Author: Jason Deign, Solarplaza
One of Italy’s top integrated solar firms is looking for partnerships across a raft of emerging markets after getting €1.9 million from the Italian Development Finance Institution, SIMEST. The cash injection, announced in July, saw SIMEST taking a 49% stake in the American subsidiary of Thesan, one of Italy’s biggest solar success stories on the world stage.
The funding will help Thesan develop new opportunities across Latin America, where it already has a very strong footprint, and in the USA, where it is looking to break into regional markets where solar penetration remains low. The US business will be based on a combination of engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) work and own development of small to medium-scale solar on leased rooftops.
Focusing on low-penetration American solar markets will allow Thesan to apply similar market-broaching strategies to the US as those employed with significant success across most of Latin America, said director Pierluigi Borgogna.
“It’s true that the US is a mature market, with over 30 GW of installed capacity, but there are sunny states with untouched solar potential, like Florida, that still only ranks 14th for cumulative PV power,” he said. “In some states there is still enough space to grow, not just with a lease model but also as an EPC.”
Thesan USA, which has offices in New York and Miami, is ready to deliver EPC services to US customers already, he said. The company is already developing its own projects for about 50MW, with construction expected to start in the second half of 2017
At the same time Thesan will continue to expand across Latin America, where it already has a major presence, with offices in Brazil, Ecuador, Mexico, Colombia and Panama. In Ecuador, Thesan has 8 MW of projects out a total installed capacity of 22 MW, giving it a 36% share of the entire market.
In Panama, one of the region’s newest solar markets and one where low electricity prices halted PV development last year, Thesan has 10 MW of projects under construction as EPC, and another 20 MW of projects in the pipeline as an investor.
Working with local partner Panama Solar, Thesan has pioneered the use of power-purchase agreements (PPAs) with private-sector off-takers in the country, allowing it to circumvent the challenges posed by the price of energy. The use of private PPAs has been “very important for the development of our strategy in the Panamanian matrix,” stated Borgogna.
Another market where Thesan is growing aggressively is Brazil, where the company’s activities range from EPC work to the provision of mounting systems as an original equipment manufacturer with a strong local presence. In Brazil, Thesan has concentrated on the distributed generation market. As in the US, it is focusing on a leasing concept whereby it builds rooftop PV plants for commercial property owners, with around 20 MW of capacity under development.
“We are not looking for utility-scale work because it’s a difficult market with only a few players, like Enel Green Power,” Borgogna said.
From next year Thesan is also looking to develop a pipeline of around 5 MW of projects in Colombia, where solar power looks set to be part of a peace dividend arising from the end of hostilities between the government and FARC rebels.
“The Colombian government is looking to boost employment and rural development through the solar industry, passing legislation favouring PV. After that, the market will be one of the most important in the area, especially for distributed generation,” claimed Borgogna.
Despite this strong New World focus and existing interests in European markets such as Italy and Romania, around 20% of Thesan’s current activities are devoted to emerging opportunities across West Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia. In October, for example, Thesan will be acting as Diamond sponsor for Solarplaza’s Renewable Energy Trade Mission Iran, as part of moves to develop projects for the highly promising Iranian solar market.
By the end of 2017, Borgogna said: “Our grand plan is achieve 150 MW of plants in operation or in the pipeline. We are also looking to diversify our portfolio with small hydro and other energy sources.”
The company’s growth strategy is based on a tried-and-tested technique for new market development that includes a careful scoping of opportunities, followed by the creation of in-country partnerships and flexibility in adapting to local needs. The company is able to draw upon 125 years of history in the provision of turnkey industrial projects, along with vertically integrated operations that span the entire PV value chain.
Thus, while perhaps the most visible part of the company’s activities is in the creation of new projects, either on an EPC or own-project basis, Thesan is also active as an investor and component manufacturer specialising in aluminium structures. Thesan’s investment capabilities mean the privately owned company is well placed to fund its own projects, reducing finance overheads and the need for high internal rates of return (IRR).
“We try to select a few very good opportunities,” said Borgogna. “We don’t have huge pressure to manage huge budgets. We select the highest IRR with an acceptable level of risk.”
Being a relatively small, privately owned developer means Thesan can also move rapidly to adapt to local conditions and reach decisions rapidly. However, Borgogna said, a key factor in its success has been working with capable local partners.
The company is currently seeking more of these to help with its drive to reach 150 MW next year. “Thesan is looking to find local partners in emerging markets, both in Latin America and also in new markets like Indonesia,” Borgogna confirmed.