The pv magazine weekly news digest

According to various online sources, the phrase "cheap as chips" comes from a time when wood chips were an inexpensive commodity. The burning of wood chips as a biofuel has long been common practice in heavy industry, but they’ve never been fully embraced as a viable way to heat and power the planet.

Not so solar. As PV technology continues its onward march to ubiquity, perhaps one day we’ll have to rethink our idioms to account for just how cheap solar power is becoming.

This week saw its cost plummet even further than ever before during a tender held by the Abu Dhabi Electricity and Water Authority (ADWEA). A consortium of JinkoSolar and Marubeni submitted a bid of just US 2.42 cents per kWh, which is a drastically lower figure than any that has gone before.

While the auction has not been won yet, a senior representative of Middle East Solar Industry Association (MESIA) confirmed with pv magazine that a consortium of JinkoSolar – acting as the developer – and Japanese company Marubeni entered a world record low price of 2.42 U.S. cents per kWh. The previous world record stood at 2.91 cents per kWh at an auction in Chile in August 2016.

pv magazine understands that the bid put forth by Jinko and Marubeni is for a project that is considerably bigger than the 350 MW originally intended.

Indeed, during the tender it was revealed that three of the bids submitted were lower than the previous world record, with Masdar (in conjunction with EDF and PAL) submitting a bid of US 3.08 cents/kWh, and Tenaga – in collaboration with Phelan Energy – bidding US 3.13 cents/kWh.

pv magazine spoke with Massimiliano Vernaleone, who was the lead on the Phelan Tenaga Consortium bid, and he had this to say: "The key items that drive the LCOE levels are usually the EPC costs, the financing conditions and irradiation. In this particular Abu Dhabi case, module prices and highly competitive financing terms have played a crucial role. In the first case, the volume of the project has attracted the world leaders in the sector, all eager to win such a large order. The most competitive international banks competed to provide the best financing terms in the industry, with a limit to the number of consortium they could support that made the process even more selective, with only the big players left in the last phase of the bid.

"Structures and inverters have also had a good impact on the BOS, which reached levels never before seen on these markets. PV components’ trend of lowering prices is increasingly allowing PV to be a more competitive source of energy. While this might translate into lower margins and a market consolidation, manufacturers will benefit from dramatically higher volumes, with the solar industry expected to attract by 2040 investments of more than $3.5 trillion compared to $3.2 trillion that will invested in fossil fuels and nuclear together."

How low can you go?

The Middle East didn’t have the low-cost headlines all to itself this week, however. Analysis by Bridge to India has found that imported solar modules into India are retailing at an average of US 36 cents per watt-peak, which represents a 15% decrease in the space of just three months.

This steep fall in prices is largely as a result of oversupply from China, where an installation slowdown in the second half of the year has prompted solar module manufacturers to overload their modules into neighboring India. This is likely to cause a supply glut over the next few months, say the analysts, which will in turn result in "severe financial stress" for module manufacturers across the supply chain, said Bridge to India associate director consulting Jasmeet Khurana.

"The impact of this fall on domestic manufacturing is likely to be very damaging," Khurana said. "The current oversupply is likely to result in severe financial stress for module manufacturers and lead to bankruptcies and consolidation."

Bridge to India believes that China’s big Tier-1 suppliers are financial robust enough to survive this downturn, but concerns are mounting that many of the industry’s smaller players may be unable to compete. Higher efficiency technologies are increasingly shaping the sector, and the more bankable companies have already begun upgrading their lines to these superior technologies.

Tesla charges on

It’s always 5pm somewhere… and it is equally true to write that there is always a Tesla headline somewhere, too. For the solar industry, this has become ever more apparent following the firm’s move to purchase SolarCity a few months ago – and it is this synergy between the two companies that created three headlines this week.

Today’s teaser from Elon Musk about an integrated solar roof, battery and EV charging station will bob near the surface until next month’s official unveiling, but elsewhere Tesla’s travails and innovations were big catches.

Yesterday we reported that the first utility-scale Tesla Powerpack had been installed in Europe by U.K. developer Camborne Energy Storage. “The development of Tesla’s first European grid-tied system is an exciting step forward for Camborne and Tesla in terms of our respective storage strategies,” commented Managing Director of Camborne Dan Taylor.

“The project is another success for storage development in the U.K. and being co-located with a renewable generation site, should offer significant benefits to all stakeholders.”

Earlier in the week, it emerged that the ongoing Tesla acquisition of SolarCity was facing four lawsuits challenging the deal. The suits seek material damages and to stop the acquisition, arguing that Tesla has not acted in the best interests of its shareholders, with some additionally claiming that regulatory filings did not disclose important information. All name the Tesla board as defendants, and some additionally name SolarCity executives. On September 8, the plaintiff in one of the suits filed for a preliminary injunction to stop the merger.

Tesla’s proposed acquisition of SolarCity remains controversial, due to both disappointing recent financial results at SolarCity, Elon Musk’s interest in both companies and the familial relationships of Elon Musk and Peter and Lyndon Rive, who are cousins.

San Fran and SPI

Last week’s Solar Power International exhibition in Las Vegas was another rip-roaring success of a show, with far too much happening on the show floor to report on here. Thankfully, our key takeaways from the event is an easily digestible nugget that should get you up to speed with the comings and goings of the U.S. solar market.

One particularly pertinent story from the U.S. this week, however, was the news that San Francisco has approved a green roof mandate, becoming the first U.S. city to require all new construction projects set aside 30% of their roof space for solar panels.

And in other news…

Germany solar company SolarWorld revealed that it is to lay off 500 temporary workers at two locations in Germany following a continuation of the straitened solar times Europe finds itself in, while in the deserts of Arizona a new, secretive 50 MW solar plant has appeared as if by magic – but in reality was just the latest unveiling by masters of surprise, Apple.

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