PV Tech’s COVID-19 tracker: 25 May - 31 May

By PV Tech
Image credit: CDC / Unsplash

Over its first few months of existence, the COVID-19 crisis has already wreaked major havoc across the world, and the solar industry has not been immune.

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From hampered flows of raw materials for manufacturers to financing delays for developers, both upstream and downstream PV players have already felt the weight of the pandemic as it continues its global trek, infecting millions and sparking talk of a worldwide recession.

Only time can confirm what the long-term implications will be from what remains a still-maturing crisis. For now, however, PV Tech will keep an eye on reports on the ground and sound out industry players to share here the latest news and developments as they come, starting with the most recent. 

If you have a COVID-19 statement to share or a story on how the pandemic is disrupting a solar business anywhere in the world, do get in touch at [email protected] or [email protected].

Our sister titles Energy.Storage.News and Solar Power Portal have also launched similar trackers to map out COVID-19 impacts on the energy storage sector and the UK solar industry.  

Pandemic prompts one-year delay for COP26 climate talks in Glasgow

29 May 2020: The annual edition of the UN's climate summit has been delayed by one year, the UN has announced as calls mount for countries to link the COVID-19 response to climate action.

On Thursday, a statement from the UN climate agency the UNFCCC said the COP26 conference meant to take place in the UK city of Glasgow this autumn will be postponed until next year, with 1-12 November selected as the new dates.

As the UNFCCC noted, the delays to the flagship annual summit will not stop negotiators from gathering at online events this year. “Our efforts to address climate change and COVID-19 are not mutually exclusive. If done right, the recovery from the COVID-19 crisis can steer us to a more inclusive and sustainable climate path,” said UNFCCC head Patricia Espinosa.

See here to read the UNFCCC’s statement in full and here for UK government’s statement

Europe’s green recovery proposals: Renewable highlights and reactions

29 May 2020: Commentators have hailed the EU’s launch this week of a COVID-19 comeback plan set to make renewables a key recovery engine, with question marks still looming on how the sector will be supported specifically.

The so-called ‘Next Generation EU’ roadmap presented by the European Commission on Wednesday singles out renewables – “especially wind and solar” – as one of four strategic pillars of the EU’s post-COVID economy, alongside building renovation, clean transport and others.

The plan to “repair and prepare for the next generation” would see the Commission borrow €750 billion (US$827 billion) and bolster the EU budget to heavily invest, via various instruments (see below), in renewables, climate-proof buildings, 5G networks, worker re-skilling and others.

See here to read the PV Tech story in full

Divvying up the billions: The funding strands of the Commission’s recovery plan

1) Next Generation EU: A €750 billion plan the Commission will fund via grants (€500 million) and loans (€250 billion). The money will be repaid between 2028 and 2058 and channelled via various programmes, including the renewables-relevant selection below:

  • Strategic Investment Facility: This €150 billion new strand will be created within the investment programme known as InvestEU. It will invest in energy transition technologies including renewables, batteries and other forms of energy storage, clean hydrogen and carbon capture and storage.
  • Horizon Europe: This existing programme will be reinforced to reach a €94.4 billion pot, earmarked for research schemes in the green and digital transition and other areas.

2) Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), or the EU’s long-term budget: The budget’s firepower for 2021-2027 will be boosted via “targeted reinforcements”.

Total funding across Next Generation EU and the reinforced MFF: €1.85 trillion.

Solar debut of Zimbabwean firm resumes work after COVID-19 delays

29 May 2020: Zimbabwean energy IPP Solgas Energy has restarted construction work for its maiden solar project after delays from the COVID-19 crisis, newZWire reports.

On Thursday, the news service said Solgas is back building the 5MW first phase of its solar project in solar plant at Cross Mabale, near the town of Hwange in Zimbabwe’s westernmost tip. According to newZWire, the firm plans to complete this first stage by August.

