Author: PV-Tech

7X Energy stockpiles 2GWac of inverters to make most of closing ITC window

Solar and storage developer 7X Energy has spent more than US$100 million to stockpile 2GWac of Power Electronics inverters in order to take advantage of the full investment tax credit (ITC) before it starts to taper next year.

The procurement is being billed by the developer as one of the largest purchases by an independent power developer in the US. The HEM medium-voltage inverters will be stored in Texas, where 7X Energy is headquartered.

News of the megadeal comes just days after US residential and commercial solar installer SunPower revealed that it had partnered with Hannon Armstrong Sustainable Infrastructure Capital to acquire and deploy 200MW of ‘safe-harboured’ solar panels.

The federal tax credit will step down from 30% for projects that begin construction at the end of this year, to 26% in 2020, 22% in 2021, before dropping to 10% for commercial customers and to zero for residential installations in 2022.

The government authority responsible for the ITC, the Internal Revenue Service, deems a project’s construction to have officially “begun” when five percent of its total cost has been spent. Purchasing inverters and panels is one of the simplest ways project backers can meet that benchmark and qualify their project for the existing ITC rate.

This framework has been informally dubbed the “solar safe habour agreement” since it was published in June 2018.

7X Energy president Clay Butler said in a statement on Tuesday that the developer wanted to act “early in the year before supply ran out.” He added that the firm opted for inverters as they were less prone to price volatility than modules and also because of their application in storage systems.

Debt financing for the inverter deal was provided by Forethought Life Insurance Company, a subsidiary of Global Atlantic Financial Group.

US solar prospects amid trade tensions and a changing incentive landscape will take centre stage at Solar Media’s Solar & Storage Finance USA in New York on 29-30 October 2019.

Several buyers keen on REC Silicon’s Butte facility, CTO tells PV Tech

Norwegian polysilicon manufacturer REC Silicon announced last Thursday it is considering selling its silane gas facility in Butte, in the US state of Montana.

Sales from the plant, which produces gas and polysilicon materials for the semiconductor industry, have shrunk as REC Silicon’s American-made goods have fallen prey to the US-China trade war.

The news was unveiled just months after REC Silicon froze operations at its other major facility in Washington state.

If the Montana operation is sold and Washington’s remains shut, REC Silicon’s active operations will reduce to its 15% stake in a polysilicon plant in Yulin, southeast China

PV Tech recently caught up with REC Silicon’s chief technology officer James May to find out about the potential sale and how long the firm can withstand the trade war.

PV Tech: Why sell the Butte plant?

James May: We’re being proactive. What we are seeing at Butte is that general economic conditions – primarily caused by trade war – are beginning to impact sales. It’s not nearly as significant as what the expectations in the market are. We wanted to correct that, and that’s why we released our statement on October 3. While the trade war is impacting and bringing things down, it’s not nearly as extreme as the rest of the semiconductor industry at the moment. We’re continuing to evaluate. We’ve got plans in place, so that we can meet our financial obligations, one of which is to investigate the sale. We’re looking at anything that we can do to make sure that that we remain viable. This is just part of that process.

The sale of the Butte facility will allow us the liquidity to survive quite some time, after debts and other obligations are satisfied.

PV Tech: What stage are things at now with the potential sale?

James May: We are in the very early stages but we expect it to go quickly because we’ve marketed it before. We were looking at selling the plant about two years ago and went far enough in the process that we had some indicative offers. We’ve got a lot of the blocking and tackling done, in terms of providing the information, the format and what we talked about. It’s just a matter of updating it. In addition, we have the same potential purchasers we had before. We’ll be marketing it to them. In fact, after the release on October 3, we did hear from them and several expressed an interest.

PV Tech: Does REC Silicon have an idea of who might buy the facility, or when?

James May: It’s too early to comment on when it might occur, although we would expect it to be near the year-end if we find an acceptable offer. The offer will be somewhat less than it would have been two years ago, simply because of the conditions in the market. It’s too early to comment on the specific terms of the sale or who would buy it. We’ll work through it as fast as we can and give as much information as we can when we do our third quarter release on October 30.

