With potentially interesting solar markets opening up in places such as Australasia, Latin America and Southern Africa, should CVP developers be heading south?
Carwarp in Australia is probably about as southerly it gets for CPV right now. Before the end of the year Solar Systems is hoping to launch a 2 MW pilot plant in the town, which lies below Cape Town, South Africa, and Santiago, Chile, in latitude.
If the pilot works then the Australian developer aims to start building a 102 MW plant next year, with a possible 50 MW extension to follow after the main power station is commissioned around 2015. By then, though, there could be plenty more CVP activity down south.
Pick up any direct normal irradiance (DNI) map and it is clear there is plenty of solar potential below the equator, in areas from the Australian outback to South Africa’s Northern Cape province and the Atacama Desert in Latin America.
As PV markets, these regions have so far lagged behind Europe and North America because of a lack of financial incentives. The picture is changing, however: support for PV in Europe and the US is not what it used to be.
And many southern hemisphere countries are edging towards more supportive policy frameworks for renewable energy. That favours PV generally, but CPV, with its potentially lower levelised cost of energy in high-DNI areas, could be particularly advantaged.
So far, though, the development of CPV in the southern hemisphere has been limited.
Australia is currently the only country below the equator that can really be said to have its own CPV industry, with players including Silex subsidiary Solar Systems, hybrid CPV-thermal developer RayGen and Chromasun, which is developing a roof-mounted product.
Of these, Solar Systems is at the most advanced phase of development. As well as the Mildura Solar Concentrator Power Station it is building at Carwarp, the company this year started work on a 500 kW pilot array in Bridgewater, Victoria.
“Solar Systems has received several million dollars from Australian government programmes aimed at research and development, and has also received promises of over USD$125m in government funding for projects,” says Michael Barker, an analyst with NPD Solarbuzz.
Currently, Australia’s CPV players seem mainly concerned with developing their home market. And foreign manufacturers and developers so far appear to be content to leave them to it.
For many European and American CPV players, Latin America looks a more interesting market right now, not least thanks to Solfocus’ success in securing projects in Mexico and the continent’s massive solar potential.
When A.T. Kearney looked at the region last year for the European Photovoltaic Industry Association Unlocking the Sunbelt report, it concluded: “The current utilisation of this opportunity is relatively low. The region shows a below-average penetration of PV.”
It also noted wide variations in support for renewable energy across the continent, with favourable policy frameworks in place only in a handful of countries, including Chile, Brazil and Argentina.
Barker identifies Chile, Peru and Brazil as being particularly promising countries for CPV development. However, he says: “These markets already have significant large-scale PV projects underway, with almost 1.5 GW of utility-scale projects being developed.
“This head start for traditional PV may make it more difficult for CPV to make inroads unless it can show proof of better performance in real-world conditions, and convince developers to switch,” he cautions.
CPV developers in Latin America could also face competition from concentrated solar power (CSP), which is being developed in Chile and Brazil, for example. A similar competitive landscape faces CPV in sub-Saharan Africa.
“There has been a huge push for solar power development in Africa,” says Barker. “More than 400 MW is under development in South African countries such as South Africa, Botswana and Namibia.
“At this time, South Africa is making the biggest push for solar projects, but most contracts are going to CSP or PV technologies. There are approximately 350 MW of CSP and 650 MW of PV projects under development.”
Nevertheless, Concentrix and Soitec have both had some success in the South African market, with the former securing a contract for a 50 MW project and the latter getting the green light for a 36 MW plant.
Paul Bellavoine, co-founder, managing director and chief financial officer of the French CPV company Heliotrop, says: “South Africa is a very interesting market; 75% of the power comes from coal, which creates some issues, and the DNI is excellent.”
Clearly it is yet to be seen whether the southern hemisphere represents a new land of opportunity for CPV, but many of its markets certainly appear to deserve a closer look.
In some cases, it may be worth moving quickly, too, before traditional PV takes an even greater share of the solar pie. After all, says Jenny Chase, solar insight manager for Bloomberg New Energy Finance: “In all of these places you are going head to head with crystalline-silicon.”