See here to read newZWire’s brief and here for PV Tech’s coverage of solar news in Zimbabwe

Section 201 twist and tax credit reprieve bring double win for COVID-hit US solar

29 May 2020: US solar developers reeling from COVID-19 impacts were told this week they will be offered both more time to qualify for tax credits and the continued duty-free import of bifacial modules.

The US government made good on its promise earlier this month of a reprieve around tax credits for solar (ITC) and wind (PTC), announcing this week renewable developers will have an extra year to meet safe harbor rules and qualify for the government incentive.

The week also saw US Court of International Trade judge Gary S. Katzmann block the plans by Donald Trump’s administration to reinstate tariffs for bifacial solar imports, which the government had itself acted to exempt in June 2019.

See here to read the PV Tech story in full

Safe-harboring and Section 201 exemptions: The documents at the centre of this week's changes

  • US Treasury/IRS Notice 2020-41 setting out the safe harbor changes: See here.
  • Analysis by law firm Stoel Rives LLP of the safe harbor changes: See here
  • Ruling by judge Gary S. Katzmann on bifacial's Section 201 exemption: See here
  • USTR's statement on the ruling on bifacial's Section 201 exemption: See here

Mexico’s IEnova donates US$2m-plus to COVID-19 relief efforts

29 May 2020: Mexican energy player IEnova has handed out a multi-million package of financial aid to the hospitals and aid workers combating the pandemic in the country.

In a recent social media statement, IEnova – a Sempra Energy-owned group currently working on a 376MW solar pipeline – said it has donated 50 million Mexican peso (US$2.2 million) to healthcare centres, food banks and other aid organisations.

See here to read IEnova’s statement and here for PV Tech’s coverage of IEnova’s IFC-backed 376MW solar pipeline in Mexico

French renewables record all-time high as PV installs near 10GW

28 May 2020: French solar installs stand now near the 10GW mark after a first quarter when renewable electricity reached a new record coinciding with lockdown measures, according to industry stats.

The Q1 2020 update of various French associations shows green energy generation reached an all-time high of 37.6TWh, going on to cover 25% of the country’s electricity needs. At 173MW added over the quarter, the solar sector went on to boast a cumulative capacity of 9.6GW.

The milestones emerge as France strives to shelter its green energy sector from the COVID-19 chaos. Earlier in the pandemic, the country was persuaded by PV representatives to delay but not cancel auctions, in a bid to drive growth towards steep targets for 2023 (21GW) and 2028 (44.5GW).

See here to read the latest industry figures and here for PV Tech’s coverage of French solar news

Renewables spending must double as pandemic squeezes broader energy funding – IEA

28 May 2020: The International Energy Agency (IEA) has urged world countries to drive a doubling of renewable investment this decade, helping reverse a flatlining aggravated by the COVID-19 outbreak.

A new report from the agency warned the pandemic will trigger a US$400 billion drop (equivalent to a 20% contraction) in global energy spending in 2020, where a 2% year-on-year increase had been predicted before the health emergency came to grip the world.

According to the new projections, capital spending on solar, wind and others will (see table below) drop worldwide by 10% year-on-year. The clean energy funding flows must more than double over the next 10 years to keep global warming at bay, said executive director Fatih Birol.

See here to read the PV Tech story in full

Global investment across energy segments in 2018, 2019 and 2020

Year Renewables Fossil fuels Upstream oil and gas All energy sectors
2018 US$308 billion US$130 billion US$480 billion US$1.9 trillion
2019 US$311 billion US$130 billion US$483 billion US$1.89 trillion
2020 (estimate) US$281 billion US$111 billion US$322 billion US$1.52 trillion
Source: IEA’s World Energy Investment 2020

All systems go for small-scale solar permitting in pandemic-stricken Chile

28 May 2020: Chile’s licensing of distributed solar plants continues apace despite the onset of one of the most severe COVID-19 outbreaks in the whole of Latin America, government figures show.

