Category: News

Google bets on cheap solar via ‘biggest’ clean energy buy to date

Tumbling solar costs have spurred Google on to a dramatic boost of its exposure to the technology, acting to line up supply from projects worldwide as part of a major clean energy push.

On Thursday, the technology giant unveiled plans to purchase a whopping 1.6GW of renewable electricity via 18 separate deals across the globe, featuring solar and wind projects.

The clean energy procurement ramp-up – reportedly the largest in Google’s history – will see the firm double its existing global volumes of contracted solar power, according to CEO Sundar Pichai.

In a statement, Pichai explained 720MW of the worldwide 1.6GW will be secured from US solar projects, split between Texas (490MW), North Carolina (155MW) and South Carolina (75MW).

Where Google’s US clean energy buys to date were “wind-driven”, solar cost declines of 80% in the past decade have made “harnessing the sun increasingly cost-effective”, Pichai said.

Lower costs whet PV appetite for cloudy Denmark

Google’s solar appetites will also take the corporate to Chile, where a 125MW new venture will pair solar with wind in a bid to maximise clean energy power coverage.

The project – the firm’s first such hybrid buy – will allow Google to match its Chilean data centre with carbon-free electricity for a “larger portion of each day”, CEO Pichai pointed out.

The executive noted that 793MW of the 1.6GW will be supplied by European projects, planned in Finland (255 MW), Sweden (286 MW), Belgium (92 MW), and Denmark (160 MW).

Contacted by PV Tech today, a person with knowledge of the clean energy push said Denmark’s 160MW – a five-project pipeline – is Google’s only new PV deal in Europe, the rest being wind.

Google, this publication understands, has not historically seen cloudier Denmark as a prime solar location but technology cost drops have prompted a rethink.

In Denmark, where regulators foresee a multi-gigawatt solar boom within decades, the 160MW of PV will power Google’s first data centre in the country, already being built.

All new plants, all set to go live in 2022

The 1.6GW move brings Google’s cumulative clean energy portfolio up to 5.4GW, a marked jump from the procured volumes in 2016 (2.3GW), 2017 (2.9GW) and 2018 (3.8GW).

As noted by CEO Pichai, the corporate’s long-running “additionality” principles mean the fresh 1.6GW in contracted supply will come exclusively from new plants.

Once all 1.6GW are live – all plants should be ready by late 2022, PV Tech understands – the resulting 5.4GW portfolio could power entire countries such as Lithuania or Uruguay, Pichai added.

Even before this week’s major procurement effort, Google was with Amazon and Facebook one of top three clean energy offtakers in the US, where corporate PV appetite is on a sharp rise.

In Europe, all three technology a-listers added their names to a letter in June urging the bloc to enact PPA-friendly legislation, bringing down regulatory obstacles at national level.

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

Constellation secures three customers for 175MW of solar power in Virginia

Baltimore-based power provider Constellation has inked a deal to sell power from a 175MW solar facility in Virginia to Johns Hopkins University, spice and seasoning mix company McCormick & Company and department store corporation TJX Companies.

The Skipjack Solar Centre is being built on cleared land in Charles City County southeast of Richmond. The facility is being developed by Salt Lake City-based independent power producer sPower and is expected to be commissioned in March 2021.

Constellation, a subsidiary of US power giant Exelon, will purchase the output and renewable energy certificates (RECs) from the solar park and then sell them to the three retail customers using Constellation’s renewable energy purchasing solution, Constellation Offsite Renewables (CORe). The firm claims the solution relieves energy buyers of the “significant hurdles that accompany traditional offsite PPAs (power purchase agreements).”

Constellation’s CORe solution was used in a wind deal between Starbucks and Enel Green Power in late November. Constellation bought the power from the energy firm before selling it, under a different agreement, to the coffee chain.

The Virginia solar deal marks the largest of its type for Constellation, according to a company release.

Phase I of the Skipjack Solar Centre will feature 540,000 panels and generate 180MW of solar energy, according to filings to Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality. The facility’s total output will be 320MW when Phase II is complete.

McCormick & Company will use the purchased energy to power its corporate headquarters, four manufacturing plants, and two distribution centres in Maryland and New Jersey. The deal will help Maryland-based Johns Hopkins University reach its goal of reducing carbon emissions by 51% by 2025. TJX Companies’ retail empire includes TK Maxx, Sierra and HomeGoods.

