5 November 2019


Solar Asset Management MENA - Meet the speakers

Author: Solarplaza

with Steven Xuereb (PI Photovoltaik-Institut Berlin AG) , Antoine Poussard (Finergreen) , Tareq Khalifeh (MASE)

In preparation for our event Solar Asset Management MENA we interviewed three of our keynote speakers about the trends in the MENA market and their own contribution to the event.

Steven Xuereb

Executive Director

Antoine Poussard

Managing Partner

Tareq Khalifeh

Managing Director

Steven Xuereb - PI Berlin

Can you briefly explain how you got started in solar?
I personally have been involved in renewable energy since I started my professional career in 2000. I began working in the wind industry then in 2005 began a Master's degree in renewable energy which introduced me to the PV industry. My thesis in 2006 covered solar hybrid systems being applied in rural Catalunya, Spain. After that I was involved in project development of wind and solar projects for 8 years before specializing as a technical advisor in solar.

PI Berlin started in solar through its founders that are pioneers in the industry - they were involved in the founding of Qcells and Solon, as well as being technical advisors since the 90's on solar projects. In 2006 the PI Berlin project started at the Technical University of Berlin with a small module testing laboratory.

Which trends have been shaping the state of solar in the MENA region?
I see two main trends in the MENA region. One is the scale of the projects - whether in the UAE, Morocco, Egypt or the plans in Saudi, most of the plans are in the 100MW to gigawatt scale. This size limits the pool of developers and investors to a small group that really drive the pricing in all aspects.

The other main technology trend has to do with cleaning and the associated O&M costs. Due to the project scale and the desert locations, the importance of cleaning is paramount to maintain expected energy production and to manage O&M costs. Due to this, robotic cleaning solutions are a must in the region and are driving the technology and costs of the devices.

Which measure or activity would- in your opinion- be mission-critical to the success of solar in MENA?
Due to the race to the bottom in terms of electricity pricing from solar plants, there is no room for error in these large scale projects. Any major failure that affects the plant performance over its lifetime, will significantly affect the investment return and viability of the plant. Therefore attention to quality in the design, procurement and construction phases is critical to ensure success of these projects and the industry in the region.

Can you talk a little about why you think the topic of your session is important?
As a result of the above, one can only enforce quality requirements if they are properly covered in the procurement and construction contracts. There needs to be sufficient focus on design considerations, performance metrics, quality control criteria, acceptance testing, etc. in the EPC and supply contracts so that all parties are aware of how a quality PV plant shall be built. The idea is to convince devlopers and investors to spend sufficient time on the technical aspects of contracts that affect the long term performance of their investments, just as they automatically do on the financial, tax and legal side.

Why do you think conferences such as Solar Asset Management are important for the industry?
These conferences are essential to provide a platform for investors, developers and suppliers to share and exchange experiences and ideas working in the same industry and region. We are all so focused on our own daily projects and work, that we often don't have enough time to hear from others who are likely running into the same issues we are. It's always good to slow down and take some time to talk to each other and learn from our colleagues in the industry.

Antoine Poussard - Finergreen

In your opinion, what is/ are the biggest challenge(s) facing the solar scene from a financial perspective in the region?
MENA is a dual market: Deep, strong, liquid utility scale market on one hand, immature inexperienced but transforming market on the distributed solar. There is hardly anything in-between. Utility scale market is facing deep competition and is a race to the ultimate tariff, taking a risk on the operational margins Distributed solar suffers from a lack of maturity and the historical “conservative” approach of the regional investors base.

What piece of advice would you give to new entrants in solar on the topic of financial asset management?
The market is in transition and maturing much faster than any other region. MENA is catching the ball rolling and digest the changes at much faster pace than anywhere else: New entrants should be prepared to that and keep a high level of tenacity, energy and hope to succeed.

Can you talk a little about why you think the topic of your session is important?
Financing is always the elephant in the room. Educating all solar industry stakeholders on the financing aspects of any transactions will help making the market more liquid.

Which other session(s) or speaker(s) do you look forward to attending or hearing from the most?
Defining and Understanding Solar Asset Management; Hybrid solar power plants and grid integration

Why do you think conferences such as Solar Asset Management are important for the industry?
Because the positioning of SAM is different and brings a different angle on the way to develop the industry.

Tareq Khalifeh - MASE

Which trends have been shaping the state of solar in the MENA region?

  • Ambitious mega projects and increased competition, driven by lower return expectations, lower CAPEX and OPEX as well as involvement of regional lenders. Competition is also leading to pricing pressure on technology suppliers, EPC Contractors and O&M service suppliers.
  • With increased RE penetration, local and regional grids now faced with contemporary grid management challenges. This has led some to halt further large-scale power generation developments (ex. Jordan), others (UAE) are investing in grid management infrastructure (such as smart grids, energy storage) to be able to accelerate the penetration of RE generation.
  • Escrow projects/B2B PPAs maturing, opening new business opportunities to the entire solar supply chain. Technology suppliers, developers, contractors and lenders no longer relying on slow-paced utility solar developments.
  • Technology and innovation playing a significant role in the advancement of solar in the region.

In your opinion, what is/ are the biggest O&M challenge(s) the region will face in the years to come?

  • Grid management capabilities: with supplementary technologies coming into play (energy storage), challenges arising from RE integration, etc. O&M service providers are expected to have the required knowledge and technical capabilities to manage the operations of solar assets on behalf of their Clients.
  • Pressure to keep up with increased competition, lower margins. We are seeing that with increased pressure on pricing, EPC Contractors/Developers are resorting to substandard equipment, with several examples on support structures. This poses a challenge on O&M service providers to properly maintain these components and standing behind KPIs.

What piece of advice would you give to new entrants?
Take measured but ambitious business risks. O&M may look simple but it is a very complicated practice and mistakes can be detrimental.

Why do you think conferences such as Solar Asset Management are important for the industry?

  • Excellent networking opportunities.
  • Keeps all stakeholders up to date.
  • Established basis for other efforts such as O&M best practices, regional accreditation.
  • Good opportunity for transfer of knowledge and skills from more mature markets (EU) to developing markets.

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