The country – with 82,000-plus reported virus cases, including Energy minister Juan Carlos Jobet – is currently examining a US$314 million, 279MW pipeline of 16 small-scale solar systems. The applicants add to the many utility-scale PV plants under construction in the Atacama Desert.

See here to read the government’s statement in full and here for PV Tech’s coverage of Chilean solar news

HSBC analyst: Solar set for quick bounce-back despite Q1, Q2 slowdown

28 May 2020: The long-term momentum of global solar is “undimmed” despite the short-term standstill brought about by the COVID-19 emergency, according to the HSBC’s Sean McLoughlin.

In a recent post, the bank’s EMEA head of Industrials Research wrote that the industry’s recovery will start in earnest next year, with China – where 40-45GW installs are being predicted – likely to bounce back faster than other key markets such as Europe.

See here to read McLoughlin’s post in full

Spanish solar hits new generation record as country returns to streets

28 May 2020: Solar power scored yet another milestone in Spain as the country made tentative steps to normality after months of strict confinement measures, official stats show.

According to grid operator REE, solar generation reached a record 9.014GW at 14:00 Central European Time on 18 May 2020, breaking the prior all-time high of 8.753GW registered only three weeks earlier.

The back-to-back solar feats come as Spanish solar operators work to resume project construction after a 10-day freeze in April. Judged by recent Solar Media webinars, the country’s PV players feel bullish about financing prospects even if grid issues continue to raise concerns.

See here to read REE’s statement and here for PV Tech’s coverage of discussions on Iberian solar finance and grid reform, part of last week’s Large Scale Digital summit  

The new 9GW-plus solar generation record breaks the prior all-time high of 8.753GW, registered only three weeks earlier. Image credit: REE / Twitter

‘Strategic tool’: Solar asks to be pillar of Brazil’s COVID-19 recovery

28 May 2020: Solar could help citizens combat the COVID-19 pandemic in Latin America’s worst-hit country, industry representatives have said as they touted the sector’s economic potential.

Executives at solar association ABSOLAR and manufacturer Renovigi recently penned a post on TN Petróleo where they urged the country to allow the PV sector to become a “strategic tool”, proposing a scheme that would see solar installed atop low-income tariffs under a social tariff.

The article took note of the blow the COVID-19 pandemic has delivered to solar operators in Brazil, whose virus case count is currently exceeded only by the US. Earlier in 2020, PV equipment distributors saw 60-90% drops of turnover compared to the same period in 2019, the post said.  

See here to read the TN Petróleo post in full and here for PV Tech’s coverage of Brazilian solar news

COVID-era solar builder secures green light for new 40MWp duo in Spain

27 May 2020: One of the parties resuming solar construction in Spain after a 10-day pandemic-driven hiatus has announced plans to follow with a new batch for projects.

IBOX Energy – a partnership between developers Ibexia Development and Cox Energy – said this week it has bagged the environmental go-ahead for a 40MWp solar duo in Spain’s Extremadura, a region fast becoming a European hotspot of solar deployment.

The good news for the Hornachos and Olivenza projects emerge as a separate IBOX Energy PV project, the 50MW Posadas plant in Andalusia, progresses through construction. In April, the firms walked PV Tech through the COVID-19 safety measures rolled out after work resumed that month.

See here for more information about IBOX Energy and here for PV Tech’s earlier profile of the partnership’s 50MW Posadas project in Andalusia

Large Scale Digital: Solar financing tweaks key to Italy’s future PPA comeback

27 May 2020: Solar developers in Italy are tweaking financial models to circumvent delays to the signing of power purchase agreements.

That was the conclusion from a panel discussion which explored the progress of Italy’s solar market in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, with Italy progressing towards the ambitious solar generating capacity target of 52GW by 2030.

The panel discussion, which formed part of Solar Media’s Large-scale Solar Summit, brought together Italian market stakeholders to discuss its immediate prospects and how players have adapted to the pandemic’s ramifications.

