Author: PV-Tech

Vivint Solar swells revenue, installations and operating losses in Q3 2019

US residential solar installer Vivint Solar has posted a year-on-year increase in revenue, installations and operating losses for the three-month period spanning July to September.

In its quarterly earnings release, the firm revealed that its attributable net loss swelled from US$7.9 million recorded in Q3 2018 to US$13.8 million. Revenues increased 33% year-on-year, from US$77.8 million to US$103.8 million.

The Utah-headquartered company installed 65MW, a 20% increase on the same quarter last year, hitting 1,228MW of overall installations. It expects to install roughly the same amount of capacity in the final quarter of the year.

Two-thirds of Vivint Solar’s revenue in Q3 2019 was generated by customer agreements and sales whilst one third came from solar energy system and product sales.

In an earnings call with investors on Wednesday, CEO David Bywater said: “it has never been a better time to be at Vivint Solar.”

The company pegs its value at US$2.19 billion, up from US$1.93 billion in Q3 2018. The gross value per watt decreased from US$2.09 to US$1.98.

Baywater noted that the company was gaining traction with its storage offerings in Hawaii and California.

“Although the numbers of customers requesting storage is still low relative to our overall volume, we are seeing a significant increase in customer awareness and have doubled our storage installation sequentially from the second quarter,” he said. “Storage is becoming an increasing portion of our business and we believe it will be a material part next year as we expand our scope and efforts.”

A portion of Q3’s operating losses went to a “one-time expense,” broken up between sales and marketing and G&A (general and administrative) related to the settlement of a lawsuit in California, as Rob Kain, vice-president of investor relations, explained on the Wednesday’s earning call.

Vivint Solar hit headlines lately when it was accused by short-seller Marcus Aurelius Value of forging customer signatures on direct-to-home sales contracts. The firm rebutted the allegations, which hinge around 28 separate court cases across the US, when approached by PV Tech in late September.

A PV Tech analysis in August showed Vivint’s quarterly revenues have stayed above the US$60 million mark since Q2 2017, hitting the highest four-year value – US$90.8 million – in Q2 2019. In that quarter, the firm saw the highest year-on-year roll-out growth of a group of major US residential installers.

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Walmart withdraws lawsuit against Tesla over solar install fires

Walmart has called off a court campaign it had launched against Tesla three months ago, when it linked a string of store blazes to the latter’s alleged “gross negligence” with PV installs.

The US retail giant and Elon Musk’s outfit reached a truce this week after Walmart moved, in a filing released on 4 November, to withdraw the lawsuit it had entered before the New York County Supreme Court in August.

“Walmart’s Complaint is voluntarily discontinued without prejudice as to Defendant Tesla,” reads the new filing, published as both firms took to the media to declare a formal ceasefire after months of behind-the-scenes discussions.

“Walmart and Tesla are pleased to have resolved the issues raised by Walmart concerning the Tesla solar installations at Walmart stores,” the duo said in a joint statement, aired by CNBC and others. “Safety is a top priority for each company and with the concerns being addressed, we both look forward to a safe re-energization of our sustainable energy systems.”

The olive branch marks a defusing of a conflict that broke out when Walmart alleged Tesla’s “systemic, widespread failures” with solar installations and maintenance were the culprit of a raft of rooftop blazes over the past decade.

In its court filings of August, Walmart had described a timeline of fires across PV-equipped stores in the US between 2012 and 2018. The retail colossus had linked the incidents to, among other factors, Tesla’s alleged use of staff lacking “basic solar training and knowledge”.

Walmart’s strong-worded demands in the lawsuit – seeking damages from Tesla as well as a full removal of its solar installs – gave way to a more conciliatory tone only one week later, when both firms announced they were working to address “all issues” behind the store blazes.

For Tesla, the litigation reprieve follows the court defeat it experienced one month ago, when a US federal administrative judge ruled the firm repeatedly violated US labour laws by hindering the efforts of factory staff to unionise.

