Month: August 2019

SEIA: US renewable purchase reform must not entrench utility dominance

The pressure building for the US to water down decades-old federal energy policy risks further tilting the scales in utilities’ favour, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).

A full scrapping of mandatory energy procurement for utilities under the PURPA Act of 1978 could harm independent producers’ ability to compete in vertically-integrated markets, the PV body said in policy documents released this week.  

SEIA’s note is meant to inform a review by the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) of PURPA’s mandatory purchase rules, which require public utilities to procure energy from small producers – so-called qualifying facilities (QFs) – at “just and reasonable” rates for consumers.

Voices including US utility commissioner body NARUC have suggested replacing the obligation with utility-run competitive solicitations. SEIA believes, however, these players “disingenuously” fail to recognise the “consistent” discrimination QFs face from utilities all across the US.

“Multiple discussions with SEIA’s membership revealed that the majority of QF developers are unable to gain meaningful market access in most of the 35 states with vertical integration,” the association’s policy note reads.

“It’s consumers who are harmed by the lack of competition with their local utility,” SEIA CEO Abigail Ross Hopper said in a statement this week. Utilities adding low-cost solar to their portfolios don’t always pass savings to the consumers, she argued.

Safeguards to counter utilities’ “monopoly” ambitions

The controversy sinks its roots into the PURPA [Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act] of 1978, passed by the Jimmy Carter-era US Congress to diversify the energy mix and embrace alternative energy sources, at a time when US$100-a-barrel oil prices were being predicted.

Launching the current review in 2016, US energy watchdog FERC argued a mix of structural changes since the 1970s – the advent of green regulations driving coal phase-outs, utilities’ adoption of renewable portfolio standards – have removed the need for mandatory purchases.

“Renewable generation is not a fledgling industry anymore…[it] no longer needs to be supported by PURPA,” FERC said in 2016, noting that wind and solar generation were the US’ predominant sources of new generation already at the time.

SEIA, however, believes PURPA protection remains “crucial” today to protect independent solar producers from some utilities’ “monopoly” ambitions. The solar body does support a certain shift to competitive bidding as long as various “safeguards” are built into it.

Stronger oversight and enforcement on FERC’s part would be key to clamp down on “widespread” PURPA breaches by many state commissions and utilities, SEIA believes. The FERC, regulatory affairs VP Katherine Gensler said, must act to “close the loopholes” being used to “skirt competition”.

US utilities eye cost-competitive solar-plus-storage

The mounting scrutiny on utility moves in the renewable space come as the sector turns to solar in growing numbers, with energy storage hybrids emerging as a particularly popular venture thanks to sound economics.

From Hawaii’s 900MW clean energy tender to Nevada’s 1.2GW/590MW solar-plus-storage push and Dominion Energy’s 500MW solar-plus-wind move in Virginia, announcements from the utility ranks have continued to pile over the past few months alone. 

Some states have witnessed trouble, however, centred on rights and obligations under PURPA. A solar project backlog of nearly 600MW remains in planning limbo in Michigan after utility Consumers Energy opted to turn down connection applications it said it could not process in time.

This particular standstill now stands closer to resolution, though. A truce brokered with SEIA’s help – and backed by both the utility and the solar developers who had tabled complaints against it – has now been put forward to Michigan regulator MSPC, which will decide whether to green-light it.

See here for more information on SEIA’s PURPA policy proposals

US solar prospects amid policy changes and utility moves will take centre stage at Solar Media’s Solar & Storage Finance USA, to be held in New York on 29-30 October 2019

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Standard Solar, Pivot Energy co-develop 8.9MW community solar portfolio in Colorado

Standard Solar and Pivot Energy have expanded their partnership to co-develop five more community solar projects across Colorado. 

This portfolio of projects, all featuring ground-mounted arrays, will have a combined installed generation capacity of 8.9MW. The first two projects in the expanded portfolio will begin construction at the end of this summer, while all five are expected to be completed by summer 2020.

Standard Solar will finance, own and maintain the community solar arrays that Pivot Energy will develop and construct. Once these projects are operational, customer enrollment and subscriptions will be managed through SunCentral, which serves as Pivot Energy’s proprietary community solar customer management interface. 