What it will look like after the sale depends on who buys it, and we’re not going to limit who we sell it to. It might be a gas company and they’d then focus on the gas side. It could be a strategic buyer, it could be a fund that doesn’t have other services. Those things would change the nature of the operation primarily on the administrative and corporate governance level, rather than the actual operation.

PV Tech: How long can REC Silicon stay afloat if Butte is sold and Moses Lake remains a standstill?

James May: That’s the real question at the moment, and I’m not going to comment. When we did the equity raise on April 9, we clearly said that we could maintain neutral liquidity. We said would be breakeven on cash, or a little bit positive, with just operating Butte. Obviously, the thing that’s changed now is there’s some substantial doubt about whether or not we can do that, because of the semiconductor markets. Not that Butte is unprofitable, it’s just less profitable than it was. We’re in a cash burn situation until we understand exactly the impact of the trade war and what the change in sales is. We’re looking at it and will comment on it in our October 30 earnings release.

PV Tech: Does REC Silicon generate revenue from its 15% stake in the Yulin plant in China?

James May: The plant is in the process of coming up. We’ve had some good results in terms of quality and other things. But we never expected cash flows off that facility until it’s fully operational. There’s now an opportunity to pay some of the debt down incurred with the construction of that facility. We will still continue to support that facility.

PV Tech: Do you have a rough estimate for when Moses Lake might start production again?

James May: It’s totally dependent on when the trade war ends and when we regain access to the markets in China. China right now controls around 90% of the total PV supply chain. And that’s a result of the trade war and China’s quest to invest in that supply chain, while the rest of the world has used protectionist measures to protect what they have, which has become irrelevant.

Having said that, the Moses Lake facility is the lowest cost polysilicon producer in the world. In the first quarter of 2017, we were operating at 65% capacity and we’ve produced polysilicon at US$9.40. If we go to full operations, it will be nearer US$8. That’s lower than what we estimate or what’s realistic for polysilicon producer anywhere else in the world. So, it’s not a case of needing protection, what we need is access to the market so that we can compete. If we can get access to the market and compete, we can basically beat the Chinese at their own game. It’s a low-cost plan.

PV Tech: How quickly could operations be restarted at Moses Lake?

James May: The longer the period of time from the shutdown on July 15, the longer the time that it will take to bring the plant up. If the trade war ended right now we could probably do it in three or four months. Right now, if we were to decide to bring it up, a lot of the workers we laid off would still be there and we could bring them back. They know how to operate the plant. If it gets to where it’s been quite some time – say, two years from the shutdown – it will take about six months to bring it up. We’ll have to hire those workers and began to qualify them, do maintenance on the equipment and that sort of thing, in order to bring it up. Our strategy all along has been to make sure that we can bring it up as quickly as we possibly can.

US solar prospects amid trade tensions and a changing incentive landscape will take centre stage at Solar Media’s Solar & Storage Finance USA in New York on 29-30 October 2019.

Engie wins 50MWp/300MWh solar-plus-storage duo on Guam

Engie has been hired by Guam’s state electricity utility to build two solar-plus-storage plants with a combined capacity of 50MWp/300MWh on the Micronesian island.

The firm scooped up the project duo in the third round of Guam’s competitive renewable tender programme after submitting the lowest bid.

The plants will deliver more than 85GWh annually and are scheduled to be operational by 2022, according to Engie.

By the time this article was published, the French energy group had not responded to PV Tech‘s questions about the project’s tariff, its costs and its construction timeline.

The firm’s storage business, Engie EPS, will supply the battery storage system and act as the solution provider and system integrator with help from partner Samsung SDI.

Carlalberto Guglielminotti, Engie EPS CEO, said that the “iconic” project marks a “paradigm shift,” in that it is “now possible to provide solar power at night cheaper than conventional generation.”

Engie EPS estimates that the installed battery systems can ensure power for seven hours after sunset.

Guam’s Power Authority (GPA) will formally award Engie with a 20-year power purchase agreement (PPA) once the regulatory recourse process finishes and the partners have clinched approvals from two local public service commissions.

The GPA is working to wean itself off petroleum products shipped in by tanker, and towards a target of sourcing 25% of energy from renewables by 2021.