US solar prospects will take centre stage at Solar Media’s Solar & Storage Finance USA, to be held in New York on 29-30 October 2019.

Virginia calls on wind and solar to achieve 100% carbon-free power by 2050

Virginia’s state governor has issued an executive order that reiterates the need to have “at least” 3GW of solar and offshore wind projects in development by 2022 in order to reach a string of ambitious new renewable energy production targets.

The order wants 30% of Virginia’s electricity to be powered by renewable energy sources by 2030 and for the state to be fully powered by carbon-free sources by 2050. Virginia’s agencies and executive branch institutions will lead by example, aiming to procure at least 30% of their electricity from renewable resources by 2022.

The state joins a handful of other US states that have 100% clean energy or 100% renewable energy targets either passed into law or signed as an explicit goal through an executive order.

Governor Ralph Northam, a Democrat in a state with a Republican-controlled legislature, said in a statement that the new order will “help ensure that Virginia remains at the forefront of clean energy innovation, meets the urgency of the challenges brought on by climate change, and captures the economic, environmental, and health benefits of this energy growth in an equitable way that benefits all Virginians.”

It is the most ambitious solar target in Virginia’s history, according to David Murray, executive director of the MD-DC-VA Solar Energy Industries Association.

Under the order, several state agency leaders will develop a plan of action to meet the new renewable energy goals. The plan will also address issues related to energy storage, energy efficiency, equity, and environmental justice.

“The executive order in Virginia is one of many ways that governors can clear the way for solar deployment. Virginia leaders have worked hard to build the local solar market and we commend Governor Northam for his efforts to make Virginia a top solar state,” said SEIA vice-president of state affairs Sean Gallagher.

The order also outlines a new goal of having 2.5GW of offshore wind installed in the state by 2026.

Local power producers up the ante to reach goal of 3GW of renewables by 2022

The new targets give weight to a prior state-wide goal of having 3GW of wind and solar in operation by 2022 and 5.5GW by 2028, laid out in an energy bill last year.

The state’s largest electric power producers, Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power, have already amplified their solar procurement efforts to reach that aim.

Dominion Energy has committed to procure 500MW of utility-scale solar and wind in the state annually from 2019 through competitive tenders, issuing the first request for proposals of the series in August. The firm has also committed to boosting smaller-scale projects in the state by competitively procuring 50-150MW annually until 2022.

Appalachian Power launched a competitive procurement process for 200MW of utility-scale projects that will be operational in late 2021.

Virginia currently has 802MW of solar in service in the state, employing nearly 3,900 people, according to the SEIA.

US solar prospects will take centre stage at Solar Media’s Solar & Storage Finance USA, to be held in New York on 29-30 October 2019.

US utility-scale solar pipeline swells to record 37.9GW

The US now has a record-breaking 37.9GW of utility-scale solar in the works after 11.2GW of new projects were announced in H1 2019, according to a new report from Wood Mackenzie and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).

While the project pipeline has ballooned, the rate of installations slowed in the second quarter of 2019 compared to the same period the year prior, according to the latest US Solar Market Insight Report. 2.1GW was switched on, seven percent less than in 2018. However, Wood Mackenzie forecasts an overall 17% uptick on installations before the year is out, estimating that 12.6GW of utility-scale capacity will come online before 2020.

Utility-scale solar prices are at their lowest point ever, with recent power purchase agreements (PPAs) signed for US$18-35 per MWh.

SEIA president and CEO Abigail Ross Hopper said that “smart policies like an extension of the solar investment tax credit will be critical” for solar to reach 20% market penetration in the US by 2030.

The report calculates that by 2021 – the year the credit expires for residential systems and tapers to 10% for commercial projects – annual installations will reach 17.6GW. It also expects that total installed PV capacity will more than double over the next five years.

The report notes that 17% of the utility-scale capacity announced this year were off-site corporate solar projects fronted by the likes of Starbucks, Microsoft and Anheuser-Busch. It expects this segment to snowball. “Corporate offsite procurement is expected to drive more than 20% of new utility-scale capacity additions from 2019 through 2024,” said Colin Smith, senior solar analyst with Wood Mackenzie.

Residential solar grew 8% over the past year, with the second quarter of 2019 becoming the fourth consecutive where more than 600MW of residential capacity was installed.