Large Scale Digital: A week of online debate on solar's post-COVID future

19 May 2020: Large Scale Digital: Iberian solar players bullish on financing outlook (See here to read the PV Tech story in full)

20 May 2020: Large Scale Digital: Grid not COVID-19 the key battle ahead for Iberian solar (See here to read the PV Tech story in full)

22 May 2020: Large Scale Digital: Subsidy-free solar to prosper in post-COVID world (See here to read the PV Tech story in full)

25 May 2020: PODCAST: Large-scale Solar Digital Summit in review (See here to listen to the podcast in full)

26 May 2020: Large Scale Digital: Solar financing tweaks key to Italy’s future PPA comeback (See here to read the PV Tech story in full)

Taiwanese solar generation soars in quarter of lockdown measures

27 May 2020: Taiwan experienced a surge of solar electricity even as the country adopted strict lockdown measures that delivered some of the lowest fatality rates worldwide, official figures show.

Output from Taiwan's PV plants soared 65.9% in Q1 2020 compared to the same quarter last year while installed PV capacity jumped 39.7% in the same period, according to the island’s Bureau of Energy. By contrast, wind generation rose by 4.4% while hydro power dipped by 12.9%.

See here to read the Bureau of Energy’s statement in full and here for PV Tech’s analysis of solar prospects in Taiwan

Record power prices and carbon lows over long weekend keep UK grid on its toes

27 May 2020: The UK’s lockdown-era electricity network witnessed another exceptional bank holiday weekend, with power prices hitting new record lows as carbon intensity dropped to its lowest point ever.

As reported by sister title Current±, Drax Electric Insights figures show that the average day-ahead wholesale electricity price across Friday 22 May was -£9.92/MWh. Prices fell as low as -£52.03/MWh in the early hours of Friday morning.

The past weekend delivered another record to the UK power system, with carbon emissions from electricity reaching their lowest point. On Saturday 23 May, carbon intensity levels averaged just 61gCO2/kWh, a huge drop of 15g lower than the previous record set on the 17 August 2019.

See here to read the full story on PV Tech’s sister title Current±

Solar radios to support refugee home schooling in Mali

27 May 2020: Refugee families in Mali have been handed out solar-powered radios to assist with distance learning as COVID-19 continues its slow expansion across the country.

Refugee agency the UNHCR said this week 5,500 of these devices had been distributed among displaced communities in the African state, in a bid to guarantee the right to education of some 11,000 people.

See here to read UNHCR’s statement in full

The delivery of the 5,500 solar-powered radios was supported by global multilateral fund Education Cannot Wait. Image credit: UNHCR Mali / Twitter

Chilean Energy minister confirms COVID-19 diagnosis

27 May 2020: The top policymaker steering Chile’s bustling solar scene has contracted COVID-19, joining thousands of others in a country now recording Latin America’s third highest case count.

Energy minister Juan Carlos Jobet – one of two officials leading a LatAm-wide renewable energy push – said he had tested positive on Monday this week, with the Ministry later confirming he had not been in direct contact with president Sebastián Piñera over the past few days.

See here to read Chile Energy Ministry’s statement in full and here for PV Tech's coverage of solar news in Chile

Oil major BP slashes top exec roles in bid to ‘reinvent’ post-COVID – Reuters

27 May 2020: Oil group BP is to more than halve its top management positions from 250 to 120 to ensure a “smaller, nimbler” firm can thrive in the post-COVID era, Reuters reports.

The outlet recently cited company emails from chief executive Bernard Looney, where he reportedly described a plan to shed Tier 1 and Tier 2 executives. The claims of trimming at the top emerge as BP – eyeing net-zero emissions by 2050 – grapples with COVID-19 impacts on the broader oil sector.

See here to read the Reuters story in full and here for PV Tech's coverage of BP's net-zero plans

EU makes two-year 15GW renewable auction push part of pandemic recovery – leak

27 May 2020: EU policymakers could steer the mass-scale auctioning of renewable power this year and next, according to a leaked document that links the sector’s future with that of clean hydrogen.

