The heavyweight PV projects of 2013

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While 2012 was arguably the year the solar mega project entered the public consciousness, with what are (for now) some of the world’s largest PV plants reaching completion, 2013 has seen its fair share of solar behemoths too.

The usual suspects such as China and the US have been leading players in the utility-scale PV market this year, with the latter expected in 2013 to double the 3GW of large-scale PV it had at the end of 2012. But some new players, notably FiT-fuelled Japan, have joined the top table, and some fresh faces, such as Ethiopia, Uganda and Uzbekistan, have revealed intentions to join solar’s large-scale club. Although not expected in the overall top 10 biggest end markets of the year, Canada and Ukraine also deserve a mention as significant players in large-scale PV, with each adding numerous new utility-scale plants this year.

We will have to wait for the analysts to gather all the relevant data before we are able to name a definitive list of 2013’s top 10 projects. For now PV Tech offers some highlights from what we are informed by industry insiders will shortly be confirmed as the largest solar end markets of 2013 – China, the US, Japan, Germany, India, the United Kingdom, Australia, Greece, Italy and France.

Here are the biggest projects of 2013 from the world’s biggest markets.

USA: California Valley Solar Ranch, 250MW

While the switch on of Abengoa’s 280MW concentrated solar power project takes the top spot for all solar technologies in the US, the top photovoltaic plant completion for 2013 was the California Valley Solar Ranch. All 250MW of the project are now online and although it connected 22MW at the end of 2012, the remaining 228MW connected in 2013 still make it the largest in the US, according to data from the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). The project was built by SunPower and uses the company’s modular Oasis Power Plant Technology. The project benefitted from a US$1.2 billion loan guarantee and cost an estimated US$1.6 billion to build. This year has seen utility-scale solar capacity double in the US, and a further doubling is expected next year, with a number of very large projects in the pipeline.

India: Neemuch, 151MW

Although new installed capacity in India for 2013 has been around a modest 900MW, the country continues to make progress, with the second round of its national JNNSM solar mission now underway. One highlight of 2013 was the completion of Welspun’s 151MWp solar plant project near Diken village in Neemuch, Madhya Pradesh in August, nine months ahead of schedule. Welspun won the contract out of 12 competing bidders after tendering a low tariff of INR8.05 per unit. The Central Bank of India was the leading financier for the project in a consortium that provided funding of INR880 crore. Analysts are predicting a better year for India in 2014, with a total 750MW of solar up for grabs under the first round of JNNSM II. However, ongoing disputes over domestic content rules in the national solar mission are still a possibility.

Germany: Templin, 128MWp

In April, German PV plant innovator Belectric completed what will be its home country’s largest solar array of the year, a 128MW mega project on a disused Russian airfield near the town of Templin, Brandenburg. As an exemplar of futuristic energy provision, the Templin project certainly looks the part – a glittering sea of military-straight banks of modules stretching away into the distance. Indeed, Templin is one of the world’s most technically advanced large PV plants, combining over 1.5 million First Solar thin-film modules with Belectric’s cutting-edge power control technology. But it could also be among a dying breed in Germany; the country’s PV industry association, BSW Solar, warned in December that the German government’s moves to scale back PV subsidies could kill off large-scale project development in the country entirely. Almost no large PV projects are planned in Germany in 2014.

China: Jiayuguan, 100.3MW

In China, large solar projects are a relatively common commodity; according to online PV project tracker, Wiki-Solar, the country now has 168 10MW-plus projects completed, totalling over 4GW. But even in such a crowded playing field, the 100.3MW Jiayuguan project in Giansu, understood to be China’s largest project completion of the year, stands out as a giant. Connected in June, the project is owned by Goldpoly, the Hong Kong-based manufacturer that has been on a buccaneering drive into downstream PV territory this year since acquiring a stake in project development company, China Merchants New Energy. The project was developed by Zhongli Talesun and covers a site of some 2.6 square kilometres. Expect more mega-project completions in China next year, as the country looks to repeat its 2013 feat of being the world’s largest end market.

Japan: Kagoshima Nanatsujima Mega Solar Power Plant, 70MW

Japan’s largest PV plant to date went online at the beginning of November. The futuristic-looking 70MW project sits on the southern island of Kyushu. The power station also features a two-storey visitor centre and observation platform. The project required around ¥27 billion (US$275 million) in investment, led by Japanese ceramics company and PV manufacturer Kyocera, which also supplied panels and undertook part of the construction. According to the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), around 3.9GW of PV has been installed in the country since the introduction of the feed-in tariff in July 2012. However, while many large-scale projects were approved, it was estimated that only around one-tenth of those had been connected to the grid by the third quarter of 2013, prompting METI to launch an investigation. The residential market, on the other hand, continues to thrive. An overhaul of the energy distribution market has also been tentatively scheduled for the near future.