The other major solar project underway on the Southern Pacific US territory is a pair of 60MW PV plants, announced in August 2018 by Hanwha Energy and a consortium including Korea Electric Power Corp and LG-CNS, part of LG Corporation.

The US military accounts for one-fifth of Guam’s electricity consumption.

US solar prospects amid trade tensions and a changing incentive landscape will take centre stage at Solar Media’s Solar & Storage Finance USA in New York on 29-30 October 2019.

Coal costs see PacifiCorp turn to major solar-plus-storage build-out

PacifiCorp has formalised a long-anticipated shift from coal to solar, wind and battery storage, setting ambitious targets underpinned by a belief in clean energy’s sound economics.

The utility, a subsidiary of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Energy, recently unveiled a roadmap that would see it add nearly 3GW of new solar by 2025 and 6.3GW by 2038.

The firm’s “preferred portfolio” would also feature a major wind roll-out – with 4.6GW in new capacity installed by 2038 – and, in a first for the utility, energy storage.

As PacifiCorp noted, its 2019 integrated resource plan (IRP) – still a draft at this stage – singles out battery storage as part of a “least-cost portfolio” for the first time.

Consequently, the utility now wants to deploy 600MW of battery systems by 2025 and over 2.8GW by 2038, much of it slated for installation alongside solar plants.

Under the current IRP draft, PacifiCorp’s solar-plus-storage expansion would run along the following US state lines all the way to 2038:

Utah Wyoming Oregon Washington
Target for PV additions 3GW 1.415GW 1.075GW 814MW
Target for battery additions 635MW 354MW 244MW 204MW
Timeframe 2020-2037 2024-2038 2020-2033 2024-2036

‘Ongoing cost pressures’ for coal as PV gets cheaper

The clean energy build-up will come alongside a major wind-down of PacifiCorp’s coal portfolio, with 20 of its 24 units powered by the fossil fuel – nearly 4.5GW – to be disconnected by 2038.

Although confirmed in October, PacifiCorp’s plans for a coal-to-renewables shift were apparent in its modelling from earlier this year, with various scenarios foreseeing a push to PV and storage.

The utility – which was told by thinktanks it could save “hundreds of millions” if it replaced coal with renewables – made it clear this month cost-efficiency was a key factor in its clean energy push.

“Coal generation has been an important resource in our portfolio, allowing us to deliver reliable energy to our customers, and will continue to play an important role as units approach retirement dates,” said Rick Link, PacifiCorp’s VP of resource planning and acquisitions.

Link added, however: “At the same time, this plan reflects the ongoing cost pressure on coal as wind generation, solar generation and storage have emerged as low-cost resource options for our customers.”

“We are mindful that these resource decisions impact our thermal operations employees, their families and communities,” added Chad Teply, the firm’s senior VP for business policy and development. “Our priority is making certain [they] remain informed.”

Platte River and Dominion add to utilities’ PV efforts

PacifiCorp’s cost-based embrace of solar-plus-storage makes it one of a raft of US utilities tapping into the technologies, either standalone or as hybrids, in the space of a few months.

So far this year the country has witnessed moves by Nevada’s NV Energy (1.2GW of new PV, 580MW of battery systems), Hawaiian Electric and many others.

In recent days, Colorado utility Platte River Power Authority added its name to the list as it issued a request for proposals for up to 150MW worth of new PV projects.

According to Platte River, the latest pipeline – meant to come online by the end of 2023 – will be backed by 15-to-25-year PPAs and will join an existing 30MW PV plant in its portfolio.

Over in Virginia, major utility Dominion Energy unveiled in recent days plans to consider a 100MW PV project at the Washington Dulles International Airport, which services the US capital.

The firm explained it has secured a sublease to carry out feasibility studies alongside the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. The plant, Dominion added, could go live by 2023.

US solar prospects amid a changing policy landscape and ongoing trade wars will take centre stage at Solar Media’s Solar & Storage Finance USA, to be held in New York on 29-30 October 2019

Bifacial loses US tariff workaround as Section 201 exemption is axed

The US government has extended its solar import tariffs to bifacial modules, in a policy u-turn set to partially redraw the global trade flows of the fast maturing technology.

Over the weekend, the US Trade Representative (USTR) office announced two-sided PV modules imported into the US will lose in three weeks their exemption from so-called Section 201 safeguard measures, reverting its decision from June this year.