Ikea store owner buys 49% stake in 403MW utility-scale duo

Adding to the fast-growing US solar pipeline this week was IKEA’s outlet owner Ingka Group, which unveiled a deal on Monday to buy a 49% stake in a 403MW utility-scale solar duo from investment firm Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners.

While the Dutch holding company owns wind assets in Europe and the US and owns and operates 900,000 rooftop panels on IKEA stores and distribution centres, this is its first investment in utility-scale solar.

One facility will come online in late September and comprise 636,000 panels in Utah. The other project is in Texas and will comprise 823,000 panels, scheduled for powering-up in January 2020.

The company has not divulged whether it will be purchasing power from the parks.

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

Duke snaps up Canadian Solar’s 200MWac Texan bifacial PV project

Duke Energy Renewables has clinched another major solar acquisition in Texas, bringing its PV project count up to four in the Lone Star state.

The developer announced this week the completion of its takeover of Canadian Solar’s Rambler solar scheme in Texas’ Tom Green County, a four-hour drive southeast from the city of Dallas.

The project designed with a capacity of 200MWac – or 266MWp – will feature over 733,000 of Canadian Solar’s bifacial BiKu modules, also recently earmarked by the firm for a separate project in Canada.

Rambler’s sale from Canadian Solar subsidiary Recurrent Energy to Duke Energy will pave the way for construction works at a 1,700-acre site, with the plant scheduled to go live around mid-2020.

Once up and running, the 200MWac scheme will generate enough power to cover the needs of 40,000 households, securing supply under a 15-year deal with an unidentified customer.

Duke Energy will remain Ramblers’ operator and oversee maintenance for the installation in the long term, the buyer and seller explained in a joint statement earlier this week.

The project, the firms said, will employ 400 staff at the height of construction and bring “several million dollars” to Tom Green County throughout its 40-year lifespan.

The hour of Texas

Duke Energy’s purchase of its fourth solar project in Texas is also the second in the space of two months, having bagged in late July 8minute Solar Energy’s 200MW scheme.

Earlier this summer, the firm claimed to have taken its solar portfolio past the 1GW threshold. Its North Carolina home state remains its top US PV market, followed by California.

For Canadian Solar, the PV divestment is the latest in a global series in recent months, including the sale of a 68MW Mexican plant to BlackRock and further exits in Italy (195MW) and Brazil (482MW).

The module maker expects to recoup most of the revenue from this latest Texas sale throughout the third quarter of 2019, according to this week’s statement.

The Ramblers deal marks the latest twist in a bustling solar scene in Texas, predicted by industry reps to become the US’ third fastest growing PV market as it installs 4GW within five years.

The Southern state is now gearing up for the completion of its self-styled largest PV project to date, a 315MWac venture in western Texas by Canadian firm Innergex.

The Phoebe Solar project, built at total costs of US$337.7 million, will supply 89% of its power to Shell Energy North America via a 12-year power purchase agreement.

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

Californian panel maker reaps US$40m in bid to double production

Solaria Corporation is to work towards a doubling of its panel manufacturing capabilities this year, a push financed by a new capital raise.

The Californian panel maker recently bagged US$40 million from individual investors, including a solar-focused duo – T.J. Rodgers and Isidoro Quiroga – who joined the firm’s board of directors after the transaction.

“I have the privilege of seeing and evaluating a wide range of solar technologies, and it quickly became clear to me that Solaria’s approach is unparalleled,” said Rodgers, who founded Cypress Semiconductor Corp. in 1982 but was controversially ousted as the firm’s CEO in April 2016.

Should Solaria succeed in doubling production by the end of 2019, it would mark the second time the Oakland-headquartered panel maker reaches the milestone in the space of a year.

In mid-February, the firm claimed its production was to increase two-fold after signing a deal to supply its PowerXT panels via the facilities of South Korean player Shinsung E&G.

Founded in 2000 in New Mexico, Solaria transferred operations to Silicon Valley in 2003. It started up a solar tracker production business in 2011, which became standalone unit NEXTracker in 2013 and was acquired by Flextronics two years later. 

Meanwhile, Solaria’s panel-making business goes back to 2006, when it built its first production line for utility-scale solar applications. The transition to residential and commercial systems would come in 2014, after NEXTracker’s spin-off.

