European nations are leading the way in this regard because of them being the first to back solar farms with above-market power prices and tax breaks in the early 2000s. This triggered a global manufacturing boom and an 80% plunge in the cost of installing PVs. Now governments are cutting incentives as prices drop, and renewables become more competitive with fossil fuels.
Developer Anesco Ltd for example, is building the hybrid solar-and-battery facility in Milton Keynes with its own capital. It acts as the example of one of the 15 photovoltaic (PV) projects underway from Italy to the UK which do not rely on subsidies to make a profit, according to Bloomberg NEF.
Michelle Davies, head of clean energy and sustainability at the law firm Eversheds Sutherland, stated: “The change has come about because many governments believe that support is no longer necessary for mature technologies, which have seen significant cost reductions. They take the view that the sector is sufficiently advanced to enable the market to find its own solutions.”
In Germany and Spain, incentives in the form of feed-in tariffs for solar electricity have made it easy to anticipate how much each project would earn. This made bankers and investors comfortable enough to write loans to the industry.
Developers have now started to build plants that don’t rely on those mechanisms. Their costs are low enough that they can profit from selling power at the market price or by arranging long-term power-purchase agreements (PPAs) with big industrial consumers. Companies like AT&T, Facebook and Apple have been prominent buyers of PPAs.
“Corporate PPAs will be a key tool,” said Matt Setchell, head of energy at Octopus Investments Ltd, a renewables investor in London. “Clearly, subsidies aren’t going to be around forever.”
In Italy, Octopus has five solar projects totaling 64 megawatts that do not rely on support. The country’s MPS Capital Services Banca per le Imprese SpA partly funded those plants with $37.2mn of project finance. The developer will build more solar farms across 12 sites in Italy with a total capacity of 110 megawatts.
Bankers have began to cater for developers with PPAs. Germany’s Norddeutsche Landesbank Girozentrale recently provided $115mn in bridge finance to BayWa AG for PVs near Seville in Spain.
Policy makers are also taking note. Governments have been rolling back subsidies, ending some early and phasing out the others. The same economics reducing the cost of solar to the point it can survive on its own also are starting to apply to other technologies.
Once the most expensive type of renewables, offshore wind farms are now being planned in Germany and the Netherlands by Orsted A/S and Vattenfall AB without support from government. Denmark expects the trend to spread to its waters.
The subsidy-free trend is expected to spread most quickly in the solar industry due to those projects being smaller and quicker to build.