Fragmented US solar industry offers opportunities to expand


The company’s recent merger is backed by Omnes Capital. Image: Photo by American Public Power Association on Unsplash

The US solar industry will continue to grow in the upcoming years while many companies are expanding their business to tap into the opportunities in the market. One of these companies is solar developer Hawthorne Renewables. Announcing its launch in June, the company plans to operate 2GW of solar assets and invest US$250 million in the US market in the next several years. 

Therefore, PV Tech Premium talked with Conor Grogan, co-founder and co-CEO of Hawthorne Renewables, about the company’s operations in the US market and plans for the upcoming years. 

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Hawthorne Renewables was formed from a merger of Irish independent power producer (IPP) Power Capital Energy Group and Oregon-based solar development company Sulus Solar. The new company positions itself as a solar development company partnering with local businesses, communities and people to produce clean energy with minimal cost to the customer.

Asked about the reason for the merger, Grogan said that Power Capital Energy Group is building some large-scale solar projects in Ireland. For example, the company is building the Lysaghtstown solar farm located near Cork with a capacity of about 131MW. Currently, Ireland has 349MW of utility-scale solar connected to the grid, according to the Irish Solar Association. 

“For a relatively young solar PV market, this is extremely impressive,” Grogan said. “Power Capital Energy Group has been an essential ally in advising us on company strategy. We also both report to the same funder who has been extremely helpful in facilitating the merger, allowing us to do what we do best.”

The merger was backed by green energy private equity firm Omnes Capital which made its first foray into the US market. In the next three to four years, Omnes Capital will invest US$250 million in the US market through Hawthorne Renewables.

Opportunities in the US market

The solar industry in the US is thriving. PV Tech reported that the industry had the most growth of any quarter in its history in the first quarter of 2023, as delayed projects from 2022 came online and supply chain constraints showed signs of loosening. Research firm Wood Mackenzie and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) said in the US Solar Market Insight Q2 2023 report that 6.1GW of solar was installed across the country in the first three months of the year. This represented a 47% year-on-year increase from Q1 2022 and a 19% decline from Q4.

Speaking of the US market, Grogan said the company is optimistic about the opportunities. 

He added that the company is aiming to build, own and operate utility-scale projects in at least three states in the US after the merger, and have over 2GW in the development pipeline. Grogan and Colin Murphy, co-founder and co-CEO of Hawthrone Renewables, will lead the company’s expansion plan. 

“The Inflation Reduction Act in 2022 was a game changer, alongside a lot of other policies from the current administration. (Although) transmission restrictions and grid queues are our main pinch points right now, the Congress is aware and is making changes,” said Grogan. 

For example, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) could see 19% of its solar assets – and 13% of wind – curtailed by 2035 if no transmission upgrades are made, according to analysis from the US Energy Information Administration (EIA). In 2022 that figure was only 9% for solar and 5% for wind generation.

EIA said the curtailment issue will be around the balance of supply and demand. A dramatic increase in renewables capacity that exceeds what the grid can use will result in assets being curtailed, having their output reduced or being turned off altogether, therefore wasting the potential energy and reducing the long-term value of the asset.

What is the company working on?

Grogan believed that Hawthorne Renewables’ competitive edge lies in being analytical. “With so many different investor-owned utilities and markets across the country, the development industry is very fragmented, and we would like to keep a piece of that,” he said. 

Despite the company still in its early stages, Grogan said Hawthorne Renewables is increasing the number of employees before tapping into the opportunities in the market. The company has nine employees and is expected to reach 15 by Q1 2024. Market analysts and business developers are the positions that the company is actively looking for. 

Given the size of the company, Hawthorne Renewables has two offices at the moment, including one in Phoenix and one in Portland, and is “enough for the company’s operations”. 

“Hawthorne Renewables is well-positioned to sprint out of the gates with the experience, ambition and capital to be a significant player in the clean power generation movement,” Grogan said. 

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