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

Truce with Michigan utility frees 584MW PV pipeline from planning limbo

US solar players have scored a victory in Michigan this week after regulators ratified a deal to unblock a 584MW PV pipeline, held up by years of standoff with a utility.

On Wednesday, the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) approved a settlement ending a protracted dispute between the solar industry and utility Consumers Energy, over the latter’s delays in complying with renewable purchases mandated by 40-year-old federal legislation.

The bill in question – the PURPA [Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act] of 1978 – requires Consumers and other public utilities to purchase energy from small energy producers but the Michigan firm struggled to comply, prompting a raft of complaints from solar developers.

The utility had justified its failure to grant connection points to solar projects citing an “unprecedented” build-up of requests, arguing the multi-gigawatt queue was difficult to process in a timely and safe manner.

Now that it has been backed by the Michigan regulator, the truce will see Consumers start linking the 584MW pipeline in 2020, connecting 150MW per year. The solar projects – each in the 0.1-20MW capacity range – should all go live by 2024 and will have Consumers Energy as the PPA offtaker.

PV moves against ‘monopoly’ dangers from PURPA reform

US solar body SEIA – which helped negotiate the Michigan cease-fire – has been recently vocal on the dangers PURPA’s “loopholes” pose to the broader clean energy agenda, beyond individual disputes such as the one pitting the industry against Consumers Energy.

In late August, the association urged the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to ensure the looming reform of the act is not used to further entrench utilities’ dominance, which SEIA feels is stopping independent producers from competing in vertically-integrated markets.

Contrary to SEIA’s wishes, statements by FERC suggest the regulator would back the removal of mandatory purchases by utilities. “Renewable generation is not a fledgling industry anymore…[it] no longer needs to be supported by PURPA,” FERC argued as it launched its review in 2016.

SEIA, however, countered in August by claiming PURPA protection remains “crucial” today to protect independent solar producers from some utilities’ “monopoly” ambitions. The association said utility breaches of existing PURPA rules is already “widespread”, calling on FERC to step up enforcement.

“FERC must close the loopholes that allow utilities to skirt competition and states to be lax in their implementation of PURPA’s key tenets,” SEIA’s regulatory affairs VP Katherine Gensler argued last month.

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

174 Power Global bags funding for utility-scale solar in Texas

174 Power Global has wrapped up construction financing for the US$210 million, 150MW first phase of its solar farm in Ector County, northwest Texas, clinching funding from a group of global banks.

France’s Credit Agricole Corporate and Investment Bank and South Korea’s Korea Development Bank are supplying construction and term debt for the Oberon solar project. J. P. Morgan Chase is providing an eight-year solar hedge in exchange for a share of the project’s output, while an unnamed investor is providing tax equity for the first phase.

The developer, which is the US solar arm of South Korean conglomerate Hanwha Group, broke ground on the project in June. It expects phase one of the project to be complete by the spring of 2020.

The facility will be equipped with more than 560,000 Q CELL modules made by its parent company.

174 Power Global switched on its 182MW Midway solar project, also in Texas, in December 2018. It also owns the operational 100MW Laguna solar site in northern Mexico and is currently building a 300MW project in Boulder City contracted to supply power to both of Nevada’s operating companies.

The Solar Energy Industries Association estimates that 4GW of capacity will be installed in the sun-drenched state over the next five years, making it the third fastest growing market in the US.

It currently ranks sixth in overall solar capacity, a drop from second place in 2018 that the SEIA attributes to “environmental regulations and various market pressures”, forcing a significant amount of generation out of the market.

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

Major solar projects change hands in Colorado, California

The US renewables business of Japanese oil and gas major Idemitsu Kosan has bought a 100MW solar project in Colorado from GCL New Energy, a subsidiary of China’s GCL New Energy Holdings.

Construction of the Pioneer solar project is expected before the close of the year. It is contracted to provide energy to local electric distribution cooperative Intermountain Rural Electric Association through a power purchase agreement (PPA) signed in June.

Solar Frontier America’s acquisition of the Pioneer solar [roject is the latest in a string of US activity for the company over the past 12 months. This includes the purchase of the 210MW Mustang Two solar project in California, and the inking of a 15-year agreement to supply power from its 56MW Luciana solar project, also in the sunshine state, to utility East Bay Community Energy.