Scott Wiater, president and CEO of Standard Solar, said: “Community solar is currently the hottest segment of the solar industry, and we see unlimited opportunities for growth, especially through strong partnerships like the one we have with Pivot Energy. We look forward to funding more opportunities in Colorado and nationwide with our in-house capital, making more projects – from 100kW to dozens of MWs – a reality.”

Together, these five projects are expected to produce 17,791,770 kWh of energy annually, which translates to offsetting the greenhouse gas emissions from 2,671 passenger vehicles driven for one year and the CO2 emissions from 1,507 homes’ energy use for one year.

Jon Sullivan, vice president of project development for Pivot Energy, added: “Pivot Energy is thrilled to partner with Standard Solar to bring more clean and affordable solar energy to residents, businesses, and communities in our home state. Pivot is committed to accelerating the country’s transition to a clean and distributed electric grid. The projects and partnership we have built with Standard Solar represent us getting one step closer to achieving that commitment.”

Back in October 2018, Pivot Energy and Standard Solar partnered on 13 community solar sites totaling 10.3MW in Colorado. The first 10 projects of that 13-site pipeline are now operational. 

US solar prospects across all segments, from utility-scale to community PV, will take centre stage at Solar Media’s Solar & Storage Finance USA, to be held in New York on 29-30 October 2019

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Amazon fire claims add to Tesla’s troubles with PV installs

Reports of fires at Amazon facilities look set to pile fresh controversy on Tesla’s US solar installs, with new claims emerging only days after Walmart took Elon Musk’s firm to court over blaze incidents.

Reports aired by Bloomberg and others over the weekend claim Amazon has now linked a fire at one of its Californian warehouses in June 2018 to Tesla’s solar installs.

In emails cited by the publication, the e-commerce giant is reported to have said it has since taken steps to protect its facilities and will refrain from installing further Tesla units.

Tesla’s response, via a widely reported spokesperson statement, was to describe last year’s incident as an “isolated event” related to an inverter at one of the Amazon sites.

“Tesla worked collaboratively with Amazon to root cause the event and remediate. We also performed inspections at the other sites, which confirmed the integrity of the systems. As with all of our commercial solar installations, we continue to proactively monitor the systems to ensure they operate safely and reliably,” the spokesperson is quoted as having said.

Contacted today, an Amazon UK spokesperson had not responded to PV Tech’s questions over the June 2018 incident, reported to have taken place at its facility in Redlands.

Walmart lawsuit gives way to rapprochement

For Tesla, the opening of a new controversy front comes as a separate dispute with another US corporate giant shows signs of minor defusing.

In a lawsuit filed last week, Walmart had demanded damages and removal of Tesla’s solar installs amid allegations that the company’s “systemic, widespread failures” were the culprit of a series of rooftop blazes over the past decade.

Both sides have struck a more conciliatory tone in the intervening days, however. A recently circulated statement saw Walmart and Tesla come together around a joint promise to address “all issues” behind the fire incidents.

Both firms claimed to be “looking forward” to re-energising Tesla PV installs at Walmart facilities “once all parties are certain that all concerns have been addressed”.

Whether the rapprochement will stop the lawsuit from going ahead remains uncertain. In the case it brought before the New York County Supreme Court, Walmart alleged Tesla used staff lacking “basic solar training and knowledge”, increasing the risk of hotspots on solar panels.

For Tesla, the scrutiny on fire safety is further building within days of a reboot of its solar panel business, announced after its solar deployment dropped to record-low levels in Q2 2019.

US solar prospects will take centre stage at Solar Media’s Solar & Storage Finance USA, to be held in New York on 29-30 October 2019

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Hawaii launches mega 900MW renewables tender

Hawaiian Electric Co (HECO) has kickstarted a colossal clean energy tender, seeking providers of 900MW worth of renewables and energy storage projects.

The tender launched on Monday is the largest renewables procurement ever issued in the state, with an estimated capacity of 2,000GWh annually.

The investor-owned utility is soliciting 594MW worth of solar for O’ahu island – together with 135MW for Maui and up to 203MW for Hawai’i – from local and global developers.

All renewables for Maui and Hawai’i must include energy storage, whereas on O’ahu, such partnerships remain optional.

