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INTERVIEW - First Solar bets on tenders, corporate PPAs for business growth in Europe, Africa

First Solar PV plant. Source: First Solar Inc

October 26 (Renewables Now) – While transitioning to a new product series, First Solar Inc (NASDAQ:FSLR) is still actively looking for utility-scale opportunities across Europe, Turkey and Africa, Stefan Degener, Head of Business Development for Europe & Africa tells Renewables Now in an exclusive interview.

“In Europe and Africa, First Solar is mostly a technology supplier, not an active project developer, so our business growth strategy focuses on supplying modules to utility-scale PV generation projects, either as part of a state-level capacity tendering or corporate power purchase agreements,” Mr. Degener notes.

EUROPE

"Right now, First Solar's European team is primarily targetting utility-scale projects in ongoing capacity tenders in France, Germany, the Netherlands and Spain," Degener says.

Sales in Turkey and selected countries in Central Asia and around the Black Sea are supported by Turkish conglomerate Zorlu Holding AS under a five-year collaborative sales agreement.

“We are very satisfied with the current outcomes from this distribution agreement,” Mr. Degener said, declining further information on sales figures due to confidentiality of contracts.

Corporate power purchase agreements (PPAs) are another market niche which is picking up in Europe and one that  "will change the market for solar power over the next couple of years," Degener says.  “It is currently a market constrained by regulatory hurdles but industry associations like Solar Power Europe are already working hard on the opening of regulations for corporate PPAs,” he adds.

This trend is already quite visible with the RE 100 initiative achieving 100 members three years ahead of schedule. With the 4 new companies that joined in September, the list of corporations with a commitment of sourcing 100% of their electricity from renewables grew to 106. The annual demand for renewables-sourced power created by these companies, currently equals 150 TWh -- more than enough to meet the electricity consumption of the state of New York.

AFRICA

"When we talk about Africa, we need to keep in mind that specific countries are at a very different stage of adopting renewables and solar power, in particular”, Degener says. “However, one thing is pretty clear for projects there," he continues. “The cost of a kolowatt-hour generated from a solar power plant has come down significantly over the past few years supported by international initiatives such as the Scaling Solar programe by IFC. German government-owned development bank KfW and the African Development  Bank have also played a role in facilitating the adoption of solar in these emerging markets.”

First Solar is particularly active in Zambia and also looking into project opportunities in Burkina Faso, Senegal, Ethiopia and Madagascar as well as the ongoing hybrid solar tender in Morocco.

 “In general, he adds -- solar power is the preferred technology for renewable energy projects in Africa because it can be built pretty quickly compared with other technologies and First Solar’s thin-film technology, especially the Series 6 module is well suited for the hot and humid climate in Africa, ”Degener comments.

"However, political and regulatory stability is a necessary condition for utility scale projects to find investors and finance. Local logistics and supply chains are still kind of challenging as well," he notes.

TRANSITIONING TO SERIES 6

First Solar currently manufactures cadmium-telluride (CdTe), thin-film solar modules in its facilities in Perrysburg, Ohio and Kulim, Malaysia. It has already started replacing series 4 production lines with series 6 ones in Perrysburg. At its Q2 earnings presentation in July this year, the company also announced it will equip its never-used manufacturing site in Vietnam with Series 6 production lines.

"Series 6 is expected to have an improved conversion efficiency, which combined with the larger module size (2 metres by 1.20)  will bring a 420 watt panel to market," Degener noted.

Additionally, scaling of the module size is expected to result in an approximately 40% lower module cost per watt as compared to Series 4, First Solar claimed in its 2016 annual report.

"First Solar is targeting market roll-out of Series 6 production in mid-2018" Degener says. By the end of 2019, the production capacity will be ramped up to "just under 4 GW".

In 2016, the company shipped over 2.7 GW (DC) of modules, with 870 MW of these outside the USA, mainly to India and the Middle East, where the CdTe technology has an energy yield advantage. Shipments over the first half of 2017 came in at 1.5 GW while 2.1 GW new bookings were received till the end of July.

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Browse all articles from Mariyana Yaneva

Mariyana is a founding member of the Renewables Now team. With nine years of professional experience in renewables she has built strong expertise in the wind industry and French-speaking markets.

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