Over the summer, the Silicon Valley group also had to respond to reports by Bloomberg and others claiming e-commerce giant Amazon had also pinned a fire at one of its Californian warehouses in June 2018 on Tesla’s solar installs.

Prospects have brightened on the business front, however. Successive quarterly updates show Tesla’s PV installs bounced from 29MW in Q2 2019 – a record low for the firm – to 43MW in Q3 2019. Meanwhile, storage roll-out continues to hit new records, topping 477MWh in Q3 2019.

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Japan’s Mitsui sells 679MW of solar and wind in Canada

Japanese trading corporation Mitsui & Co has sold its interest in a 679MW portfolio of operational Canadian wind and solar to Canadian infrastructure management firm Axium.

The C2C Power Wind & Solar Generation portfolio comprises 12 contracted plants across Canada with an enterprise value of CAD$1.9 billion (US$1.45 billion).

Mitsui’s renewables business, MIT Renewables Inc., offloaded its stake in the portfolio through a purchase and sale agreement with a new limited partnership led by one of the portfolio’s existing partners, Axium.

Engie Canada Inc is also invested in the portfolio, which includes contracted plants in Ontario and British Columbia that started operations between 2007 and 2014.

This transaction is expected to complete in March 2020 after regulatory approval and after honouring an agreement where existing shareholders are entitled to first refusal.

In a release, the Japanese firm said that the divestment was “strategic asset recycling” and that “strengthening of the financial base continues to be one of [Mitsui & Co’s] key initiatives.”

The Japanese conglomerate is invested in solar via its renewables business but also through its financial institutions.

In July, Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation, a subsidiary of Mitsui, agreed to upsize an existing loan in Jinko Solar from JPY5.3 billion (US$49 million) arranged in 2018 to JPY6.7 billion (US$62 million). In April, Canadian Solar subsidiary, Canadian Solar Projects K.K. expanded and renewed its credit facility with a syndicate of four finance leasing institutions led by Sumitomo Mitsui (SMFL) and in the same month, Sumitomo Mitsui Trust Bank invested ¥14.2 billion (US$127 million) in a 36.4MW PV development by Sonnedix in Japan.

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DE Shaw buys 180MW project duo from First Solar in Utah

DE Shaw Renewable Investments has purchased two neighbouring PV projects in Utah contracted to provide power to Facebook from developer First Solar.

The projects, which have a combined capacity of 180MW, are expected to come online in the second and fourth quarters of 2020. They will power Facebook’s new Eagle Mountain data centre through a long term power purchase agreement (PPAs) signed with regional utility Rocky Mountain Power, a division PacifiCorp. The $100 million 970,000 square foot data centre is set to come online in central Utah next year.

Once powered up, the two plants will be operated by First Solar Energy Services.

The project duo is the fifth in a series of acquisitions DE Shaw has made from First Solar in the western US over the years, most recently the 100MW Willow Springs project in Kern County, California purchased in late 2018.

The Utah projects will be equipped with First Solar modules, and the firm said in a statement that a new module manufacturing plant in Ohio expected to open early next year will boost annual production of its proprietary ‘Series 6’ module technology to 5.4GW per year. This will make allegedly make the 20-year old solar firm “the largest solar manufacturer” in the US.

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Acciona buys 4GW of US solar and storage from Tenaska

Spanish renewables company Acciona has inked a deal to acquire 3GW of PV projects and 1GW of energy storage from US independent power producer Tenaska.

The deal includes 20 projects in the PJM Interconnection and Southwest Power Pool markets, spanning the states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky, Illinois, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Missouri. Acciona expects that eight projects, totalling 1.5GWp – or 1.2GW of rated power – to be in service by the end of 2023.

Tenaska’s development services arm, Tenaska Solar Ventures, will work alongside Acciona on project development.

The new solar plants will plump Acciona’s North American renewables portfolio, which is currently heavily weighted towards wind. The Spanish firm’s US solar activity is currently limited to a 64MW concentrated solar plant (CSP) in Las Vegas.

Rafael Esteban, Acciona’s North American energy division director, said that the new solar and storage capacity will give the company the “opportunity to increase our commitment to renewable energy and sustainability in the United States through photovoltaic and energy storage technology, after the investments we have already made in wind power.”

