Just hours after we revealed exclusively that Canadian Solar was behind the largest solar farm in Scotland, the company released a press release announcing financing arrangements to enable its development arm to complete seven solar farms in the UK over the next few months, covered also on Solar Power Portal the same day.
In fact, it was just a few days ago that we alerted the community that the official rush had started on build-out under ROCs before 31 March 2016, with the Canadian Solar activity contributing to the overall pipeline of projects getting ready for ground-breaking.
Canadian Solar – like most of its peers when announcing finance deals – did not divulge the specific sites in the UK. However, research undertaken by our in-house market research team can now summarise what these sites consist of, full details of which are contained in our UK Ground-Mount Opportunity Pipeline database report.
Canadian Solar has been in shovel-ready site acquisition mode for a number of months, with the new portfolio of sites understood to have been bought from five different project developers, mostly UK based. The total capacity (at time of original planning application) is well above 50MW, but the build-out over the next few months will not reach this figure due in part to reasons discussed below.
In addition to Canadian Solar buying off multiple developers (in contrast to some secondary buyers that largely align with one or a subset of greenfield developers), there are several other interesting points when looking at Canadian Solar’s new portfolio.
The sites span the breadth of the UK, covering sites in the East of England, the South West, the South East, Wales and Scotland. All sites are approved (as would be expected from the timing of the announcements) and are either having planning conditions discharged or have just started construction.
Perhaps the most interesting issue however is the way some of the seven sites are being split up, a direct consequence of the changes and outcomes of ROC, FiT and CfD activity in the UK over the past couple of years. Almost all the sites began life as ROC candidates, with three of the sites in the 10-20MW range.
While only one of these sites is 2014 grace-compliant, the others have become 5+5 or 5+5+5 variants, depending on various factors including RO exclusion status, community FiT designation and grid-connectivity sharing. Furthermore, these sites effectively become different phases, with a potential eleven phases on offer from the existing portfolio.
Confused? Well, you are not alone in this regard. Understanding the legislative and legal ramifications of several years of policy tinkering is not for the faint hearted at all. Indeed, having top-notch planners and legal counsel has never been more necessary in the world of UK solar farms.
Canadian Solar is far from alone in having a diverse portfolio of options spanning different incentive rounds and stages. Nor is the company the only Chinese module manufacturers to be sitting on a healthy downstream portfolio right now. Trina Solar and ReneSola complete the leading three in this respect, with combined site rights of Canadian Solar, Trina and ReneSola well above 100MW in the UK.
While Canadian Solar has gone public with its portfolio expectations, most others have not, in particular leading UK-based primary/secondary developers such as Lightsource, British Solar Renewables and Anesco. Nor are we likely to hear much from Vogt Solar or Solarcentury until after the event in April 2016.
The reason for this is simple – the government. In contrast to almost every other country deploying PV today, nobody wants to alert the government to any success stories when it comes to solar farms. A sad situation indeed, but one that shows no sign of easing off so long as the existing government is in office.
The UK’s solar prospects for 2016 are to be discussed at our free online webinar tomorrow (9 December 2015), registration for which can be done here.