The USTR said it had decided to scrap bifacial’s reprieve from the tariffs – currently a 25% levy for module and cell imports, down to 20% in February 2020 – starting on 28 October, after concluding it was “undermining” the objectives of Section 201 safeguards.

The office claimed to have assessed “newly available information” since it granted the exemption in June. The fact-finding exercise found, the USTR said, that bifacial’s exclusion will “likely result” in marked rises of imports, building pressure on domestic monofacial and bifacial manufacturers.

The USTR, which negotiates trade deals worldwide on behalf of the US government, said the bifacial reprieve had triggered multiple inquiries and comments. Some contributors had warned the exclusion was poised to spark an “imminent surge” of bifacial imports, the office added.

From ‘hot new tech’ to market dominance

The US move marks a setback at an otherwise auspicious time for global bifacial PV, with cost-efficiency gains persuading investors and developers to make two-sided panels the engine of major projects in the US but also Latin America and the Middle East.

In forecasts published in September, before the US exemption about-face, consultancy Wood Mackenzie predicted the global bifacial market would hit the 21GW mark by 2024, a ten-fold boom versus 2018 installed capacity figures.

Contacted by PV Tech today, Jenny Chase of BloombergNEF remained optimistic that the technology could grow faster still despite the Section 201 u-turn. “We expect bifacial to be used in almost all utility-scale plants by the early 2020s, so 21GW seems a lowball number,” the solar analyst said.

Chase did believe the application of tariffs will spell changes to bifacial trade flows: it will bring, on the one hand, “good news” to First Solar, SunPower, Jinko Solar, Hanwha Q-Cells and other makers with US factories and decelerate, on the other, the bifacial switch of manufacturing facilities in Southeast Asia.

But bifacial’s popularity, underpinned by technical factors, will not waver, Chase argued. “Our manufacturing analysis suggests that it’s not hugely difficult to switch, and our downstream analysis suggests the technical performance is good for most systems that aren’t tied to roofts,” she said.

“A good comparison [for bifacial] might be diamond wire saws, which went from being the ‘hot new tech’ to ‘just what everyone uses’ within two years,” the solar analyst added.

The collateral PV victims of global trade feuds

Whether bifacial will live up to bullish forecasts from analysts remains to be seen. As Wood Mackenzie has noted, the technology continues to be shunned by some investors, amid worries of data gaps around real-world performance and risks including panel overheating.

As PV Tech commentators argued on the sidelines of this year’s Solar Power International in Utah, technical aspects are also worth examining. Bifacial’s bulkier size and weight – partly driven by the fitting of modules between glass panes – may make it less optimal for some tracker types, it was said.

The US bifacial u-turn marks the latest twist of a long-running saga of trade disputes between the government of president Donald Trump and major economies in Asia and others, a conflict with ramifications for the solar industry.

The last few months have seen Washington DC lock horns with at least China and India over import barriers for PV components. Cases before the World Trade Organisation have swayed in Beijing’s favour, with the US ordered to review countervailing duties for PV imports.

The various trade barriers set up under the US-China trade war have impacted solar makers on either side of the divide. Only days ago, Norwegian firm REC Silicon cited the ongoing trade feud as it said it was mulling to sell a US factory, only months after mothballing another.

Analysis: Mark Osborne, founding senior news editor of PV Tech

The exclusion in June 2019 of bifacial PV modules from the last round of US trade tariffs (January, 2018) came as a surprise to many, which had been supported by US utility companies – through a trade association campaign.

According to the Office of the United States Trade Representative, the exclusion of bifacial models had been granted, primarily due to the technology being new and in limited supply, therefore not deemed a threat to US manufacturing.

However, the lure of the potential performance gains and lower LCOE (Levelised Cost of Electricity), derived from the adoption of bifacial modules, notably with single-axis trackers attracted concern from US PV module manufacturers as few either fabricated bifacial cells such as PERC (Passivated Emitter Rear Cell) technology or relied on different technologies such as CdTe thin film

The exemption of bifacial modules from the trade tariffs will be withdrawn October 28, 2019. This was driven by petitions highlighting that the continued exemption would mean a “surge” of bifacial modules imports was imminent and would therefore “undermine the objectives of the safeguard measure.”

