The hottest news on the solar front is the growth in corporate power purchase agreements where the off-takers are energy intensive users, such as mines. Driving this willingness to invest in solar is a need to secure affordable energy supply.
ESI Africa spoke with Gulnara Abdullina, General Manager:
Globally, the solar photovoltaic (PV) market has been growing year-on-year, with unprecedented solar PV growth seen in China, India, Japan and the US with a combined global demand accounting for approximately 70%. The plant size differs from region to region, but utility-scale is driving the game.
Gulnara, what are the main factors driving the demand?
In Africa, where electrification rates are low, governments together with development finance institutions and donor organisations are rolling out rural electrification programmes through rural electrification agencies – and that is helping to drive the solar agenda. Another consideration is mini- and micro-grid developers; however, financing is an issue because they need to aggregate the assets to get the finance. Nonetheless, it’s an up and coming market especially in East and West Africa.
On the distributed generation side, the end user views their retail tariff as a base point when considering a solar investment. For that market, the payback period is sometimes too long, and this is stifling demand. For utility-scale, the most significant enabler is political will and cooperation with regulators to attract DFIs to put a bankable project in place.
Where do you see the hidden potential and obstacles for the uptake of solar?
There is a considerable opportunity on a micro level where corporates, through power purchase agreements, undertake the project. These power plants can include implementing hybrid systems; however, it remains essential to ensure that the offtakers are bankable. Another element is to factor in commodity pricing and the lifespan of the off-takers’ operations. For example, consider the lifespan of the mine’s operations in relation to the timeframe of the PPA. It’s crucial that the PPA should be attractive to financiers – so be sure to ‘tick all the boxes’. Another obstacle could be where the regulatory framework is not ready, which includes issues such as licence and land rights.
Is climate change affecting the older solar plants’ generation capacity?
There’s a technical parameter within the solar module where an increase in temperature will result in a slight decrease in energy production. This temperature deficiency is not an issue for our latest panels, which allows for higher temperature – the module produces more than its predecessor in the same range.
As a long-standing innovative company in the solar market, we increase the efficiency of our products in a costcompetitive manner. Three years ago, the output for our 2m2 panel had a capacity of 320W per square metre; today that same panel reaches 400W. Our focus is on decreasing the industry cost-curve, which contributes to solar being competitive against other generation technologies.
Is it cost-effective to replace the solar modules of a large-scale plant with the latest designs?
Retrofitting of existing plants is suitable in the European market where it is becoming a new trend because the uptake of solar in this region was hot in as early as 2008 to 2010. It’s very different in Africa, where construction of the earliest plants took place between 2012 and 2013. It’s about the need to generate more energy out of the same site; definitely a trend to be aware of but mostly in mature markets.
What do you predict the market influences will be in the next five years?
I expect considerable deployment of solar across the world but specifically in Africa. There will be increased acceptance from governments as they begin to understand this modular and deployable model – whether distributed, grid-tied or off-grid. As knowledge of this technology’s resourcefulness increases, governments will be keen to create the frameworks or provide additional centres to stimulate the market. Another trigger for growth will come from the investment community, which will be open to financing small projects because that’s where the most significant opportunity lies. ESI
About the company
Jinko Solar, the world’s largest manufacturer and global leader in the solar industry, distributes its solar PV products and sells its solutions and services to a diversified international utility, commercial and residential customer base.
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