If leaks earlier in May had showcased the European Commission’s view of renewables as a COVID-19 recovery pillar, the latest draft to emerge – first obtained by outlet Euractiv and later seen by PV Tech – sheds light on the specific plans to support the industry as it navigates the current downturn.

The late-May leak describes an “EU Tendering scheme” that would see 15GW of green energy auctioned across the bloc this year and next. The annual blocks of 7.5GW – a quarter of the solar and wind capacity built in the EU in 2019 – will “make up” for the auctioning slowdown at country level, the document says.

See here to read the PV Tech story in full

Making a green splash: The Commission's spending plans, based on the leak

1) Expansion of renewable energy: €10 billion (two years)
2) Doubling the Clean Hydrogen Partnership: €1.3 billion (through the MFF)
3) Help kick-start the Innovation Fund with complementary financing: €2-4 billion (two years) 
4) One-million-tonne of clean hydrogen production: €5-30 billion (Innovation Fund)
5) Green Infrastructure Fund for Renewables and Hydrogen: €10 billion (per year) 

Downstream momentum helps Taiwanese solar makers weather downturn

26 May 2020: Taiwan-based solar manufacturers may perform better this quarter than in Q1 thanks to the pull effect of under-construction large projects on the island, according to TSEC Corporation.

In a new statement, the group pointed at PV schemes including Changbin Industrial Park (180MW), Taiwan Sugar (400MW) and Taipower’s (150MW) as drivers of activity for solar module factories across the island.

TSEC’s talk of “optimism” in Taiwan – widely praised over its COVID-19 pandemic response – follows PV Tech’s attendance last October of Energy Taiwan 2019, a visit this publication used to take stock of the island’s downstream opportunity and upstream challenges.

See here to read TSEC’s statement in full

#BiodiversityDay: Praise for nature-friendly solar as Spain vows to ease permitting bottlenecks

26 May 2020: Solar plants’ ability to become a “nature reserve” was recognised a recent industry webinar in Spain, which saw a government speaker pledge to cut project permitting red-tape.

Arranged by national PV body UNEF, the online debate had industry operators, policymakers and campaigners discuss how the solar boom mandated by growth targets can be delivered without impacting on biodiversity, amid calls for projects to include wildlife corridors and other measures.

A speaker from the Spanish government – which recently said renewables and biodiversity will be a core part of the COVID-19 recovery – restated the administration’s will to ease permitting for solar projects, amid talk of new measures to ensure environmental licences can be granted faster.

See here to read UNEF’s statement in full

Large Scale Digital: Subsidy-free solar to prosper in post-COVID world

26 May 2020: Unsubsidised solar will thrive in the new world order that is emerging from the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic despite the immediate hit from tumbling power prices, industry operators have said at Solar Media’s Large Scale Digital Summit.

Like their Iberian counterparts last Tuesday, NextEnergy Capital, Octopus Renewables and the other firms joining the online session on Thursday were confident that solar’s subsidy-free shift will remain the way forward, provided the industry continues to ramp up innovation as recently.

Stirling Habbitts, director at financial advisory Green Giraffe, said the current “psychological shift” among infrastructure investors may benefit solar. “Airports, toll roads, oil and gas – these were seen as very stable in the past and look at them now,” he said. “Today, in terms of where you get stable returns, there’ll probably be receptiveness to the idea that even without subsidies, solar is better.”

See here to read the PV Tech story in full

Solar took 24 months to embrace the innovation it had been

SunPower targets army veterans with new solar rebate

26 May 2020: SunPower is to offer a US$1,000 rebate for formerly and currently serving members of the US army looking to install solar at home.

The firm – who like some of its US solar peers saw a strong Q1 despite COVID-19 but expects a slower Q2 – said in recent days it will offer the incentive to military veterans to “serve those who've dedicated their lives to serving our country.”

