When First Solar, the thin-film solar developer and module maker, declares a goal, the firm typically executes, be that on solar module efficiency or cost improvements.
Or long-term strategy.
First Solar (Nasdaq: FSLR) just acquired Solar Chile, a five-person Santiago-based solar developer with a 1.5-gigawatt early-stage pipeline of PV power projects in northern Chile, including the Atacama Desert area, a region with some of the highest solar irradiance in the world. Deal terms were not disclosed.
“Chile faces a growing energy demand from its sustained economic growth,” according to Hernán Cheyre, Executive VP of CORFO, the Chile's economic development arm in a statement. There are similar growth and demand drivers in the MENA region as well, led by Turkey and Saudi Arabia. For info on solar markets in Latin America and the Caribbean check out this upcoming report.
Less-than-optimally-managed subsidy programs in Spain, Italy, and the Czech Republic have led to booms followed by busts. First Solar has declared its intent to supply sustainable markets, move away from subsidized markets, and to grow its construction projects relative to module sales. This move into Chile is an example of First Solar making good on that promise.
Andrew Krulewitz, Solar Analyst at GTM Research, gives us the lowdown:
"First Solar acquired Chilean upstart Solar Chile in January 2013, though the firms entered into a strategic alliance in October 2011. Solar Chile was born out of the public-private Fundacion Chile, an alliance between the Chilean government and some mining companies, including BHP Billiton, which signed a PPA for a one-megawatt project with juwi. Solar Chile announced an early stage project pipeline of 1.5 gigawatts, though only the 30.2-megawatt La Tirana project had received environmental permitting as of January 2013. Company leadership announced that the project would begin construction in March 2013 and would be on-line in September though, no off-taker had been announced. All of the other projects are located in the north of the country and will interconnect to the SING grid."
Krulewitz adds, "Capital costs for the La Tirana project are $2.50 per watt (DC) according to project documents filed with Chilean authorities."
So, absent subsidies, who is going to be purchasing all this power?
In an earlier article on utility-scale solar in Chile, we noted that most of the interest has been expressed by the Chilean mining industry, looking to green its footprint and control its own power. Electricity prices in in Chile hit more than $0.25 per kilowatt-hour on the spot market last year -- potentially making Chile one of the first real, non-incentivized solar markets in the world. A shaky grid and expensive electricity has made Chile an early adopter of energy storage technology in the mining industry, as well.
First Solar notes that it has a "pipeline of projects under contract to utilities totaling 3 gigawatts, with 2 gigawatts under construction."
Lazard Capital writes, "We see today’s FSLR announcement as strong validation of the company continuing to execute on its LT strategy. [...] This acquisition increases First Solar's development pipeline by 50 percent (3 gigawatts) and more importantly points to solid execution by the new management team in expanding into new sustainable solar markets."
First Solar's stock is trading at $31.97 per share.