In a statement, Acciona said it counted 1,207MWp of solar capacity worldwide at the end of the first quarter of 2019.

Nebraska-based Tenaska is no stranger to inking megadeals. In November 2018, the Nebraska-based IPP signed an agreement with Swiss asset management company Capital Dynamics to develop 2GW of solar across the Midcontinent System Operator (MISO) market.

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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Virginia inks 345MW PV deal with Dominion Energy

The government of Virginia has signed a deal with local utility Dominion Energy for 345MW of solar and 75MW of onshore wind energy to power government buildings and facilities.

The Virginia-headquartered utility is billing the deal, which comprises five plants across the state, as the “largest renewable procurement by a state for its own clean energy needs.”

The purchase comes one month after state governor Ralph Northam announced that Virginia’s government agencies and executive branches would front a state-wide renewable push, procuring 30% of their electricity from renewable sources by 2022.

The solar spree consists of four proposed solar projects set to come online over the next three years, pending local approvals.

This includes the 88MWp Belcher Solar project, owned by Dominion Energy and being developed by Virginia Solar LLC and MAP Energy LLC. The Bedford Solar project in the City of Chesapeake will provide 70MWp and is being developed by Lincoln Clean Energy. Open Road Renewables’ Walnut Solar project will provide “at least” 90MWp. An undisclosed project will account for the rest of the generation.

The wind energy will come from the Rocky Forge Wind project, Virginia’s first onshore wind operation.

Renewables will account for 45% of the government’s annual energy, use once the batch comes online, according to Dominion Energy.

The new power will also help the utility meet come closer to its clean energy objectives. The firm wants to have 3GW of solar and wind resources under development by 2022, and with the new projects, Dominion Energy will be two-fifths of the way there.

Governor Needham, a Democrat in a state with a Republican-controlled legislature, issued an executive order in September that sets a target for 30% of Virginia’s electricity to be powered by renewable energy sources by 2030 and for the state to be fully powered by carbon-free sources by 2050.

Virginia ranks 18th in the United States for solar capacity, but its market is forecast to grow the seventh fastest, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). Only 1.07% of the state’s electricity comes from solar, but prices have dropped 35% in the last five years.

Dominion Energy provides power distribution and transmission services in Virginia and North Carolina whilst also being one of the largest natural gas transmission and storage companies in the US.

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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Leyline secures US$150m for early-stage solar and biogas investments

Renewables investor Leyline Renewable Capital has secured a US$150 million financing deal from Newlight Partners, a Soros Fund spin-off, to invest in early-stage solar and other clean energy projects.

Leyline Renewable Capital, which is based in New York City, said it will use the funding injection to provide developers with debt and equity financing for projects before they have broken ground.

The company claims to have developed, financed and constructed more than 1GW of utility-scale solar and biogas projects in the US.

“Recently, we invested in a solar portfolio that accelerated the timelines for twenty solar projects,” said Eric Rubinstein, Leyline’s chief financial officer, in a release. “We took no corporate equity in the developer and the projects are now on course to be developed three times faster than the developer would have been able to achieve without our capital. That is typical of our value-added approach to investment.”

Mark Longstreth, managing director of Newlight Partners, noted that “as cost-competitive and distributed renewable technologies scale quickly, the developers of these projects are increasingly underserved by traditional financing sources.”

Maryland-based Newlight claims to have US$4 billion in capital commodities and assets under management.  Initially the Soros Fund Management’s strategic investment group, it spun off from the family company office in October 2018.

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

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Google announces US$150m renewables investment package

Google says it will spend US$150 million on renewable energy in regions where its products are manufactured, in a move it hopes will galvanise a further US$1.5 billion of investment.

The news was revealed by Anna Meegan, head of consumer hardware sustainability, in a blog post earlier this week. Details of the investment timeline and information about which “manufacturing communities” stand to benefit were not disclosed. 

