pv magazine’s Roundtables go virtual and reach a global audience

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The pandemic and the resulting lockdowns in Europe have led to steep declines in electricity demand across the continent with some countries hit much more than others.

Mateusz Wronski, head of product development at Aurora Energy Research, provided a snapshot of the situation in various countries in May. It showed Germany faring rather well with a decline of under 10% compared to the same weeks in May 2019, but the U.K. dropping by as much as 21% when compared to the same period last year.

In this environment of falling electricity demand and wholesale power prices, potential PPA offtakers are in no hurry to commit to medium- or long-term PPAs, be they 5 years, 15 years or longer. However, the consensus of the Market Roundtable, which also included representatives from BayWa r.e., Smartenergy and Vattenfall, was that power prices would not stay depressed for too long and that strong drivers remained to propel the European PPA market forward. Certainly, the European Green Deal put forth by the new European Commission, as well as the push among corporates and utilities to go green, act as strong drivers to encourage more clean energy sourcing in the form of solar and other renewable energy PPAs.

Christian Pho Duc, managing director of Smartenergy Projects, provided an update on the potential of green hydrogen to be coupled with solar PV to provide other sources of income for solar developers. Smartenergy is in the process of setting-up PV-powered hydrogen production in Portugal and plans to deliver its first green hydrogen to customers in 2022.

Pho Duc highlighted the fact that the non-availability of a grid connection is “no longer a show stopper” for generating revenues for a PV power plant in Portugal or for that matter other countries with a demand for green hydrogen. Or at least, hydrogen can serve as a back-up or alternative revenue stream when building the business case for a PV power plant.

Asset management in focus

Large PV systems were also the focus in the Asset Management Roundtable, which opened the two-day event. This session featured three experienced asset managers, including Jacqueline Huynh, portfolio manager infrastructure equity at Allianz Global Investors, Stefan Müller, co-founder and Board member at Enerparc, and Duncan Bott, partner at LCF Alliance. All three manage hundreds of megawatts of PV assets — and getting the right actionable data from these plants is key to boosting performance.

Duncan Bott revealed his sweet spot, referring to the plants LCF acquires as “unloved” assets involving components from myriad equipment vendors, but with a geographic focus on Italy and attractive legacy Conto Energia feed-in tariffs. These are real turnaround stories, often involving plants with little or substandard documentation requiring thorough due diligence and post-acquisition O&M to get these assets up-to-speed.

Lucie Garreau-iles, technical regional manager, EMEA, DuPont Photovoltaic Solutions, and Jan Napiorkowski, global head of clean energy, Ariel Re, provided the perspectives of a technology provider (DuPont) and insurance provider (Ariel Re) with extensive experience in international PV deployments. Garreau-iles pointed to the fact that conditions in the field can yield defects that cannot necessarily be detected when components such as modules are disassembled and scrutinized in conditions that are very different (and often less harsh) than operating conditions out in the field. Napiorkowski highlighted the value of suitable solar insurance, such as performance ratio or production insurance, to provide a back-stop for investors and other stakeholders in a project.

The remaining two sessions of the pv magazine Virtual Roundtables Europe 2020 focused on quality and sustainability, both long-standing topics at pv magazine. At this week’s Quality Roundtable the focus was again on specific cases or specific challenges facing the industry. For example, Monsoon Wang, product director, Longi Solar, demonstrated how the Chinese manufacturer’s gallium-doped mono wafers provided a solution to light induced degradation of solar panels. Another highlight of the Quality Roundtable involved a detailed discussion of floating PV and how best to address the environmental challenges in the rapidly expanding market segment.

Sustainability across supply chains

The Sustainability Roundtable showed the power of online events. Of the eleven speakers and panelists in this Roundtable, three joined from a time zone nine hours away in California, including Sheila Davis, executive director of the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, Nancy Gillis, CEO, Green Electronics Council/EPEAT, and Dustin Mulvany, Professor at San Jose State University. All three have been long-standing champions of sustainability in the electronics and solar PV markets and the consensus developed at this Roundtable was that the global solar PV industry clearly requires sustainable hardware to really be sustainable. International standards and product labeling are two important steps that need to be taken to get there.

Sheila Davis of the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition speaks during the Sustainability Roundtable Image: pv magazine

Be it quality high-efficiency solar panels, European PPAs, PV-produced green hydrogen, or sustainability standards and labels for solar, these are all very dynamic areas of our industry with a bright future and plenty of room for innovation and further case studies to debate and learn from. It is also encouraging to see these Roundtables taking place in the middle of a global pandemic, providing a way to discuss the latest trends and network with other professionals in this industry.

Online events by themselves are a cutting-edge area of technology and with almost 2,000 professionals signing-up for this week’s Roundtables, this technology seems ready for prime time and the scale needed for our expanding industry. As Pierre Verlinden, founder and managing director of Amrock, pointed out at the Sustainability Roundtable on Wednesday, we’ll need 70 to 80 TWp of solar PV by 2050 to meet the Paris Agreement objectives to limit the impact of climate change and this pathway will give rise to many more solar professionals, who wish to interact and learn from each other, whether face-to-face or online.