Bifacial module production ramp

Bifacial modules have been the hit product at all the major PV exhibitions in 2019. However, despite numerous PV manufacturers showcasing the technology in p-Type, n-Type and heterojunction formats, major PV manufacturers have as yet, not kept up with demand globally and overall module demand in 2019 has meant many are sold-out and order books are already stretching into the second half of 2020.

Bifacial cell and module capacity expansions are ongoing, regardless of any impact to downstream PV projects in the US. Indeed, with the likes of Q CELLS and JinkoSolar having established and ramping module assembly in the US, it is unclear the production levels these major players will allocate to bifacial modules, which the cells, whether bifacial or monofacial would already have to be imported, whether granted exclusion under the quantity quota already in place or simply imported with existing tariffs.

The impact of the China 531 New Deal in 2018, which drastically limited utility-scale PV projects and end-market demand, led to a major decline in wafer, cell and module prices, which significantly eroded the US trade tariffs impact.

Although the US was expected to become a major destination for bifacial modules under the exemption ruling mid-year, the potential for further price declines remains as the technology continued to ramp into the double-digit gigawatt range in 2019 and into 2020.

Emphasis on greater optimisation of bifacial PV power plants should be expected, also eroding the impact of the US tariffs. This of course supports the global deployment of bifacial technology and is not specific to the US.

US solar prospects amid a changing policy landscape and ongoing trade wars will take centre stage at Solar Media’s Solar & Storage Finance USA, to be held in New York on 29-30 October 2019

SunPower awarded solar-plus-storage carports in California

US solar firm SunPower is to deploy 3.7MW of solar carports across 10 locations in Contra Costa County, California, with some of the sites using energy storage.

The firm will install its Helix Roof and Carport systems in order to offset 68% of power taken from the grid by the County, which amounts to savings of US$16.5 million over a period of 25 years.

Three out of the ten sites will also feature Helix Storage systems with a combined capacity of 1.5MW / 3MWh that will provide further demand charge savings.

“The electric utility system is evolving and we’re confident that these solar and storage solutions from SunPower will help us adapt, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving the local environment while delivering energy and demand charge savings to the County,” said Frank Di Massa, energy manager at Contra Costa County.

The move comes as part of the County’s Distributed Energy Resource Action Plan and it will also serve to expand the local EV charge infrastructure.

The systems will be deployed over the next year and once operational, the County will use the energy produced under a 25-year power purchase agreement (PPA). It will also earn related renewable energy credits.

SunPower claims to have a pipeline of 135MW for its Helix Storage systems.

US solar prospects amid a changing business and policy landscape will take centre stage at Solar Media’s Solar & Storage Finance USA, to be held in New York on 29-30 October 2019

Renewable, unstoppable: What we learned at #SPIcon 2019

Ok, my colleagues and family are bored of hearing how great Solar Power International / Energy Storage International was in Utah last week and indeed, of how welcoming Salt Lake City was to the 12,000+ renewable energy industry professionals and interested parties that attended. Below are the leading themes from the show in order of narrative, if not in order of importance: 

1. The capacity factory – how and why tomorrow’s solar-plus-storage can be an equal on the grid to today’s fossil fuels 

2. LFP vs NMC – reaction to safety fears provokes new turn in the discussion 

3. Energy storage-as-infrastructure – creating an asset class for the ‘workhorse’ of the grid 

4. #StorageITC – a market accelerator, not a market saviour 

5. Is software actually the single most important ‘component’?

6. Renewable, unstoppable: Why solar’s journey to the core of the US energy system matters

7. Bifacial – The strengths and shortcomings of the emerging technology after its import tariff exemption

You can read the takeaways for each theme here, as originally published on Energy-Storage.news

Google taps Hecate’s Texas PV project to feed global clean energy drive

Google has signed a deal for 250MW of solar energy from installations planned in Texas by Chicago-based developer Hecate Energy.

The deal will spur the construction of 500MW of new Hecate solar facilities in the southern state, in a project that is estimated to rack up costs of US$275 million.

The power purchase agreement (PPA) is part of a broader renewable energy procurement splurge unveiled by the internet giant in mid-September.