The move comes just weeks after the tech behemoth announced it had secured a raft of 1.6GW global renewable energy deals, in what it claims is “the largest corporate purchase in history.”

Around 720MW of the renewable energy splurge will be procured from US solar projects, split between Texas (490MW), North Carolina (155MW) and South Carolina (75MW).

Google has since unveiled a power purchase agreement (PPA) for 250MW of solar energy from Hecate Energy’s Texas installations.

Meegan said the flurry of new deals will boost Google’s “worldwide portfolio of renewable agreements by more than 40%, reaching 5,500MW.”

The $150 million clean energy investment comes less than a week after the Guardian newspaper published an investigation that revealed the Silicon Valley firm had made “substantial contributions” to climate change denial think tanks in Washington. This includes the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), a policy group that claims climate change is a myth, lobbies for the rollback of environmental protections, and played a role in convincing the Trump administration to abandon the Paris agreement.

At 142.9MW, Google had the sixth most solar capacity installed in the US of any corporation in the US in 2018, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). Apple, Amazon, Target, Walmart and Nevada-based data centre firm Switch led the pack, with frontrunner Apple boasting nearly 400MW.

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

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7X Energy stockpiles 2GWac of inverters to make most of closing ITC window

Solar and storage developer 7X Energy has spent more than US$100 million to stockpile 2GWac of Power Electronics inverters in order to take advantage of the full investment tax credit (ITC) before it starts to taper next year.

The procurement is being billed by the developer as one of the largest purchases by an independent power developer in the US. The HEM medium-voltage inverters will be stored in Texas, where 7X Energy is headquartered.

News of the megadeal comes just days after US residential and commercial solar installer SunPower revealed that it had partnered with Hannon Armstrong Sustainable Infrastructure Capital to acquire and deploy 200MW of ‘safe-harboured’ solar panels.

The federal tax credit will step down from 30% for projects that begin construction at the end of this year, to 26% in 2020, 22% in 2021, before dropping to 10% for commercial customers and to zero for residential installations in 2022.

The government authority responsible for the ITC, the Internal Revenue Service, deems a project’s construction to have officially “begun” when five percent of its total cost has been spent. Purchasing inverters and panels is one of the simplest ways project backers can meet that benchmark and qualify their project for the existing ITC rate.

This framework has been informally dubbed the “solar safe habour agreement” since it was published in June 2018.

7X Energy president Clay Butler said in a statement on Tuesday that the developer wanted to act “early in the year before supply ran out.” He added that the firm opted for inverters as they were less prone to price volatility than modules and also because of their application in storage systems.

Debt financing for the inverter deal was provided by Forethought Life Insurance Company, a subsidiary of Global Atlantic Financial Group.

US solar prospects amid trade tensions and a changing incentive landscape will take centre stage at Solar Media’s Solar & Storage Finance USA in New York on 29-30 October 2019.

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Several buyers keen on REC Silicon’s Butte facility, CTO tells PV Tech

Norwegian polysilicon manufacturer REC Silicon announced last Thursday it is considering selling its silane gas facility in Butte, in the US state of Montana.

Sales from the plant, which produces gas and polysilicon materials for the semiconductor industry, have shrunk as REC Silicon’s American-made goods have fallen prey to the US-China trade war.

The news was unveiled just months after REC Silicon froze operations at its other major facility in Washington state.

If the Montana operation is sold and Washington’s remains shut, REC Silicon’s active operations will reduce to its 15% stake in a polysilicon plant in Yulin, southeast China

PV Tech recently caught up with REC Silicon’s chief technology officer James May to find out about the potential sale and how long the firm can withstand the trade war.

PV Tech: Why sell the Butte plant?

James May: We’re being proactive. What we are seeing at Butte is that general economic conditions – primarily caused by trade war – are beginning to impact sales. It’s not nearly as significant as what the expectations in the market are. We wanted to correct that, and that’s why we released our statement on October 3. While the trade war is impacting and bringing things down, it’s not nearly as extreme as the rest of the semiconductor industry at the moment. We’re continuing to evaluate. We’ve got plans in place, so that we can meet our financial obligations, one of which is to investigate the sale. We’re looking at anything that we can do to make sure that that we remain viable. This is just part of that process.