The move follows analysts’ predictions that US residential solar installers may bounce back from the pandemic faster than expected, with speakers at a Roth Capital webinar claiming sales have already recovered to February 2020 levels.

See here to read SunPower’s statement in full and here for PV Tech's broader coverage of SunPower-related news

RenewableUK calls on government to ‘go even further’ to support solar

26 May 2020: The UK has been urged to “go even further” with support of solar as the industry looks beyond COVID-19 and works to speed up deployment towards net-zero goals, sister title Solar Power Portal reports.

In recent days, UK-wide association RenewableUK released a new report exploring its vision of the changes the energy system will need to meet net zero by 2050. The document called on the government to double down on solar-friendly measures including public sector PPAs.

See here to read the story in full on PV Tech’s sister title Solar Power Portal

Mexico’s clampdown on renewables triggers governor rebellion – reports

26 May 2020: More than a dozen Mexican state governors have publicly condemned the president’s new restrictions on renewable generation over “stability” concerns, Energía Estratégica reports.

According to the specialised outlet, 15 Mexican state heads have made a stand – as of 24 May 2020 – against the measures rolled out by government agency CENACE in recent weeks, including the freezing of green energy grid tests and a potential licensing ban in congested zones.

For president Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the pushback from governors adds to the obstacles set by the courts. Last week, reports emerged that a Mexico City judge had provisionally suspended the reform’s application on at least two renewable developers, which had tabled challenges.

See here to read the Energía Estratégica story in full and here for PV Tech's broader coverage of Mexican solar news

Mexico's COVID-19 renewables controversy: A timeline

5 May 2020: Industry promises legal action as Mexico blocks renewables on ‘stability’ grounds (Full PV Tech story)

13 May 2020: Mexico’s renewable clampdown puts Neoen’s ultra-competitive PV plant in limbo (Full PV Tech story)

19 May 2020: EU, Canada step in as outcry mounts against Mexico’s block to renewables (Full PV Tech story)

20 May 2020: Judge grants temporary block of Mexico’s renewable restrictions – reports (Full PV Tech story)

COVID-19 a ‘lever’ for climate action – expert

26 May 2020: A mix of regulatory measures and sound leadership could see countries such as the UK accelerate their shift to a low-carbon world after COVID-19, according to independent consultant Stephen Cirell.

Writing for sister title Current±, Cirell delved into the approaches the UK the government could use to ensure that the “vested interests of polluters do not hold sway” as the country recovers from the pandemic. “This is an opportunity and one that simply must not be wasted,” he added.

See here to read Cirell’s post in full on PV Tech’s sister title Current±

PODCAST: Large Scale Solar Digital Summit plots post-COVID future for industry

26 May 2020: In this special episode of the Solar Media Podcast, Liam Stoker is joined by Jo Wilkinson, José Rojo and Molly Lempriere to review all of the industry-leading insight and discussion that took place during the Large-scale Solar Digital Summit (18-22 May 2020).

We learned how the solar industry has responded to and moved beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, while also provide a deep dive on what hurdles remain for large-scale solar development. We also talk technology trends, and track developments across Iberia, Italy, the UK and other markets.

You can stream the podcast below:

Africa calls for renewably-powered recovery as pandemic ‘stretches sector thin’

26 May 2020: A discussion convened by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) produced calls on African leaders to back the renewable sector, said to be “stretched thin” by COVID-19.

“Unless urgent measures are taken to preserve the sector and prepare it for the post-pandemic recovery, the energy situation could impede the continent’s ability to cope with the crisis and economic downturn,” said an IRENA statement summarising the highlights of the online talk.

The campaign to preserve African renewable momentum is gathering steam as COVID-19 extends throughout the continent. In late April, IRENA signed a deal with pan-African body the AUC that will see countries tap into solar and others to power their response to the pandemic.

See here to read IRENA’s new statement in full

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