Solar giveth and solar taketh away. A busy week for the industry saw a heady mixture of good and bad news poured into a tall cool glass and left to bask in the sun. But did the cream rise to the top? It is too early to say right now, but it was telling that in the week that SunPower announced a total layoff of 2,500 staff and the closure of its Philippines factory, Elon Musk’s Tesla/SolarCity venture began an aggressive hiring strategy at its Buffalo Gigafactory.
Right now, the job board advertises just 34 positions. But once these employees are in situ it is expected that a further 1,400 roles will duly follow. Will this Make America Great Again? Probably not. Will it aid Tesla’s push for broader renewable energy adoption in the U.S. and beyond? Certainly. And that’s all that matters right now.
New phase for Enphase
O&MGone! Enphase Energy has endured some relatively straitened times these past 18 months, cutting costs and restructuring various portions of the company to remain competitive. And this week there was further movement with the announcement that it is selling its operations and maintenance (O&M) division to SunSystem Technology (SST).
According to a press release issued by SST, the transaction will enable both firms to focus on their core strengths, with Enphase eager to grow into new markets with its AC Battery and Home Energy Solution. O&M was always likely to be a key tenet of that expansion, but Enphase evidently believes that the dedicated approach offered by SST is a better fit for its customers and business model.
Enphase president and CEO Paul Nahi said that the sale would free up Enphase to focus on its core business priorities, which includes the launch of next-generation microinverters, storage systems and AC modules.
Consolidation, then growth
The patterns of expansion and contraction evident in many leading solar companies’ financials were also evident in the latest Global PV Inverter and MLPE H1 2016 report published this week by GTM Research. The analysts expect 2017 to be something of a lull year in terms of shipments, shrinking slightly on 2016 before returning to growth in 2018 through 2021. Revenue, on the other hand, will not fall so far, contracting just 1.2% (compared to a 5% contraction in shipments) as the major players consolidate and find ways to gain traction in more residential markets, and the growth of the module level power electronics (MLPE) space accelerates.
The report adds that the top ten largest solar inverter companies accounted for 80% of all shipments in the first half of the year, with China’s Huawei taking top spot with 17% of the market. Sungrow ranked second, followed by SMA. The German specialist did, however, generate the most revenue thanks to its growing exposure to the mid-price U.S. market.
Through the roof
India’s solar ascendency will likely see it overtake Japan as the world’s third-largest solar market in 2017, but there remain imbalances that must be addressed if it is to reach its goal of 100 GW by 2022. Namely – an underdeveloped rooftop sector. The Solar Energy Corporation of India (SECI) is keenly aware of the nation’s light rooftop PV footprint (somewhere around 1 GW in a 10 GW market) and has this week launched a 1 GW rooftop tender for the installation of solar arrays on government buildings.
The tender will entail target-based incentives designed to encourage developers to meet completion timelines. Hence, payments will be released in regular instalments rather than in one upfront lump sum.
Last month’s 500 MW rooftop tender issued by SECI was directed at the residential sector as well as various schools, colleges and universities. A total of 122 developers were awarded 432.7 MW of capacity, with the lowest subsidized price found in the state of Himachal Pradesh, where tariffs were just INR 3/kWh ($0.04/kWh).
Let me Google that for you
Google ‘solar’ and (hopefully) our shiny logo appears somewhere near the top of your screen. Google ‘google and solar’, and you’ll learn (again, hopefully from us) that the tech giant is going to become 100% renewable powered in 2017, with solar contracts worth more than 100 MW in the offing.
Google will begin buying power from Acciona’s 247 MW El Romero PV plant in Chile, which is the largest solar plant to be completed in Latin America to date.
Google says that the falling cost of wind and solar have enabled its purchases, but also notes the benefits of predictable and stable power prices. "Over the last six years, the cost of wind and solar came down 60 percent and 80 percent, respectively, proving that renewables are increasingly becoming the lowest cost option," stated Google Senior VP of Technical Infrastructure Urs Hölzle.
"Electricity costs are one of the largest components of our operating expenses at our data centers, and having a long-term stable cost of renewable power provides protection against price swings in energy."
And in other news…
In a neatly harmonious deal, China’s Canadian Solar received $141 million in funding from South Korea’s Hanwha for the construction of a Japanese solar plant; Norwegian oil giant Statoil took its first steps into solar by financially backing perovskite pioneer Oxford PV; Finnish researchers at the Lappeenranta University of Technology reported that solar PV will be the cheapest possible energy option for South America in the next 15 years, and SolarStratos – another Swiss solar-powered flight project (this time to outer space) – was officially unveiled.