The technology firm has secured a raft of 18 global renewable energy deals totalling 1.6GW and spread across three continents. The spree – which it claims is its largest renewables purchase of all time – has doubled the firm’s contracted global power volume, to 5.5GW. The majority of the 720MW worth of solar contracts secured by Google in the US are projects in Texas, at 490MW.

The deal with Hecate is the latest in a flurry of corporate solar procurement and investment activity in the Lone Star state. In September, Microsoft purchased 85MW of Texas solar energy from Engie and Honda bought 200MW from an unidentified Texan plant in a virtual PPA. For its part, Ikea outlet owner Ingka bought a 49% stake in a duo of projects, including one in Texas.

Texas is the sixth largest solar producer in the US, according to the Solar Energies Industry Association. The industry group estimates that the state will install 9,115MW over the next 5 years, making it the second fastest growing market in the US.

US solar prospects amid PPA uptake and a changing policy landscape will take centre stage at Solar Media’s Solar & Storage Finance USA in New York on 29-30 October 2019.

Vivint Solar refutes contract forgery allegations

Vivint Solar has refuted claims by short-seller Marcus Aurelius Value of “malfeasance” around sale contracts, in a counteroffensive launched after days of gradual stock share decline.

The residential solar specialist told PV Tech this week it “vigorously disputes” allegations that it could have acted to conceal a series of lawsuits it is facing over the supposed forgery of customer signatures on direct-to-home sales contracts.

Over the weekend, Marcus Aurelius Value had released a note citing 28 “undisclosed” court cases reportedly underway against Vivint Solar, with one lawsuit alleging signature falsifying practices were a “regular” occurrence in the firm.

According to Marcus Aurelius Value’s note, Vivint’s supposed “misdeeds” partially stem from its practice of incentivising its “large army” of sales staff via generous cash windfalls. “In our opinion, [this] is a classic story of perverse incentives,” the short-seller argued.

Approached by this publication for comment, a Vivint spokesperson acknowledged the firm does face occasional complaints and disputes “as a consumer-facing business” but added: “Marcus Aurelius Value is wrong about Vivint Solar. This is a deeply misleading report from a self-interested short seller.”

“We take allegations of wrongdoing, no matter how small, seriously and thoroughly investigate all allegations,” the spokesperson claimed. “We do not tolerate fraud or deception, and strive to resolve complaints to the customer’s satisfaction.” 

‘Isolated incidents are addressed’

The wave of litigation triggering the short-selling campaign against Vivint spans court cases in California, Arizona, Florida, Maryland, New Jersey and others. In a New Jersey lawsuit, a lawyer for the suing party alleges the proportion of staff engaging in contract forgery is “high”.

Denying the claims, Vivint’s spokesperson highlighted instead what they described as the firm’s “robust” internal compliance checks, as well as its efforts to “continually” educate employees and contractors so that they meet regulatory obligations and the firm’s policies and values.

“As a public company, we are subject to numerous reporting and disclosure obligations. This includes an obligation to disclose all material risks that we face,” the spokesperson went on to argue. “We stand behind the accuracy and adequacy of our disclosures.”

The firm pointed at the responses to Marcus Aurelius Value this week from various equity analysts, with Roth Capital Partners’ Philip Shen writing off the allegations as a “biased short attack” and “overblown”. “We believe management has a healthy set of checks in place,” wrote Shen.

Bank of America Merrill Lynch (BAML) struck a similar note as it branded the 28 court cases as “quite [a] low” figure when viewed against total PV installs. “We spoke with [Vivint] management to address concerns and view isolated incidents as addressed,” the bank’s analysts argued.

The BAML note did acknowledge that issues have been documented with the direct-to-consumer approach with energy sales and PV more specifically. “[But] we do not view misrepresentative practices as widespread, particularly in solar,” the document indicated.

Business outlook after year-on-year roll-out growth

As it moved against Vivint Solar, short-seller Marcus Aurelius Value said the firm’s “alleged misdeeds” could be motivated by efforts to “mask weakness in the underlying business”, which it described as “dependent” on the support of a restricted number of institutional investors.

