It’s been the solar love saga of the year. Will they? Won’t they? And finally, it seems to have drawn to a close as Tesla and SolarCity have agreed to merge, to create the mighty-American powerhouse of solar energy that Elon Musk seems to have been dreaming about. It was the Tesla shareholders that decided to take the plunge into the unpredictable world of solar, with an 85% vote in favor of the merger.
Of course, there were concerns from the investment community regarding the condition of SolarCity, but who cares about that now, the Buffalo gigafactory – featuring Panasonic – is on its way! There are still some pesky shareholder lawsuits to navigate before the merger can be finalized, but with the might of Musk behind it, the merger now seems unstoppable.
Fear and loathing in Trumpland
Last week’s big news continued to trickle into this week, will solar industry onlookers desperately trying to second guess just what the new president-elect is going to do with the United States’ precious, but delicate, solar industry. Well, to cut a long story short, nobody knows.
California-based investment firm Roth Capital Partners projected some worrying news; that Trump and his team of energy cowboys would cut back the country’s ITC extension, and would effectively destroy the Clean Power Plan. But it wasn’t all doom and gloom, GTM Research told pv magazine that it would not yet alter its projections, because nobody knows what Trump’s solar policy is yet.
After watching his performance during his election campaign, Trump seems to be able to mold his opinions and make decisions on the flip of a coin or a signal from the clouds, so hope yet remains for the solar industry in the U.S. It just became even more unpredictable.
And almost as if the Obama Administration wanted to make one last passing shot at the onrushing president, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced a number of clean energy support programs, to give the renewables industry as many provisions as possible to survive the approaching storm. The most outstanding clean energy support program, from a PV perspective, is the USD 124 million in funding for solar projects in El Salvador and India through the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC).
There are a host of other projects that are included in the announcement, as well as a major expansion of Mission Innovation, the Bill Gates-inspired innovation program aimed at doubling investment in clean energy R&D in the next five years. At the very least, it should take a while before Trump will be able to repeal these promising initiatives.
You can’t stop the solar future
Ironically, if we continue spitting out dirty emissions at current rates, we may very well stop the future altogether. But provided that doesn’t happen, an encouraging report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) this week predicted that solar, wind and gas would be the clear energy winners of the next 25 years.
In its World Energy Outlook 2016 report, the IEA ignored the renewable energy naysayers, and actually analyzed data to come to the hopeful conclusion that solar would be one of the major sources of energy by 2040. Detailed analysis is a refreshing approach to take in this ‘post truth’ world, where silly things like facts and consequences don’t get in the way of people making extremely important decisions. The report didn’t forecast any particular growth figures for solar or renewables, but sees it taking a much bigger slice of the global energy mix in the coming years, while expecting coal to flatline.
Unfortunately, another report released this week, which also contained detailed analysis, said that solar demand will contract by 7% in 2017, before returning to sustained growth. This was the latest Global Solar Demand Monitor from GTM Research that suggests that 2017 will witness a solar slump. This isn’t what anyone wanted to hear, but the 7% forecasted drop in demand is actually lower than the 10% contraction that had previously been predicted.
Not to end on a sour note, GTM also took the opportunity to point out that by 2018 solar should be back up to full strength, and should ride into the sun on a compound annual growth rate of 9% through 2021.
India to the rescue
Once again we look east for some genuinely positive solar news, and once again it delivers. This time with record low prices for a 750 MW solar tender by the Solar Corporation of India (SECI), which is likely to see tariffs dip below INR 4 per kWh. Solar prices have been dropping like flies this year, and the latest tender in the Indian state of Rajasthan is expecting winning bids to come in below INR 4 per kWh, whereas the previous record for solar in India was set at INR 4.34 per kWh.
And not to be outdone, the home of low solar prices, the Middle East, also had some good news for solar onlookers this week, with a new 200 MW tender set for Jordan. Jordan has been whipping the region into shape with a consistent solar target and policy. The Middle East Solar Industry Association (MESIA) was particularly jubilant about the news, and informed pv magazine that the tender will be for four 50 MW projects.
In other news…
French oil company total is taking a step in the renewable direction, with the announcement of a plan to invest more than USD 300 in a solar project, which will see 5,000 of its roadside service stations fitted with solar arrays.