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Covid-19 weekly briefing: US residents ponder solar during lockdown, Aussie installers wonder what might have been and the Indian EV industry calls for help

  |   Solar, solar industry

Plus, Italian developers continue to dig deep for their health service, the pandemic piles on problems for a debt-saddled Chinese company and analysts consider whether there will be any money left for a green economic recovery after the dust settles.

Figures released by thinktank The Australia Institute have emphasized just how successful the nation’s rooftop solar sector was until the arrival of Covid-19. Data compiled from the small scale technology certificates issued to remunerate the owners of rooftop systems for generation indicated Australia added 203 MW of solar rooftops in January, 215 MW in February and 254 MW in March. That would have put the nation on course for almost 3 GW of new rooftop PV this year, after adding 2.13 GW last year. However, industry surveys have indicated an anticipated steep fall in demand as fears related to the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic make households less willing to splash out.

Analysis of web traffic at Korean electronics brand LG has indicated a rise in solar-related browsing since the Covid-19 crisis landed in the U.S. The results of research carried out by Chicago-based business intelligence company The Harris Poll indicated LG had received 44% more requests for solar quotes between March and last month, as web traffic showed a marginal rise in customers interested in solar since coronavirus lockdowns began.

Slovakian solar forecasting company Solargis said the insight into a renewables-driven future energy system afforded by Covid-19 industrial shutdowns has emphasized the vital importance of up-to-date solar data to help investors plan solar project business cases.

Complications

Chinese solar developer SFCE, formerly Shunfeng International, has reported Covid-19 lockdown restrictions have delayed the sale of five solar projects as part of an 11-facility, RMB1.63 billion ($230 million) transaction needed to pay down debts. The company added, coronavirus-related economic concerns may also hamper its ability to renegotiate repayment dates with a string of creditors.

U.S.-owned analyst Wood Mackenzie has asked whether EU member state governments will be able to afford to heed calls to accelerate the trading bloc’s Green Deal for Europe, given the bill for keeping national economies operating during Covid-19 lockdowns.

The electric vehicle (EV) committee of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry has called for a national EV subsidy program to be extended by a year to help the nascent e-mobility industry through the Covid-19 crisis. The committee said coronavirus economic uncertainty would make potential purchasers more risk averse regarding EV technology; falling global fuel prices caused by the slump in energy demand would make EVs less economically attractive; and less established EV supply chains would be more likely to suffer disruption than those of conventional carmakers. The three-year, INR100 billion ($1.33 billion) second phase of the Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of (Hybrid) and Electric Vehicles (Fame II) scheme is due to expire at the end of March 2022.

Finance

Michael Brown, director of communications for student loan comparison site LendEdu, has told pv magazine USA the 620 MW Spotsylvania solar project in Virginia being developed by Spower secured $350 million from lender Wells Fargo despite the economic uncertainty caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. However, that might not be enough if measures imposed to prevent spread of the virus delay project construction timetables.

Italian energy services administrator the Gestore Servizi Energetici (GSE) on Monday launched the second phase of a program enabling renewable energy project operators to donate incentive payments to the cause of fighting the spread of Covid-19 in the nation. A first phase, applied to recipients of incentives paid under the Conto Energia solar support scheme raised almost €529,000 ($575,000) thanks to donations from almost 5,900 participants. Phase two of the program, which is open until Sunday, will enable the operators of large scale solar and other renewables projects to take part by donating incentives due to them this month. The GSE has calculated a reference price of €10 per kilowatt-hour of incentives donated as part of its ‘1 kWh for the nation’ campaign.

EU renewables auctions advisory body Aures II has recommended member states which have not already done so extend clean energy project delivery deadlines and digitize their auctions procedures. Although the research group said revising auction program timescales could help the industry through the Covid-19 crisis, it recommended governments resist the urge to reduce the volume of clean energy capacity desired from national tenders.

Appeal

Trade body Italia Solare has called for a streamlining of permitting procedures, starting with agrivoltaic projects and the repowering of existing facilities, to help reboot the Italian solar sector as the government’s tight Covid-19 lockdown begins to ease. With one in five of the 500 respondents to a survey by the organization stating concern their company could close or go bankrupt, Italia Solare also called for the establishment of energy communities and the reactivation of credit transfers with an emphasis on helping small and medium-sized businesses. The solar trade group said 70% of respondents expected to see business fall 25-75% this year, with 5.2% anticipating an even sharper drop. Some 72% of respondents expected to lay off up to a quarter of their staff, with 16% anticipating 50% lay-offs and 12% even sharper reductions. And some 40% of respondents reported 25-74% less trade than at this point last year, with 32% noting a 75-100% drop off in activity and the rest reporting business was down up to 50%.

Xavier Daval, vice-president of French renewables body the Syndicat des énergies renouvelables, has praised the government’s attempts to help the clean energy industry through the public health crisis in an article for pv magazine France.

Israeli solar inverter maker SolarEdge expects Covid-19 disruption to cause record first-quarter revenues of $431 million to fall to $305-335 million during the current three-month window. SolarEdge provided the guidance in its first-quarter update, revealing the pandemic had made no significant impact on its business in the first three months of the year. In its earnings call a day earlier, the company stated installation rates had fallen 33%, year-on-year, in the U.S. last month and 16% in March and April. SolarEdge installation rates in Italy had started to stabilize three weeks earlier, after a 47% fall in Q1. The company expects revenue to suffer in the next two quarters because of the effects of Covid-19 in the U.S. and, to a lesser extent, Europe.

Covid-19

Read pv magazine’s coverage of Covid-19; and tell us how it is affecting your solar and energy storage operations. Email editors@pv-magazine.com to share your experiences.