PV Tech’s own analysis this year showed Vivint’s quarterly revenues have stayed above the US$60 million mark since Q2 2017, hitting the highest four-year value – US$90.8 million – in Q2 2019. The firm saw the highest year-on-year roll-out growth of a group of major US residential installers.

Some of the analysts probing Vivint after the short-seller campaign – following days of slight share stock decline – advised investors to continue buying shares, with Roth Capital Partners arguing the firm is “executive well” and will profit from “strong” US residential market fundamentals.

Their sceptical view of short-selling claims did not stop equity experts from noting Vivint’s business obstacles going forward, however. “While the fraud risk isn’t significant, there are real business challenges we see that VSLR does face,” said a note from Citi Research.

The firm’s analysts pointed at challenges including the impacts of rising per-megawatt costs on customer decisions. For Vivint, they added, the “critical” issue will be whether growth can be sustained after the expiry of tax credits, set to wind down over the next few years.

Roth Capital Partners’ own compilation of risks for Vivint cited tax equity changes but also the firm’s reliance on an ability to raise debt on favourable terms, or the potential impacts if utilities or other interested players successfully lobby to limit net-metering support.

US solar prospects amid a changing business and policy landscape will take centre stage at Solar Media’s Solar & Storage Finance USA, to be held in New York on 29-30 October 2019

Tesla’s unionising pushback violated federal labour law, court finds

A federal administrative judge has ruled that Tesla violated US labour laws on 12 different occasions where it thwarted efforts by factory employees to form a union.

The judge condemned the electric car and solar firm’s moves to stop off-duty employees distributing union literature in the parking lot; prohibiting staff from wearing pro-union stickers, t-shirts and hats; and probing, disciplining and firing employees over union activity.

The judge also pointed at a tweet by CEO Elon Musk that implied that employees would lose their stock options if they voted in favour of a union.

The missive in question reads: “Nothing stopping Tesla team at our car plant from voting union. Could do so tmrw if they wanted. But why pay union dues & give up stock options for nothing? Our safety record is 2X better than when plant was UAW & everybody already gets healthcare.”

Musk’s tweet, broadcast to more than 22 million followers on Twitter in May 2018, “can only be read by a reasonable employee to indicate that if the employees vote to unionize that they would give up stock options,” according to the judge’s decision, which adds: “Musk threatened to take away a benefit enjoyed by the employees consequently for voting to unionize.”

Pro-union workers wanted to join the United Auto Workers union, flagging long hours, nonergonomic machinery and a shortage of staff at the Fremont, California plant, which employs 12,000 workers.

As is typical in collective bargaining law, the Silicon Valley firm will not be subject to a financial penalty. Instead, it must rescind all the rules prohibiting pro-union activity, clear the record of the reprimanded staffer, rehire the fired employee and reimburse them for lost wages and post and circulate a notice informing employees of their right to promote and join a union. Musk will be required to be present when the same notice is read out loud to employees at a meeting “with the widest possible attendance.”

Embattled firm’s legal dispute with Walmart is ongoing

Tesla is battling litigation on more than one front, after Walmart took it to court in August, claiming that “systemic, widespread failures” were responsible for a series of rooftop blazes on stores between 2012 and 2018.

The lawsuit, which is currently ongoing at the New York County Supreme Court, alleges that seven fires on Walmart rooftops were caused by Tesla solar panel systems and installations. The retailer has asked the firm to remove the systems on all 244 stores where they are currently installed and pay for damages from the fires.

The two companies released a joint statement three days after the lawsuit was filed saying they “looked forward to addressing all issues and reenergising Tesla solar installations at Walmart stores, once all parties are certain that all concerns have been addressed.”

The litigation comes as Tesla sees a mixed outlook on its solar business. In August, the company launched a new US solar rental service in an attempt to reboot its sagging renewables segment.

The firm has witnessed muted solar roll-out levels in recent quarters, hitting record-low deployment figures in Q2 2019 even as energy storage reached new highs. The Silicon Valley player, which acquired SolarCity in 2016lost its spot as the US top residential installer to Sunrun in May.

US solar prospects amid PPA uptake and a changing policy landscape will take centre stage at Solar Media’s Solar & Storage Finance USA, to be held in New York on 29-30 October 2019

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