Greece: Sky Solar, 70MW

This year Greece surpassed a cumulative installed capacity of over 2.5GW, a consequence of the strong support PV had previously received from the government. But in 2013 Greece’s prolonged economic crisis also overflowed into the solar industry, with the government introducing drastic 40% cuts to the country’s feed-in tariff in June and later proposing a new system of net metering. But in plenty of time to beat the cuts, China-based renewable energy asset developer Sky Solar announced in March the completion of the second phase of a 70MW PV project at an unspecified location in Greece. The project qualified for the 20-year feed-in tariff of €0.29-0.44 per kWh generated. The project was connected to the Greek grid in two stages, 40MW in January and 30MW in March.

United Kingdom: Wymeswold Airfield, 33MW

The UK’s largest generating solar farm, the 33MW project on a former World War II airfield, stands as a testament to the maturing UK solar market. Developer Lark Energy managed to win planning consent for the giant solar farm in November 2012 despite a tumultuous political backdrop. Construction of the park proved to be incredibly challenging, the combination of inclement British weather and a difficult directional drill to fit a cable route across the River Soar providing a serious test for Lark Energy. However, with changes to the Renewable Obligation looming, the developer was able to finish the installation in just seven weeks, completing it in March. Since then, the 33MW solar farm has been sold for £43.7 million to institutional investor Foresight Solar Fund. But the project looks set to be superseded as the UK’s largest project in 2014, with a 41MW project already under construction.

France: Verrerie, 24MW

The French Riviera is a hotbed for aspirational luxury, so it’s only fitting that it is also the host of one of the largest PV projects in France and one of the largest to be officially switched on in 2013. The 24MW Verrerie project, developed by Akuo Energy uses high-efficiency SunPower E19-320 modules. Environmentally-minded Hollywood A-listers enjoying the hospitality of the Riviera would also be pleased to know that the project has incorporated several features to boost biodiversity. As well as continued sheep grazing on the site, wildflower pastures support local bees and the site can be converted back to its original use once it reaches the end of its lifespan. The outlook for PV in France in 2014 looks uncertain. On 1 January 2013 the French government enacted a retroactive 20% feed-in tariff cut for projects between 100kW and 12MW that were connected after 1 October 2012. Then in October Philippe Martin, the French minister for ecology, sustainable development and energy, triggered further uncertainty in the market when he said the country's solar support scheme, including an 11% tax break, would be reviewed.

Italy: Borgo San Lazzaro, 13MW

Italy has followed what seems to be becoming a European trend of scaling back solar support, with the government ceasing solar funding as part of a new national energy strategy. As the country’s Conto Energia V incentive programme hit its cap of €6.7 billion in July (US$8.7 billion), signalling the end of financial incentives for solar, a new net metering facility and a 50% tax break were introduced. Just in time for the change in support system, Enel Green Power completed the 13MW Borgo San Lazzaro project in Salerno Province. Built on 190 hectares of Italian Defence Ministry land, the project sits alongside the smaller 8MW Spineto project, also developed by Enel Green Power. Both projects use 3Sun thin-film modules. Together the projects are expected to generate 30 million kWh a year.

Australia: Mildura Solar Demonstration Facility, 1.5MW (CPV)

The largest project completed in Australia this year is a 1.5MW CPV plant in Mildura, Victoria. Brought online by high-tech research firm Silex and designer/manufacturer Solar Systems in the summer, one of the main functions of the plant is to demonstrate the feasibility of utility-scale solar power generation. Solar Systems hopes to eventually expand the installation to 100MW. Although installed solar capacity has increased rapidly enough in Australia this year to make it one of the world’s biggest markets, the vast majority of capacity added has been on rooftops. Large-scale and commercial generation is expected to take off in 2014, including two projects of 102MW and 53MW in New South Wales. The Australian market has also been characterised by research and development projects including a 3.28MW PV power station and research facility planned by the University of Queensland and First Solar. However the new Australian government has cut funding to the Australian Renewable Energy Association (ARENA) by AUS$435 million (US$385.85 million).

Additional reporting: Lucy Woods, John Parnell, Andy Colthorpe and Peter Bennett.

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