt-hour.

But greater pride came from renewables corresponding to more than half of the capacity auctioned. The great winner in terms of awarded volume was wind, with around 40% of the capacity in the five blocks auctioned, for which there was a grand total of 84 bids.

However, without a doubt the technology which set the final price was solar. At an incredible price of $29.10/MWh, a project by Solarpack was the only solar project to win contracts in the 2B block. The remaining 1 terawatt-hour (TWh) awarded in the supply block from 8:00 to 18:00, the time slot in which solar mostly competes, was awarded to wind projects. Bids from solar projects in this slot revolved around $0.03/kWh for supplying the grid.

Aiming high

Over the past year, enthusiasm for renewable energy in Argentina has been building, first with the passing of a new renewable energy law, then with the election of a new pro-renewables government, and all culminating in October’s tender. Today, the government news agency Télam has announced that it expects outside investment of US$4 billion to US$5 billion in the country’s solar industry over the next five years.

Giving out a few additional details, it said that 60% of funds are likely to be invested in building PV generation facilities. This is good news for more than just the environment, as Télam reported that these facilities should also generate approximately 60,000 new jobs in the country.

“Companies will invest between US$4 and US$5 billion and will generate some 2 GW of additional power to incorporate to the national electric grid,” said Adrián Kolonski, head of Intermepro, a company specialized in renewable energy solutions. He went on to explain the benefits of adopting solar power; “it is clean, it has a low failure rate and it almost doesn’t require maintenance. The development of solar power will arrive in the country through photovoltaic plants and power generation distributed by companies and individuals.”

SolarCity makes changes

The uneven Q2 financial results reported by SolarCity earlier this month appear to have set in motion the first tangible steps towards stemming the losses that have become second nature to the firm.

In a regulatory filing yesterday, SolarCity confirmed that its compensation committee of its board of directors had agreed to reduce the salaries of CEO Lyndon Rive and his brother, CTO Peter Rive, from $275,000 to just $1.

In a largely symbolic gesture – and one that follows in the footsteps of SunPower, which did likewise with its CEO Tom Werner last week – the move forms part of a wider restructuring process that will see the solar lease provider incur charges of between $3 million to $5 million.

According to the SEC filing, the bulk of these losses will consist of severance benefits, which suggests an unspecified number of jobs will be lost at the company over the second half of the fiscal year 2016. SolarCity has confirmed that it will not be providing additional details on the number of roles lost at this stage.

Prior to the co-founders’ pay cut, the Rives revealed some interesting details about future plans for their massive solar cell and module factory under construction in Buffalo, New York.

First, a “large part” of the facility’s module output will be building integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) products. Few details were provided on the call, with Rive stating that the product is both “very efficient and it looks really, really good”.

The justification for this move is that roofing itself is a big market segment, with Rive estimating that 5 million roofs are installed in the United States each year, and that it does not make sense to put PV modules on a roof that has to be replaced.

Like many things that SolarCity is doing, the move is a big gamble. The BIPV market segment has struggled to take off both in the United States and internationally. On Twitter, GTM Research Senior VP Shayle Kann noted the failure of Dow’s solar shingle product, and “others on the long list of failed building-integrated PV moves”.

It begins in Africa

Scatec Solar has signed an agreement with Canadian renewable energy group CDIL and Nigerian consulting company BPS for a 100 MW solar power plant project in the Nigerian state of Jigawa.

Scatec Solar will develop, build, own and operate the Nova Scotia Power plant, which it expects to reach financial close in 2017 and commercial operations 12 months thereafter. The project has a 20-year power purchase agreement with the Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading Plc (NBET).

"Solar power in Nigeria has significant long-term potential, and we want to take part in the development of this new market," said Scatec Solar CEO Raymond Carlsen. The chief exec said the investment followed an extensive review, adding that the Nova Scotia Power project stood out due to "exceptional fundamentals," including the quality of its site, development standards and equity funded by Scatec Solar and its partners. As a result, the project is positioned to progress rapidly to financial close, he said.

Euro rumblings

The European Commission (EC) has withdrawn its price undertaking with a further five solar firms having determined that they each violated the terms of the agreement.

Effective immediately, crystalline solar PV products originating from, or associated with, the Chinese operations of Lerri Solar, DelSolar, CNPV, Motech and Xian Longi entering the European Union (EU) will now be subject to existing anti-dumping (AD) and anti-subsidy duties, the EU has ruled.

For Lerri Solar, CNPV and Xian Longi, countervailing duties of 50% will now be applied to all EU product imports. In March Lerri Solar announced that it wished to be removed from the undertaking; a decision followed up in May by CNPV and Xian Longi.

Both Motech and DelSolar have been removed from the undertaking for wholly different reasons, the EU said. These two firms have manufacturing capacity in Taiwan through affiliated companies. These related parties were granted exemption from the anti-circumvention investigation in February this year, but Brussels has since ruled this derogation poses a "high risk of cross-compensation", prompting the EU Commission to revoke the undertaking for Chinese-built solar panels and cells for both firms.

Hence, any imports into the EU that originate from these firms’ China operations will be subject to existing AD and anti-subsidy duties. Goods made in Taiwan will not be affected. The Commission added that it is unable to separately monitor sales and imports from Taiwan from companies that are already part of the undertaking.

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