Hawaii has pledged to be powered entirely by renewables by 2045. O’ahu’s 180MW AES coal-fired power plant, which meets 16% of peak power demand on the island, is due to close by September 2022. On Maui, the 27.6MW Kuhului oil-fired plant will be decommissioned in 2024.

Storage on O’ahu and Maui is also being sought to replace firm generating units, which can be provided by renewable generation paired with storage or standalone storage. Contingency storage is also being sought for O’ahu and Hawai’i islands.

Clean energy moves later this year for smaller islands

The winning projects are expected to be selected by May 2020 and come online between 2022 and 2025.

A separate request for proposals for grid services from customer-sited distributed energy resources on O’ahu, Maui, and Hawaii was also launched. The winning projects, which can range from 4-119MW, are expected to be awarded in January 2022 and come online by 2022 at the latest.

According to the HECO, Hawaii’s public utilities commission has engaged independent observers and technical advisers to ensure that all proposals are treated fairly and equitably “due to the complexity of projects sought.”

Later this year, HECO will issue requests for proposals for renewables for two of Hawaii’s smaller islands, pending approval by the state’s public utilities commission. It will seek the equivalent of 4MW of solar-plus-storage or 3.6MW of wind-plus-storage for Moloka’i. The equivalent of around 9.5MW of solar-plus-storage will be pursued on Lana’i.

In the first phase of Hawaii’s renewables procurement in 2018, eight projects totalling 260MW/1GWh of solar-plus-storage were negotiated on O’ahu, Maui and Hawai’i. Prices arranged for those projects, which will come online by 2021, average 9.38 US dollar cents per kWh, lower than the current cost of fossil fuel generation, which is about 15 cents per kWh.

US solar prospects amid alliances with the energy storage sector will take centre stage at Solar Media’s Solar & Storage Finance USA, to be held in New York on 29-30 October 2019

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US solar to outrun wind as king of 85GW corporate PPA future

Solar is to leapfrog wind to become the undisputed top renewable energy source for US corporates greening their supply through 2030, according to Wood Mackenzie and US wind body AWEA.

In a report unveiled this week, both organisations said a mix of political and economic factors could see Fortune 1000 firms snap up 85GW worth of clean energy supply in the years to 2030, with 2018’s record annual purchases of 6GW set to accelerate even further.

Coupled with cost declines and incentives such as investment tax credits (ITC), the “failure” of US federal policy – including Donald Trump’s move to axe his predecessor Barack Obama’s Clean Energy Plan – has galvanised corporates’ solar and wind agenda, the analysis said.

According to the report, the 3.9GW in corporate wind purchases expected in 2019 will continue to beat solar’s 1.3GW. However, the document said, solar could jump ahead in 2021 and open a major gap through 2030, hitting annual purchases of 6.6GW-12.54GW over wind’s less-than-2GW.

Wind, the analysis noted, could be hindered by the sometimes worse fit between its diurnal patterns and peak power demands. Energy storage could help offset wind’s “boom-bust” cycles but the former currently favours solar’s ITC access, smaller sizes and more predictable generation profile, the study added.

According to Wood Mackenzie and AWEA, solar’s likely leadership does not mean its journey to corporate PPA favourite will be challenge-free. The industry might have weathered US module tariffs to date but could be “tested” – and lose market share – if these policies are maintained and the planned ITC phase-out goes ahead, the organisations said.

Facebook, Google and Amazon lead purchases to 2018

The new analysis singles out the top US corporate renewable proponents driving purchases to date. Ten firms alone account for a 62.3% market share in MW terms, led by Facebook (24 solar and wind PPAs, 14.1% share), Google (15, 13.7%) and Amazon (14, 7.3%).

The report’s top three contrasts slightly to the PV-only figures released by US solar body SEIA in mid-July, which ranked Apple (close to 400MW of 7GW installed to date), Amazon (close to 350MW) and Target (close to 250MW) as the leading three solar buyers.

Wood Mackenzie’s and AWEA’s belief that renewable corporate PPAs will soar is underpinned, in part, by the political tailwinds building as the US heads to presidential elections next year. Growth estimates, they noted, reflect climate change’s emergence as a key issue of recent Democratic candidate debates.

