In this interview Paolo Pietrogrande discusses how his group is dealing with the challenges currently faced by the solar industry and how his team are converting them into opportunities.
Interview date: May, 2009
Interviewer: Pepa Mosquera
What are 9REN’s growth forecasts in Spain?
We are currently in a period of change. Rooftop systems are more relevant that ground-based installations and in a few years will become more important. Andalusia alone has 56 million m2 of roof surface on industrial buildings, which represents 1,000 MWt of PV capacity that could be installed by companies. Concentrating more on rooftop systems than ground-based installations is therefore not a limitation, although the businesses vary. The owner of a roof is different to the owner of land; he has a business and wants to own the plant as well. Distributed generation also represents an opportunity for PV in the long term.
What do you think of the Spanish government’s decision to limit the growth of the PV market?
The market is going to fracture as a result of the new legislation and introduction of a cap on installed capacity. Many companies both small and large will suffer. Some companies have invested a great deal in solar panel production facilities and assembly equipment. What is required now is to focus on the technology, refine the engineering, and have significant purchasing power. Fortunately, it is possible to be very efficient in the PV industry, despite being small. What is important is to have the right technology. 9REN has all the qualities needed to face the challenges presented in Spain since the change in legislation, while the very low premium offered is an incentive to look to other countries.
Such as Italy…?
Yes, conditions in the Italian market are similar to those in Spain under the old premium. Nevertheless, the development process is more complex there; differing from province to province. Furthermore, many local authorities do not have the technical capacity to assess projects and it is possible to have all the necessary permits and then find that the National Archaeological Commission, for example, comes along and rejects your project. In any event, I believe that PV cannot only be seen as an investment; it has to be integrated from a cultural perspective. If PV systems do not become part of the cultural heritage, they will not be sustainable in the long term.
Is the international current financial crisis affecting your growth plans?
We are converting the crisis into an opportunity for the group. Currently, the biggest problem is the procurement of financing, however at 9REN we have sufficient resources to act as a potential financial partner of our customers. We have entered into master agreements with several banks in Spain, while the banks themselves are starting to change their approach. They now offer finance leases, for example, which are key to making the shift from ground-based to rooftop systems. Your company focuses mainly on PV and solar thermal.
Are any other technologies included in your plans?
Wind, especially mini wind turbines. We are also considering penetrating the thermoelectric solar market, although we do not have any projects in the pipeline. Low temperature solar thermal also offers an opportunity in Spain. Solar thermal collectors are four times more efficient at using heat from the sun than PV panels. We hope to double turnover from the production of solar thermal equipment this year.