Britain wants to spark a post-Brexit green industrial revolution, but its greatest opportunities for renewable exports likely lie with wind, not solar.
Developer Solarcentury has secured €54.8 million ($61.1 million) of finance for 500 megawatts of solar in Spain — with a little help from the U.K. government.
The backing by U.K. Export Finance, the national credit agency, is effectively a guarantee on the loans, enabling London-based Solarcentury to borrow more than it could have on the open market. The deal is UKEF’s first in the solar energy market.
The funds will be used for the 300-megawatt Talayuela project and the 200-megawatt Cabrera site, both set to be operational by the end of this year.
The fresh funds for Solarcentury’s Spanish portfolio are coming from a €27.7 million loan from NatWest and a €27.1 million line of finance from HSBC U.K. Both are larger given the backing from UKEF. Additional financing for Talayuela comes from the European Investment Bank and Deutsche Bank.
“Having UKEF’s endorsement provides further credibility for our projects internationally, while demonstrating the U.K. government’s commitment to extending the reach of U.K. solar innovation into new markets,” Neil Perry, CFO at Solarcentury, told GTM.
“UKEF’s backing on these projects is a major positive for Solarcentury and the U.K. renewables industry as a whole, as it demonstrates the government’s confidence in supporting renewables deals outside of the U.K., both in Europe and emerging energy markets,” added Perry.
UKEF operates on a sector-agnostic basis and does not emphasize one sector over another. But it has expressed strong interest in hearing from companies in the renewable supply chain that could benefit from its support.
The U.K. was the first major economy to enshrine a net-zero carbon goal in law, and in the recent election, parties on all sides pledged support to a green industrial revolution to one extent or another.
Last November UKEF guaranteed a loan of 9.2 billion Taiwanese dollars (USD $307 million) for the Formosa 2 offshore wind farm. The 376-megawatt project is being financed by the U.K.-headquartered Green Investment Group. Now owned by Australian bank Macquarie, the Green Investment Group was originally a U.K.-government-owned renewables investor.
Prior to the Formosa deal, UKEF had been largely absent from the renewables sector since it helped a U.K. cable company win offshore wind contracts in Europe in 2012 and 2014.
In a statement on the Solarcentury deal, the U.K.’s international trade secretary Liz Truss said: “We must focus on a low-carbon future, and my department is ready to help what will become a very important part of the economy sell overseas.”
Encavis, an independent power producer, has signed a 10-year power-purchase agreement for 75 percent of Talayuela’s output. The contract is structured to hedge the offtake price. Solarcentury’s Perry said equity finance was in place for the Cabrera project with financial close expected this quarter.
Prospects for U.K. renewables exports
With little domestic solar manufacturing to speak of, the U.K. is not expected to become a major exporter of solar-energy-related goods and services — even with UKEF support, or any other government backing that might be forthcoming as the country redraws its post-Brexit trade priorities.
Tom Heggarty, principal analyst at Wood Mackenzie, said among U.K. solar developers, only Foresight and Lightsource BP have joined Solarcentury in developing projects overseas. And with a rebound expected in Britain’s own solar market, Heggarty said a lot of U.K. firms would be retaining their domestic focus.
“The challenge for any new attempt at market entry is that a lot of these markets require on-the-ground expertise, unless you’re just looking at buying development portfolios, and most of them, particularly Spain, are already extremely competitive. It will be difficult for U.K. firms to break in, or they’ll likely have to pay a premium to do so,” added Heggarty.
But the offshore wind sector may offer more opportunities for U.K. exports with a few more links in the value chain, including blade manufacturing, already on the ground in Britain. In 2018, MHI Vestas exported everything it made at its Isle of Wight factory to overseas markets.
A report by the wind and marine energy trade group RenewableUK found the sector was exporting to 37 countries, while the official stats put the value of exports of wind power products and services at more than £525 million ($684 million) a year.