The report acknowledged the various barriers looming over long-term PPA momentum in the US. Legislative moves to scrap incentive schemes is a key challenge, as is the lack of standardised contracts able to bring down the significant costs of PPA negotiations.

Utility green tariffs, the document pointed out, could prove an ally for smaller corporate offtakers forced to accept less attractive PPA conditions to reflect their higher credit risks. As PV Tech has noted this year, interest in the utility space – particularly for solar-plus-storage – is on the rise.

See here for more information on Wood Mackenzie’s and AWEA’s latest joint report

US solar prospects amid alliances with top corporates and the energy storage sector will take centre stage at Solar Media’s Solar & Storage Finance USA, to be held in New York on 29-30 October 2019

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Walmart pins store fires on Tesla solar installs in new lawsuit

Walmart has linked a string of store fires in recent years to Tesla’s alleged mismanagement of solar panel installation and maintenance, taking Elon Musk’s outfit to court.

A new lawsuit from the US retail colossus demands damages from Tesla and the full removal of its solar installs, amid claims that the company’s “systemic, widespread failures” were the culprit of a series of rooftop blazes over the past decade.

“To state the obvious, properly designed, installed, inspected, and maintained solar systems do not spontaneously combust, and the occurrence of multiple fires involving Tesla’s solar systems is but one unmistakable sign of negligence by Tesla,” reads Walmart’s lawsuit.

The document – filed on Tuesday before the New York County Supreme Court – urges the tribunal to declare Tesla in breach of 240-plus contracts the firm entered with Walmart between 2010 and 2016, tasking it with the roll-out, running and maintenance of solar panels in hundreds of locations.

Hotspots ‘visible to the naked eye’

Walmart’s lawsuit sketches out a timeline for at least seven store blazes between 2012 and 2018, all of which the US retailer attributes to what it describes as Tesla’s “gross negligence”.

The series begins with three fires at Tesla-equipped stores: California’s Long Beach (2012) and Milpitas (2016) and Colorado’s Lakeside (2017). According to Walmart’s estimates, the first two incidents cost around US$90,000 and US$500,000 in respective damages. 

The lawsuit’s timeline continues with another three blazes throughout H1 2018 at locations fitted with Tesla installs. After the last of the three, another California blaze in May 2018, Walmart asked Tesla to disconnect all rooftop solar systems.

Tesla acquiesced but this, Walmart claimed, did not prevent a further blaze at California’s Yuba City facility with switched-off PV installs in November 2018. Investigations revealed wires were “still sparking” when the fire was discovered, the US retailer claimed.

According to the lawsuit, post-fire panel probing at various locations found “hotspots” – or “micro-crack” precursors – where heat and pressure were building. Tesla, the document alleges, routinely used staff lacking “basic solar training and knowledge” and the correct equipment to carry out inspections.

In the case of Yuba City’s fire, the document goes on to claim, a Tesla technician helped create a “fire hazard” by failing to shut a combiner box. Tesla staff, Walmart alleges, also failed to disclose a ground fault alert triggered at the location last summer.

Eyes on Musk amid solar relaunch

Whether and how Tesla responds to the lawsuit remains unclear at the time of writing. Contacted today by PV Tech, the firm had not offered any comment by the time this article was published.

The lawsuit claims Tesla has yet to offer a “complete set of final root cause analyses” of the key factors behind the string of fires. The Silicon Valley firm has not paid “one cent” of the out-of-pocket damages and other fees Walmart faced over four of the seven fires, the document alleges.

The lawsuit does not identify the solar module brands found in the stores in question. Figures from ROTH Capital show leading suppliers to its Californian PV installations in 2016 were REC Group (35% of all module supply), Kyocera (30%), Tesla itself (11%) and Trina Solar (8%).

Walmart claims to have made one last attempt for Tesla to respond to the accusations in July 2019, giving the firm a 30-day window to shed light on blaze causes and compensate Walmart over losses until that point. Tesla, Walmart alleges, failed to deliver on these points by 15 August, paving the way for the current lawsuit.