Charles Pimentel, CEO of Solar Frontier Americas’ independent power producer business, said in a release that the latest acquisition was evidence that a “shift is underway with traditional fossil fuel providers to support investments for clean energy that benefit the future of our environment and society.”

Allianz turns to 8minute project for first US solar buy

US solar and storage developer 8minute Solar Energy has sold the equity interests of the under-construction 67MW Lotus Solar farm in central California to investment management firm Allianz Global Investors.

The farm, which is contracted to provide energy to utility Southern California Edison through a 20-year PPA, is Allianz’ first US solar project. Its annual output is expected to exceed 125 million kWh per year.

In news coinciding with the sale, the project bagged US$140 million of debt financing from NYC-headquartered bank CIT Group and German bank NORD LB. The banks are providing a construction loan, letter of credit and term loan facility for the project.

Construction of the farm began in August and is expected to be completed in May 2020. Tennessee-headquartered Signal Energy is contracted to build the site, which will be equipped with NX Horizon solar trackers by NEXTracker and more than a dozen TMEIC central inverters.

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

Planning win for 8minute’s ultra-cheap LA solar-plus-storage colossus

A project billed as the cheapest solar-plus-storage venture in US history has cleared a major planning hurdle, bagging power purchase agreements (PPAs) after overcoming unions’ resistance.

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) Board of Commission unanimously voted to purchase power from 8minute Solar Energy’s Eland hybrid for a 25-year period, at record-breaking fixed tariffs for solar (US$0.01997/kWh) and energy storage (US$0.013/kWh).

The adopted PPAs – still requiring the LA City Council’s all-clear – commit 8minute to shouldering all costs from developing, running and maintaining the complex, featuring 400MW of solar arrays and battery systems of up to 1,200MWh.

According to the newly approved 930-page PPA proposal, the Eland 1 stage will boast 175MW of solar and 87.5MW/350MWh of storage batteries, with a possibility to boost the latter to 150MW/600MWh. A share of 25MW of PV and 12.5MW/50MWh of batteries will be supplied to GWP – a utility servicing the LA County city of Glendale – under this first stage.

For its part, Eland 2 is designed to comprise 200MW of solar and 100MW/400MWh of storage batteries, with the option to increase the latter systems to a maximum of 150MW/600MWh. The two-stage hybrid, planned at California’s Kern County, should be commercially operational by 31 December 2023.

Describing the PPA endorsement as a “critical step”, LA mayor Eric Garcetti said on social media he is “looking forward” to working with LADWP and the LA City Council to ensure Eland gets past the finish line. The complex will help LA “keep the lights on without the help of dirty fossil fuels, even when the sun isn’t shining,” Garcetti remarked in a separate statement.

Eland faces union detractors and industry skeptics

Eland is meant to play a pivoting role in the LA Green New Deal proposed by Democrat Garcetti, which will should see the sprawling metropolis become fully renewable-powered by 2045. The mayor – who has moved to phase out three natural gas plants by the coast – is keen on Eland’s ability to dispatch power at evening- and night-time, when reliance on non-renewable sources is greatest.

The hybrid’s economics seem, however, to also have played a central role. As this week’s LADWP statement explained, fixed tariffs of below two US dollar cents per kWh were decisive in 8minute’s bidding victory out of 130 proposals. According to the utility’s estimates, the newly-signed PPAs will set each of its customers back less than US$5 per year.

However, some in the solar ranks have questioned whether ultra-cheap Eland can remain money-making for 8minute. Writing for PV Tech in August, Gensol Group vice president Ali Imran Naqvi examined how the US$0.01997/kWh bid will play out economically based on assumptions over component choices, investment tax credit (ITC) support, energy yield and other factors.

“Plugging these numbers in our model threw an equity return of 5%, which leaves very little room for applying sensitivities for these important factors,” Imran Naqvi remarked. “We were filled with enthusiasm at the beginning of this effort to understand the mind of the bidders but burning the midnight oil does not yield much light, it appears.”

For 8minute, the talk on Eland’s economic uncertainty adds to the pressure exerted in recent weeks by union detractors. This week’s PPA green-light by the LADWP Board follows its opposite move in late August, when the L.A. Times reported the utility had opted not to approve the project, purportedly owing to concerns from labour unions critical of Garcetti’s Green New Deal plans.

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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