With a focus on serving European PV markets and projects best suited to benefit from its vast experience, multinational Engineering, Procurement and Construction (EPC) firm Sterling and Wilson Solar Limited (SWSL) has opened a new office in Seville, Spain.
With this new office, SWSL brings to the European market an EPC portfolio of over 250 projects totaling 10.8 GW of capacity, as well as an operations and maintenance (O&M) portfolio of 8.1 GW. The multinational company employs over 1,300 professionals and is able to serve markets eager to deploy solar with cost-competitive design and engineering experts based in India.
Market opportunities abound in Europe, driven in part by favorable economics and in part by accelerating efforts to decarbonize the continent’s electric power supply chain and address threats posed by climate change.
The European market has steadily improved from where it was a decade ago. Back then, high duties on PV modules offered a cloudy future at best for many solar projects. Projects typically required some form of government subsidy in order to be financially viable.
SWSL is no stranger to Europe, or to Spain. The firm already had a presence in Vigo, Spain, where it managed Latin American solar projects. With that initial foray, the company learned firsthand how Spain’s engineering workforce is virtually unmatched in Europe, making it an ideal location to base its regional operations.
No less important, Spain offers a stable and well-integrated supply chain for solar equipment with access not only to Chinese manufacturers, but European suppliers as well. And, as a multinational company, SWSL found many of its peers already doing business in Spain, allowing the company to leverage important existing relationships and forge new synergies.
Between 2017-2018, the cost of solar modules began to drop dramatically, and the European market showed encouraging signs of improvement. SWSL monitored those improving metrics but was intent on establishing its presence in the Latin American and Australian EPC markets, where, by the end of 2020, the company had secured around 700 MW and 1,100 MW of solar EPC work, respectively. Prudent management led the company to be cautious about expanding too quickly into a market as important as Europe.
Then, as it did with virtually every other international firm, the global Covid-19 pandemic forced a pause in SWSL’s European expansion plans. But as 2020 drew to a close, the company concluded that the time was ripe for it to open its full-service European office.
The company sees growth potential in Europe both for utility-scale projects (including storage solutions) as well as for commercial and industrial solar deployment. It sees on the order of 7-8 GW of capacity additions each year, growing to anywhere from 20-25 GW by mid-decade. Its approach to the market is to be highly strategic in securing new business.
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From its base in Spain, SWSL plans to target opportunities across the Iberian Peninsula, as well as in Italy, Poland, Romania, and Bulgaria, and elsewhere in Eastern Europe. For example, in 2019 the company won a competitive bid for a 250 MW solar project in the Ulcinj solar site in Montenegro in the Balkans. The pandemic put work on hold, but the project is expected to be built by the end of this year.
In pursuing solar EPC work, the company targets a sizable number of projects that are not only commercially viable but also open up multiple opportunities in markets that may not grab all the headlines. Northern European markets are great, but SWSL intends to find growth opportunities in markets that typically do not attract the same amount of attention.
The company recognizes that European markets are made up of two principal segments. The first includes the full range of turnkey projects, which often are built with non-recourse financing. The second, includes a significant number of projects that are financed on the balance sheet and that need the expertise of a well-established EPC firm.
It’s here that an EPC firm’s bankability becomes a key criterion for developers to consider. Multiple European banks have already rated SWSL as a highly bankable EPC. To be sure, the company has established strong relationships with European banks for projects in Africa and in Latin America. SWSL’s established bankability is a major strength as it pursues projects across its target markets.
In its plans for the European market, SWSL also intends to establish a presence as a solar developer and the company is currently evaluating a number of greenfield opportunities. As those ventures reach maturity, it will transfer the assets to investors and secure the EPC business to construct and commission the projects, playing to the company’s core strength. Currently, the company is pursuing almost a gigawatt of development bookings for 2021; those projects could enter service by mid-decade.
In addition to its roles as developer, EPC contractor, and owner, SWSL also plans to enter Europe’s third-party project O&M service market. Here, the company has already executed O&M contracts for 8 GW of projects in multiple markets including Latin America and Australia and has secured long-term O&M contracts of up to 30 years with European developers in other geographies.
Long-term project operations and maintenance
Sterling and Wilson Solar Limited is well positioned to support the European solar market across the value chain and deliver superior EPC solutions to markets and projects that otherwise might not have expected to benefit from such premium service. The firm’s existing relationships with developers and financial institutions alike offer the company unmatched insight into specific engineering challenges and opportunities, not only in the Iberian Peninsula, but across the continent as a whole.
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