For Tesla, the prospect of litigation and controversy comes within days of a reboot of its solar panel business, featuring a new US rental service. “With the new lower Tesla pricing, it’s like having a money printer on your roof if you live a state with high electricity costs,” was how CEO Musk pitched the relaunch on Twitter over the weekend.

The firm has witnessed muted solar roll-out levels in recent quarters, hitting record-low deployment figures in Q2 2019 even as energy storage reached new highs. The Silicon Valley player, which acquired SolarCity in 2016, lost in recent times its spot as the US top residential installer to Sunrun.

See here to read the lawsuit and other case documents in full

US solar prospects will take centre stage at Solar Media’s Solar & Storage Finance USA, to be held in New York on 29-30 October 2019

Read the entire story

Sunnova reports more customers and dealers in Q2

US residential solar installer Sunnova reported a growing dealer network, more customers, new solar products and a larger geographical footprint in its first earnings release since going public.

The Houston-headquartered firm, which relies on an independent dealer network to sell and install systems, increased its customer base by nearly 20% over the last 12 months. It now boasts 67,600 customers in 20 states, up from 53,700 a year back.

Over the past three months, the firm has expanded into new territories, improved battery attachment rates and launched new solar-plus-storage products, according to CEO John Berger.

“Looking forward, our business continues to build momentum driven by the competitive benefits of our growing dealer network,” he said in a statement to investors. “We are working closely with our dealers to originate and close new business.”

The newly-listed firm signed two fresh dealer agreements in July, including one with rooftop solar contractor PetersonDean that will target residential customers in California ahead of the state’s solar home mandate.

Sunnova expects to add 30% more customers by the end of the year, according to Berger.

The company attributed improved second-quarter earnings of US$34.6 million – up from US$29 million in 2018 – to an increased systems deployment. Adjusted earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) jumped from US$13.2 million to US$13.6 million for the quarter.

Sunnova attributed its net loss – US$49.8 million, a dramatic increase from US$9.2 million in 2018 – to losses on interest rate swaps, a loss on the extinguishment of debt, and rocketing operating expenses.

The company blamed escalating operating expenses to an increase in a number of systems deployed as well as “expenses associated with its public offering”. Adjusted operating expenses at the close of the second quarter were US$21 million, an increase of US$5.3 million from the year before.

Berger said the company is “well-positioned and well-funded” to grow and meet operational and financial targets, thanks to “strong progress coupled with a favourable macroeconomic environment”.

The company secured investments worth US$75 million under a new tax equity facility in March, closed a US$167.6 million solar loan securitisation in June, and raised US$168 million when it went public in late July.

The public offering raised significantly less than the US$270 million Sunnova originally anticipated. This has been largely attributed to rival solar residential installer Sunrun circulating a note ahead of trading alleging that its competitor’s metrics were misleading and inaccurate.

Sunnova said it would use the proceeds from its public offering to pay back US$56.8 million in debt and for “general corporate purposes” according to filings with the US Securities and Exchange Commission.

Sunnova was the first major US solar company to go public after Sunrun in 2015.

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GlidePath acquires 149MW Texas wind portfolio with storage additions planned

GlidePath Power Solutions has acquired eight wind projects in North Texas with a total capacity of 149MW.

The portfolio, purchased from Exelon Generation, will be optimised by GlidePath while it plans how best to add energy storage on-site at each project. The projects are all north of Amarillo and sell into the Southwest Power Pool (SPP).

Chris McKissack, Chief Operating Officer for GlidePath told Energy-Storage.News:

“We believe there’s an opportunity to build out storage facilities up to the nameplate capacity of the wind farms in the portfolio. There’s great potential for storage to reduce transmission congestion and improve the economics of wind farms in SPP and other markets.”

According to GlidePath, they will be the first battery storage projects in the SPP.

“The high penetration of wind energy in North Texas offers us an excellent opportunity to pair these facilities with the latest battery storage technology,” said David Braun, president, GlidePath Asset Management. “We look forward to managing these wind assets in a way that will hopefully strengthen the reliability of supply in the local electric grid and deliver benefits for Texas power consumers.”

In June, SPP revealed that it would launch the Western Energy Imbalance Service market (WEIS) with settlements every five minutes. The previous balancing market run by SPP was launched in 2007 and paid out US$103 million in its first year.

