Solar Interview: Suntech’s Head of Sales (Americas) on challenges and perspectives in Latin America’s PV market

Robert Ho, Suntech Head of Sales for the Americas, speaks about building a sustainable solar energy business in Latin America.

“We believe that as solar becomes more popular in the region, incentives are bound to follow, especially as traditional energy costs continue to remain high”, he says.

 

 

SolarServer: Suntech attended Intersolar South America to meet potential customers. In general, which potential does Suntech identify in the Latin American solar market?

Robert Ho: Suntech currently has a strong presence in Mexico. We recently supplied the 30 MW of modules for Mexico’s Aura Solar I park. There is definitely room for PV growth, not only in Mexico but in other Latin American markets. We believe that Intersolar South America served as a perfect venue to engage with major players in the Latin American solar market, including potential partners, suppliers, clients and competitors.

We believe that Suntech products can complement the growing solar energy market in Latin America. Given the subtropical climates, conditions favorable to solar development, solar PV is an alternative, affordable source of energy that can help spark growth and development in the region. Intersolar South America allowed us to explore expanding our regional sales capacity. And we have identified interesting growth opportunities in Brazil, Chile and Mexico through off-grid and grid-connected solutions, for residential, commercial, and utility scale installations.

 

SolarServer: Which countries will become the most exciting markets, and what do you expect to be the drivers for PV deployment?

Robert Ho: Currently, Brazil, Mexico and Chile are the most exciting markets in Latin America. The exponential growth in the demand for clean energy is expected to drive PV development in the region. In the past 5 years, these three markets have experienced a steady decrease in the cost of photovoltaic solar technology. The increased profitability and bankability of utility-scale PV plants, along with government clean energy initiatives, has made solar more attractive to investors, hence more apt for deploymentSuntech is excited to play a part in building a sustainable solar energy business in the Latin American region.

 

SolarServer: In a report published on August 28th, 2014 the International Energy Agency expects strong solar PV growth in emerging markets, however policy debates on distributed PV may be a source of uncertainty, IEA notes. Does this apply for Latin America?

Robert Ho: To a certain extent it does. For instance, in Chile, net metering, or distributed generation needs to be enhanced in order to provide incentives that will encourage investment in the installation of rooftop solar systems, be it residential or commercial rooftops. This will enable individuals to generate their own energy supply, either meeting personal energy needs or selling energy surpluses in order to support the electrical grid.  These policies are important for investors such as Suntech whose products are suitable both for net metering systems and large and utility scale systems but would need regulatory transparency in order to help in growing the market.

Mexico has a stronger framework for expanding its solar market, in both distributed and utility scale systems. The 2007 net metering law has been widely adapted in Mexico’s residential communities.

SolarServer: How will legislation in the energy sector affect solar markets like Mexico and Brazil?

Robert Ho: While an effort to develop renewable incentives policies is needed in the region, solar energy is already expanding in Latin America and this trend will continue. We believe that as solar becomes more popular in the region, incentives are bound to follow, especially as traditional energy costs continue to remain high. Net metering has gained popularity in countries such as Brazil and Mexico as it provides customers with a low-maintenance, battery-free alternative to off-grid solar systems.

Public tenders, net-metering programs, and feed-in tariffs in Brazil will incentivize solar expansion. Brazil will be launching tenders for exclusive solar projects this October. Suntech is very excited about these tenders, which are the first PV specific government sponsored projects in Brazil.  It reflects the need for photovoltaic solutions and the promise of PV growth as industry investments are increasing in Brazil. We expect that these tenders, led by Brazil’s Energy Research agency and the state development bank, will lead to local content rules that will spur local manufacturing capabilities and more jobs.

In regards to Mexico, the Mexican government has set an impressive renewable energy goal. The country looks to install 2000MW of solar PV by 2020.  Suntech hopes to expand market efforts and support further PV growth in the country as these targets validates the country’s commitment to clean energy development

 

SolarServer: Which nations will lead Latin America’s PV markets in terms of competiveness with traditional energy sources, and how will this be possible?

Robert Ho: As many countries in Latin America have irradiation characteristics favorable for PV production, solar will serve as a competitive alternative to fossil fuels. Brazil, Chile, and Mexico will lead in this shift given legislative efforts, renewable energy targets, and increasing energy demands.

One should also keep in mind the issue of resiliency. Recently, Suntech provided panels for one of Southeast Asia’s largest PV projects, the 45 MW Sunny Bangchack field near Bangkok. This project, with Suntech’s contribution, is an integral part of Thailand’s energy supply resiliency, as demonstrated by its rapid return to functionality following the great flood of 2011.

As Suntech has witnessed, resiliency is one of solar’s key competitive feature when compared with traditional energy sources. Region’s increasingly vulnerable to natural disasters, should consider solar PV as a resilient reliable and competitive source of energy.

The growing energy demand and rising prices pose a concern regarding affordable energy and access. Rising prices of traditional energy sources help to make solar prices competitive. Recent investments in Brazil, Chile, and Mexico indicate that these countries will play a vital role in PV energy development in the region.

 

Interview conducted by Solar Server’s Editor in Chief, Rolf Hug