The sale of the Butte facility will allow us the liquidity to survive quite some time, after debts and other obligations are satisfied.

PV Tech: What stage are things at now with the potential sale?

James May: We are in the very early stages but we expect it to go quickly because we’ve marketed it before. We were looking at selling the plant about two years ago and went far enough in the process that we had some indicative offers. We’ve got a lot of the blocking and tackling done, in terms of providing the information, the format and what we talked about. It’s just a matter of updating it. In addition, we have the same potential purchasers we had before. We’ll be marketing it to them. In fact, after the release on October 3, we did hear from them and several expressed an interest.

PV Tech: Does REC Silicon have an idea of who might buy the facility, or when?

James May: It’s too early to comment on when it might occur, although we would expect it to be near the year-end if we find an acceptable offer. The offer will be somewhat less than it would have been two years ago, simply because of the conditions in the market. It’s too early to comment on the specific terms of the sale or who would buy it. We’ll work through it as fast as we can and give as much information as we can when we do our third quarter release on October 30.

What it will look like after the sale depends on who buys it, and we’re not going to limit who we sell it to. It might be a gas company and they’d then focus on the gas side. It could be a strategic buyer, it could be a fund that doesn’t have other services. Those things would change the nature of the operation primarily on the administrative and corporate governance level, rather than the actual operation.

PV Tech: How long can REC Silicon stay afloat if Butte is sold and Moses Lake remains a standstill?

James May: That’s the real question at the moment, and I’m not going to comment. When we did the equity raise on April 9, we clearly said that we could maintain neutral liquidity. We said would be breakeven on cash, or a little bit positive, with just operating Butte. Obviously, the thing that’s changed now is there’s some substantial doubt about whether or not we can do that, because of the semiconductor markets. Not that Butte is unprofitable, it’s just less profitable than it was. We’re in a cash burn situation until we understand exactly the impact of the trade war and what the change in sales is. We’re looking at it and will comment on it in our October 30 earnings release.

PV Tech: Does REC Silicon generate revenue from its 15% stake in the Yulin plant in China?

James May: The plant is in the process of coming up. We’ve had some good results in terms of quality and other things. But we never expected cash flows off that facility until it’s fully operational. There’s now an opportunity to pay some of the debt down incurred with the construction of that facility. We will still continue to support that facility.

PV Tech: Do you have a rough estimate for when Moses Lake might start production again?

James May: It’s totally dependent on when the trade war ends and when we regain access to the markets in China. China right now controls around 90% of the total PV supply chain. And that’s a result of the trade war and China’s quest to invest in that supply chain, while the rest of the world has used protectionist measures to protect what they have, which has become irrelevant.

Having said that, the Moses Lake facility is the lowest cost polysilicon producer in the world. In the first quarter of 2017, we were operating at 65% capacity and we’ve produced polysilicon at US$9.40. If we go to full operations, it will be nearer US$8. That’s lower than what we estimate or what’s realistic for polysilicon producer anywhere else in the world. So, it’s not a case of needing protection, what we need is access to the market so that we can compete. If we can get access to the market and compete, we can basically beat the Chinese at their own game. It’s a low-cost plan.

PV Tech: How quickly could operations be restarted at Moses Lake?

James May: The longer the period of time from the shutdown on July 15, the longer the time that it will take to bring the plant up. If the trade war ended right now we could probably do it in three or four months. Right now, if we were to decide to bring it up, a lot of the workers we laid off would still be there and we could bring them back. They know how to operate the plant. If it gets to where it’s been quite some time – say, two years from the shutdown – it will take about six months to bring it up. We’ll have to hire those workers and began to qualify them, do maintenance on the equipment and that sort of thing, in order to bring it up. Our strategy all along has been to make sure that we can bring it up as quickly as we possibly can.

US solar prospects amid trade tensions and a changing incentive landscape will take centre stage at Solar Media’s Solar & Storage Finance USA in New York on 29-30 October 2019.

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