Sunrise brief: Polysilicon prices likely have peaked, Canadian Solar execs say

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Senior executives at Canadian Solar said during a webinar that they believe polysilicon prices have peaked, and that speculation that had been driving up prices is no longer having a significant impact. The executives stopped short, however, of saying when they thought poly prices might ease.

The comments were made during a June 9 webinar hosted by Roth Capital Advisors. Executives included Yan Zhuang, president of CSI Solar, Dr. Huifeng Chang, chief financial officer, Ismael Guerrero Arias, presiem ident of the company’s energy business, and Isabel Zhang, director.

Canadian Solar said its customers have accepted higher module prices “over time,” and that it does not see customers walking away from projects altogether. Yan said, however, that “room for higher pricing is limited.” The company said that the second half of 2021 will likely continue to be tough on its operating margins.

In its first quarter earnings call, Canadian Solar said the price of polysilicon has tripled over the past 12 months. The company mitigated the impact in part by raising module prices, which it said saw a “near double-digit percentage increase” compared to the fourth quarter. The company also said it prioritized margins ahead of shipment volumes.

During the June 9 webinar, Canadian Solar also said it is working to improve its power electronics capability, including inverters, but is not trying to become an inverter company. The company said it is entering the inverter market in order to offer a complete solar + storage solution for residential and small C&I applications.

The company said that high sunk costs incurred through the development process in the U.S. make project cancellation or postponement unlikely even with polysilicon price pressures. Philip Shen of Roth Capital said that his firm’s own checks suggest some project developers have walked away from projects after spending $1-2 million in development costs. In a May 16 research note, Shen warned that current price pressures could delay as much as 15% of planned 2021 utility scale solar development in the U.S.

Canadian Solar said during the webinar that the Brazilian market is the most sensitive to cost increases, while the shift to merchant power in the European Union makes that market less sensitive.

Stem to support solar + storage project

Stem Inc. will provide smart energy storage services to Altus Power America for a behind-the-meter, DC-coupled 2.9 MW solar system project with 2 MWh of energy storage to become operational at a site in Massachusetts during the second quarter.

Stem’s Athena AI smart energy storage platform will be used to enable Altus Power’s solar generation and energy storage system to provide automated demand response featuring flexible energy delivery during peak demand times, maximizing the economic and environmental benefits of its solar assets. Adding energy storage to the DC-coupled solar system is expected to lessen the energy loss within the solar inverters.

Since announcing its first project in Massachusetts in 2017, Stem has deployed an aggregate of more than 180 MWh of storage capacity, or nearly 20% of all non-residential energy storage capacity for the MA SMART solar program via behind the meter and front of meter (FTM).

According to Wood Mackenzie’s U.S. energy storage monitor 2020 report, Massachusetts was home to 30% of the 300 MWh of U.S. non-residential energy storage deployments in 2020, more than any state except California. Massachusetts is expected to deploy 21% more non-residential megawatt-hours in 2021 than it did in 2020.

Solar leads the world

Solar photovoltaic is now the leading source of global power generation investment, according to Frost & Sullivan In 2020, more dollars were invested in solar PV than coal, gas, and nuclear combined, the firm said. The decade ahead promises more growth and continued investor opportunities as the firm forecasts a total of $2 billion to be invested through 2030, with half going to utility-scale projects and the rest going to commercial, industrial, and residential PV systems. More homes and businesses will arise as prosumers, relying on self-generation for most of their needs, enabled through energy storage systems. The firm said this will drive the growth of virtual power plants to aggregate these resources and maintain the integrity of the electricity grid.

Agilitas Energy expands its storage offering

Agilitas Energy acquired Boston-based New England Battery Storage, a private energy storage developer focused on utility-scale battery storage. The acquisition includes two operational ISO-New England merchant battery energy storage systems and one front-of-the-meter battery energy storage system in Maine totaling 25 MWh.

In Maine, two projects in the Town of Madison were commissioned as the first continuous storage systems in Maine. A separate project in the Town of Rumford, a 4.99 MW / 10 MWh front-of-the-meter battery energy storage system, launched commercial operations in early June.

The acquisition marks Agilitas Energy’s expansion into battery energy storage operations, including participating in the ISO-New England day-ahead and real-time energy markets, operating reserve markets, frequency regulation market, and the forward capacity market. One of the systems is also a peak load reducer for a municipal electric company while participating in the ISO-New England’s wholesale marketplace.

NEBS will be merged with the existing Agilitas Energy organization. Jeff Perry, CEO and president of NEBS, who has over 30 years’ experience in energy system asset management and commercial operation, will become VP, Asset Management at Agilitas Energy.

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