The ongoing global recession may be casting a shadow on the solar power industry, but the desert climates of the Middle East and the American Southwest are still fertile ground for the industry's growth.
Two deals emerging from the Middle East on Tuesday highlight the interest of governments there in expanding the region's share of solar power (see Is the Middle East the Next Renewable Energy Frontier?).
In Jordan, the government has gotten behind a joint venture to build a 1-gigawatt solar photovoltaic plant by 2017. The plant will be designed by Ewing, N.J.-based Amelio Solar in partnership with Amman, Jordan-based Al-Husseini Group, a diversified company with interests in real estate, construction, manufacturing and poultry farming, among others.
As part of the project, Amelio will build a factory to make thin-film copper-indium-gallium-diselenide (CIGS) modules to supply the power plant. Amelio plans to have a 22 megawatts manufacturing line complete by 2009 and reach a capacity of 200 megawatts in the next three years. The projected costs of the project were not disclosed.
Jordan, unlike most of its neighbors, has no significant petroleum reserves. But it does have one of the region's stronger educational structures, supplying engineers and technicians to Saudi Arabia and other oil-rich neighbors.
Not to say that oil wealth can't fuel renewable energy. Masdar, a cleantech initiativ e funded with $15 billion from the government of Abu Dhabi, is looking to invest about $2 billion in thin-film amorphous silicon solar panel production. (See Abu Dhabi's Masdar to get into solar with help from Applied Materials.)
On Tuesday, Masdar announced a deal to supply 150 megawatts of its thin-film panels through 2013 to German thin-film power plant developer Colexon Energy. Those panels will come from the factory Masdar is building in Germany, set to open in the third quarter of 2009, and another factory in Abu Dhabi to open in the second quarter of 2010. Both will use equipment from Santa Clara, Calif.-based Applied Materials (see Masdar Breaks Ground on $230M Solar Factory).
The two plants are expected to have a combined production capacity of 210 megawatts and a combined cost of about $600 million. Masdar has said it wants to have 1 gigawatt of capacity by 2014.
While solar photovoltaic power projects advance in the Middle East, the American Southwest is the home to several large-scale power projects that use the sun's heat to generate power (see NREL Hunts for Solar-Thermal Hot Spots and California to Get More Solar-Thermal).
One of these solar-thermal projects – a 280-megawatt project being planned by Spanish renewable power developer Abengoa for the desert 80 miles southwest of Phoenix, Ariz. –took another step toward completion Tuesday, when the state approved one of several permits it will need.
But the $1 billion Solana Generating Station project, planned to open in 2011, still has more permits – as well as financing – to secure before it can be built, Santiago Seage, CEO of Abengoa Solar Inc. said Tuesday.
"We need until the summer of 2009 to obtain the remaining permits and shortly before that we should be ready to finance Solana, once financial markets improve," Seage said in a news release.
In August, Abengoa raised €280 million (about $429 million back then) in bank financing to build four solar projects in Spain, Reuters reported. But financing has become much harder to get since then, leading renewable power advocates to press for new government incentives to help finance projects (see Industry Groups Call for Changes to Federal Incentives).
One of those proposals is to change the current investment tax credits the United States now offers solar power project investors to "refundable" tax credits, i.e., direct payments. Many potential renewable energy investors have lost money this year and thus lost the appetite for tax credits, advocates say.
Seage said getting Congress to make that change, along with securing a rate increase the Arizona utility APS is asking the state to approve to back the project, will be important for the Solana project.