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Financial Green Lights Signal Upswing in Global Solar PV Development

The outlook is bright for the future of solar projects worldwide, as evidenced by the news rolling in from a handful of global initiatives that are proving solar's not just a way to provide clean energy, but also an effective way to create jobs and spur economic growth.

In southern California, solar PV developer 8minutenergy Renewables announced it has achieved successful financing with the help of its partner, AES Solar, for the construction of a planned 800 MW (DC) solar farm. Once completed, the Mount Signal farm will officially be the largest solar PV project in the world, capable of powering approximately 65,000 homes — and resulting in the displacement of roughly 356,000 metric tons of CO2 every year. That giant sucking sound you just heard was the sound of 15 million trees breathing a sigh of relief.

The $636 million financing has cleared the way for the first phase of development, which begins this month and will see the construction of a 266-MW (DC) solar farm in Imperial Valley, California. 8minutenergy plans to have the plant ready for commercial operation by early 2014, but the impact on jobs will be immediate, eventually peaking at approximately 1,000 jobs during the height of construction.

Further down the globe in South Africa, two 75-MW (DC) solar PV projects have just been given a $586 million green light courtesy of a consortium made up of U.S. developer SolarReserve and South African companies Kensani Capital and Intikon Energy. Together, the Letsatsi and Lesedi projects will yield 150 MW of solar energy and will generate about 600 construction jobs, with 100 permanent operational jobs once the plants are in full-swing operation. In addition, it’s said that indirect supply chain jobs will total around 2,640 during construction and 140 during operation.

Meanwhile, in Peru, two separate solar developers are taking steps to prove their country is no slouch when it comes to embracing renewable energy as a source of economic growth. Both the Tacna and Panamericana solar projects, which together will be capable of generating 40 MW of power to be sold to the national grid, are being funded to a tune of just over $200 million by the private equity investment firm Conduit Capital Partners and CAF, development bank of Latin America. Conduit’s investment share of $185 million is being made possible by OPIC, the development financing arm of the U.S. government.

According to Raj Prabhu, Managing Partner with Mercom Capital Group, the existing oversupply of solar panels is making it increasingly possible for developing markets like South Africa and Peru to seize upon opportunities that, just a few years ago, may have been too expensive to undertake.

“Just a few years ago, panels were $4,” Prabhu says. “Now, they’re 60 to 70 cents. This makes projects much more viable. When it comes to investors, we’re seeing more private financial institutions getting involved in solar.”

Prabhu also points out that as other large solar markets like Europe begin to slow, investors are keen to broaden their scope. “Solar investors are aggressively seeking out new markets,” Prabhu says. “Anytime there’s a country with a stable policy and attractive returns, you’re going to see investors pursuing those opportunities.”

While investment in developing markets can also bring much needed jobs, Prabhu says there are additional, more lasting benefits to be found — the most important being know-how for countries with no prior experience executing large scale solar projects. “Having foreign companies come in with experience and money to build these projects,” Prabhu says, “eventually leads to the development of local talent. In the end, they’re going to build the foundation for more of a modern energy economy. Solar enables them to do that.”

Lead image: Green light via Shutterstock

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Vince Font is a freelance journalist specializing in the fields of renewable energy, high tech, travel, and entertainment. Read his blog at www.vincefont.com or follow him on Twitter @vincefont.

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