Solar Energy News Highlights Feb. 25–Mar. 4, 2019

Among this week’s highlights: The list of U.S. states and cities shooting for 100 percent renewable or zero-carbon electricity grows; European oil and gas majors step up renewable energy investments...

Solar Energy News Highlights Cover: Feb. 25–Mar. 4, 2019

- Maine Joins Growing List of U.S. States Considering 100-Percent Renewable Energy, Zero-Carbon Electricity Goals

Famous for its lobsters, the governor of the far northeastern state of Maine is proposing the state set a 100-percent renewable electricity goal. Governor Janet Mills is proposing that all Maine’s electricity be sourced from emissions-free, renewable energy resources by 2050.

The effects of climate change on Maine’s lobsters figured prominently in the governor’s proposal. “The Gulf of Maine is warming at a rate faster than 99 percent of the world’s oceans, driving our lobster populations further up the coast,” Mills was quoted in a news report. “Here in Maine, we are witnessing these changes firsthand.”

Maine Lobsters and Climate Change Effects

Gov. Mills said a climate council would be created to help the state achieve these goals.

Maine joins a growing list of U.S. states instituting, or considering instituting, 100-percent renewable, or zero-carbon, electricity goals. That list includes Hawaii, where Gov. David Ige in June 2015 signed legislation that requires the state’s utilities to source all their electricity from renewable energy resources by 2045. Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee in December proposed a package of climate change legislation that includes eliminating fossil-fuel electricity by 2045.

California set a 100-percent-by-2045 zero-carbon electricity goal in September last year. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed the state set a 100-percent-by-2040 zero-carbon electricity goal in January. Newly elected governors in Colorado and Connecticut are pushing for 100-percent renewable energy mandates, as well. So are their counterparts in Illinois, Minnesota and Nevada.

U.S. cities are considering, or have already instituted, or even achieved, 100-percent renewable or zero-carbon electricity goals. More than 90 cities and 10 counties across the U.S. have set such goals, according to environmental rights group the Sierra Club. So has the nation’s capital, Washington D.C. Six, albeit smaller cities, have already realized them. Aspen, Burlington, Georgetown, Greensburg, Rock Port, and Kodiak Island have already hit their targets, according to Sierra Club’s latest published count.

- European Oil & Gas Majors Step Up Solar Energy Investments

Shell and Total acquired European solar energy companies this past week amid expectations Europe’s solar energy market will rebound to levels not seen for some seven years.

Total Eren, an independent power producer 23-percent owned by Total, announced it was acquiring solar and renewable energy project developer Novenergia, which owns a portfolio of some 47 solar, wind and small-scale hydroelectric projects with a total capacity of 657 MW in southern Europe, according to a news report. Shell announced it is acquiring the U.K.’s Limejump a developer of virtual power plants (VPPs) that aggregate and collectively manage distributed, typically renewable energy-centered, generation capacity for use on power grids. Limejump’s VPPs reportedly manage 780 MW of power capacity in the U.K.

Market research company IHS Markit expects Europe’s renewable energy market will rebound and see 18 GW of newly installed capacity in 2019. Growth is expected to be fastest in Germany and the European Union’s southern tier — in France, the Iberian Peninsula and Italy, where subsidy-free solar and wind power projects have and are coming online. The institution of new, more ambitious climate change goals is spurring growth forecasts, as well.

Acquiring smaller, established solar and renewable energy project developers gives oil and gas majors such as Shell and Total a faster means of acquiring development and technological expertise, as well as investment portfolios generating returns. The oil and gas majors, in turn, can provide a lot in the way of international business development experience and networks, as well as cheaper capital, that can accelerate and expand acquired companies strategic plans.

Shell recently announced it would acquire Germany’s sonnen, a pioneering developer of intelligent, battery-based energy storage systems and systems integrator.

Total has been a leader among integrated oil-and-gas multinationals when it comes to investing in and assembling a portfolio of solar and renewable energy companies. That includes entering the solar energy market by acquiring a controlling interest in U.S. market leader SunPower in 2011. Total solar energy affiliates are now operating in Chile, Japan and South Africa, as well. The France-based corporation’s total renewable power generation capacity in operation now stands at around 1.9 GW-peak.

Total Installing Solar PV Modules on Solar Farms
Photo: Total

The company is also installing solar PV systems on its own sites. More than 5,000 of its service stations and 300 of Total’s industrial sites will be equipped with solar energy generation capacity over the course of the next five years, management says.