GlidePath has a 1GW battery storage development portfolio, including a 10MW /10MWh project in Texas announced in April this year.

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North Carolina energy plan looks to clear remaining regulatory hurdles for solar

Existing solar power policies in North Carolina will go under review as part of the state’s draft Clean Energy Plan. Published last week, it includes the retirement of 4GW of coal and the proposal of measures to drive renewable energy more broadly as well as boosting EV adoption in the US state.

The broad-scoped document covers the establishment of a state clean energy fund, backing for an offshore wind supply chain and a review of grid infrastructure plans.

The draft targets greater solar deployment, both at utility-scale and as part of the contribution from distributed energy resources (DER). The state has an existing competitive framework for solar deployment, meant to drive the roll-out of 4GW of large-scale solar by 2025. That, and other related policies will now be under review to ensure customers, and dominant utility Duke Energy, can acquire the renewable energy they want. This includes assessing the state’s existing community solar programme and developing an obligatory virtual net metering offering from the utilities.

The report also clearly states that as investment decisions are made across the state, conventional infrastructure choices will need to be heavily scrutinised.

“As RE and (DER) costs continue to fall and penetration rises, these assets will reach a point where they can be treated as a true grid resource, providing services that benefit both the customer and the utility. Intelligently managed DERs could offer a vision of a world where demand may be as easily dispatchable as supply,” the draft report states. Energy storage will also have a role to play in enabling more renewables, with the report citing the recent pilot of a solar-plus-storage for a rural community.

In response to the draft, Stephen De May, North Carolina president of Duke Energy, said the firm would continue to contribute to the plan.

“Duke Energy has significantly reduced carbon emissions by retiring coal and adding more renewables and cleaner natural gas. We are transitioning our system to even cleaner energy, while upholding our responsibility to provide reliable, affordable power to customers,” said De May. “We look forward to continued dialogue with diverse stakeholders to achieve the critical energy policy objectives for the state of North Carolina.”

Additional reporting by Andy Colthorpe. See here for the energy storage highlights of North Carolina’s new plan, as reported by sister title

US solar prospects against the backdrop of a changing policy landscape will take centre stage at Solar Media’s Solar & Storage Finance USA, to be held in New York on 29-30 October 2019

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Lightsource BP readying construction of 70MW trio for US university

Lightsource BP is days away from launching construction works for a utility-scale solar pipeline it will deploy for a US university, set to go live next year.

Contacted by PV Tech today, the London-headquartered group confirmed it will break ground on a PV plant in Pennsylvania on 6 September, the first of a 70MW pipeline of three.  

According to a spokesperson, Lightsource BP will fund, develop and run the trio meant to power Penn State University. All three will require US$75 million in investment, the spokesperson explained.

The firm confirmed 500 acres worth of panels will be rolled out across three sites in Pennsylvania’s Franklin County, a 20-mile distance from Penn State’s Mont Alto campus.

As Lightsource separately noted on its website, 134 of the total 500 acres of land has been rented from two Pennsylvanian lifelong farmers, under a 25-year contract.

The plan, the spokesperson explained to PV Tech, is to intersperse native vegetation between the panels to draw pollinators and help the land recover from prior farming uses.

Construction of the 150,000-panel installation should, they added, see all sites up and running by summer 2020.

As Lightsource and Penn State said when their jointly unveiled the project in February, the 70MW solar portfolio will cover 25% of the academic institution’s power needs for 25 years.

The solar agreement emerged just months after a separate 25-year PPA was signed for an onsite PV array at Penn State, intended to supply 1% of power needs of one of its campuses.

The US work is part of Lightsource BP’s current string of solar projects abroad, including a 700MW-plus pipeline worldwide, a 1.9GW push in Brazil and co-financing for Indian renewables.

As reported by sister title Solar Power Portal, the firm has also had an active past few months in its home UK soil, hitting milestones for projects in Nottingham (49.9MW), Rugby (17MW) and Swansea (9.9MW).

US solar prospects amid PPA uptake and a changing policy landscape will take centre stage at Solar Media’s Solar & Storage Finance USA, to be held in New York on 29-30 October 2019

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