First Solar targets Germany’s 600MW large-scale solar revival

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US thin-film manufacturer First Solar is targeting projects as part of a proposed tender to build 600MW of new large-scale solar in Germany, which is expected to be implemented early next year, PV Tech has learned.

PV Tech spoke to Christopher Burghardt, First Solar’s vice president of business development for Europe, at the EuroSEF conference in Brussels last week. Burghardt talked up the potential of three key European markets in the short term: Germany, the UK and Turkey.

Burghardt said the market for large-scale solar in Germany “will be back next year with tenders”. When pressed further he revealed that Germany is preparing to launch the 600MW tender process next year, to be decided by competitive bids. He said there is “certainly a place for solar in [Europe’s] electricity generation; these tenders are all very positive”.

Benjamin Winter, an analyst with DWR eco, a company advising First Solar and others on the tender, said the government was currently drafting a bill and appeared keen to avoid “negative experiences from other countries”, including Brazil, France and the Netherlands, where solar tenders have been put out and not met with the success that had been hoped for by the respective governments. The process is expected to involve a reverse auction, where the lowest bids will have the best chance of winning.

Germany will hold two auctions next year with around 200MW to 300MW in each auction. Plant sizes are expected to be limited to up to 25MW capacity per facility. Payments will be made per kilowat hour through market premium mechanisms, with developers given a finite time to complete projects after approval and financial guarantees are in place. Among other “key elements” of designing the tender are the government’s keenness to avoid creating a secondary market, involving trading of rights for projects.

Burghardt also referred to forthcoming policy changes in the UK and said that these were unlikely to deter the company from seeking opportunities there. Burghardt said that the UK remains a big market within Europe, and said he thought Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROCs) were a good vehicle for promoting the expansion of photovoltaics, with the company expected to continue using the ROCs until the scheme closes to plus-5MW projects next year, to be replaced by the contracts for difference (CfD) centralised pool of funding. He said also that CfDs would not stop First Solar’s activities in the UK.

“The UK is a big market, we are looking to use the ROC scheme, and an end to large plants which is not a big issue, we like CfDs” Burghardt said on recent changes to support schemes in the UK.”

The event in Belgium focused on independence from fossil fuel imports, in particular the recent events in Ukraine, and energy security. Burghardt praised speaker Hans-Josef Fell of the Energy Watch Group for bringing it to the attention of attendees at EuroSEF the different levels of subsidies throughout the energy market.

“Electricity is not inflated because of feed-in tariffs for renewables; the whole energy market is heavily subsidised, not just directly but in so many different ways. With fossil fuels receiving so many different subsidies, how is best to compare?”

Burghardt said Ukraine, for example, needs lower FiTs as the government cannot support it, which waivers investment, and solar technology needs room to breathe and grow across Europe.

“Solar needs the right regulation, not less.”

Burghardt also talked up the potential for solar in Turkey, as well as the forthcoming next round of tenders in France.

Additional reporting by Andy Colthorpe. This story was updated from its original to clarify First Solar's role in the forthcoming tender.

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