- Sweden’s SIDA Pumps Another USD50 million Over Five Years to Expand Solar Home Systems Across Sub-Saharan Africa

SIDA, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, is expanding investments aimed at bringing the benefits of emissions-free, environmentally friendly electricity to off-grid communities in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Based on the success of its investments in Zambia, SIDA is pumping another USD50 million to help deliver small-scale energy services in Burkina Faso, Liberia and Mozambique. All told, SIDA estimates anywhere from 5 million–15 million people in rural and poor urban areas will gain access to electricity, many for the first time, by signing up for pay-as-you-go solar home systems.

“Electricity is a prerequisite for people to lift themselves out of poverty,” stated SIDA Director General Carin Jämtin. “By leapfrogging the national electricity grid and promoting innovative off-grid solutions, we make it easier to study after dark, charge mobile phones and computers and keep food chilled. Electricity also creates jobs by improving the conditions to run shops and other businesses.”

A five-year, USD50 million aid program, SIDA’s Beyond the Grid Fund for Africa (BGFA) solicits tenders from energy services companies in which they describe and explain their solar home systems business models. Typically, the solar home systems are sold on a rent-to-own basis with customers paying affordable, monthly fees, usually via a mobile money transfer service, until the system has been paid off.

Sweden’s SIDA Providing Off-Grid Solar Systems for Africans
Photo: SIDA

The guiding principle is to invest in local businesses that will be able to sustain themselves once SIDA funding ends. BGFA contracts cover some of the costs of solar home systems installation. Most of the costs are covered by companies and other investors, however. All told, SIDA estimates the amount of capital raised as a result of its five-year, USD50 million investment will total USD200 million.

“This is what is so important,” said SIDA’s Anders Arvidson. “If we only funded electricity connections without continued support, it wouldn’t spark long-term change. Our goal is to stimulate sustainable business models; companies that will keep growing when the contracts with BGFA expire.”

SIDA’s Beyond the Grid Fund for Zambia (BGFZ) served as a model for the program’s expansion. Halfway through its five-year term, BGFZ has exceeded expectations, SIDA says. To date, 450,000 of an expected 1 million people have gained access to electricity. That’s twice as many as was originally expected. SIDA now expects that 1.6 million Zambians will have gained access to affordable and sustainable electricity for the first time when BGFZ comes to an end in 2021.

“We have proved that small-scale energy solutions can generate large-scale effects. But despite the large numbers, it is meeting with those who have gained access to electricity that is most inspiring. Electricity changes people’s lives in a way that can be difficult for us living in Sweden to understand,” Arvidson said.

- Bifacial Solar Panels Moving into the Mainstream

Bifacial solar panels are moving into the mainstream as PV manufacturers step up efforts to ramp up production capacity.

DuPont Photovoltaic Solutions and Jinko Solar Holding Co. on Feb. 27 unveiled Swan, the latter’s new, high-efficiency bifacial solar module at the 2019 International Photovoltaic Power Generation Expo in Tokyo.

The latest addition to Jinko’s Cheetah line of premium solar modules, Swan bifacial panels can produce as much as 400 MW of electrical power from their front sides and add as much as a 20 percent gain from their rear sides. The new modules are protected by DuPont’s transparent Tedlar PVF film-based backsheet, the companies explain.

Jinko Solar’s Swan Bifacial Solar Panels at PV Expo in Japan
Photo: Jinko Solar

Notably, Swan bifacial solar panels can achieve the same power output level as dual-glass bifacial modules, but they’re lighter in weight, which makes for easier and cheaper installation, according to Jinko. Jinko also provides a 30-year power warranty.

Canadian Solar in early February announced it will install more than 286,000 of its BiHiKu bifacial PV modules, each said to produce more than 400W of nominal power on their front sides and as much as 20 percent more electrical power overall than conventional, crystalline silicon solar panels commonly used today, in bringing the project to fruition. Brazilian development bank Banco do Nordeste is providing the $80 million to finance the 114-MW, Salgueiro solar PV project in northeastern Brazil’s Pernambuco state, according to a news report.

More recently, Canadian Solar announced it will install its bifacial solar panels in three precedent-setting projects in Alberta, Canada. Alberta’s provincial government recently awarded what it describes as a historic, 20-year contract that will see the three new solar power facilities supply about 55 percent of the annual electricity needs of government properties in southeast Alberta between Medicine Hat and Calgary.

At C$0.048 per kilowatt-hour (kWh), the cost of the solar energy is the lowest in Canadian history. Alberta’s government expects to shave C$3.9 million per year off its annual electricity bills as compared to the costs of existing contracts as a result, according to a news report.

Canadian Solar and Conklin Métis Local 193, part of the indigenous Métis Nation of Alberta, are joining in a 50-50 partnership to build, own and operate the three solar power farms, which will be located in Hay, Tilley and Jenner. comment↓


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