“The photovoltaic energy market is booming”

In the face of rising fossil fuel prices and new geopolitical tensions, the diversification of the energy mix is at the heart of the debate. Ignacio Granda Lutz (RatedPower) and Maxime Varin (SunMind) discuss innovations in the photovoltaic sector.

RatedPower develops cloud-based software that optimises the design and engineering of large-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) power plants over 1MW. The software accelerates the processes in the early phases of the life cycle of a solar PV plant, specifically during the feasibility study, engineering and construction phases. RatedPower is part of the 2022 Leonard’s Catalyst Program by Leonard.

SunMind, a wholly-owned subsidiary of VINCI Concessions, aims to unleash the solar potential of companies and regions. The start-up develops, finances, builds and maintains photovoltaic solar power plants on surfaces not used by its customers. In return, SunMind is remunerated either by making the electricity produced available directly to the company that has made its land available – self-consumption with third-party financing – or by connecting the plant to the public electricity grid. SunMind was part of the 2017 Leonard’s Intrapreneur Program.

How is the photovoltaic market developing at the moment?

Ignacio Granda Lutz: The PV market is growing rapidly. According to the latest report published by the IEA, annual additions to the world’s renewable electricity capacity are expected to exceed 294 GW, and could reach 453 GW of capacity by 2026. Solar PV accounts for the largest share with over 180 GW of additions in a realistic scenario. Internationally, China, the United States and India are leading this change. In Europe, it is Spain, Germany, France and Italy.

Maxime Varin: The significant volatility of the wholesale electricity markets that we have experienced over the past six months is pushing manufacturers to find supply solutions at controlled costs. This strongly favours the acceleration of self-consumption photovoltaic solar energy, which enables electricity to be produced at a controlled cost over the long term. Short circuit schemes, where a producer such as SunMind is able to sell the electricity it produces directly to its customers, therefore have a bright future ahead of them.

What are the obstacles to setting up a photovoltaic project today?

Maxime Varin: Most companies today want to accelerate their energy transformation, and are quite naturally thinking of deploying solar energy on their available surfaces. However, allocating a budget to the installation of a solar power plant can be one of the biggest obstacles. In addition, lack of knowledge about the long-term costs of a plant and the payback time of such a project discourages manufacturers from taking the plunge. The aversion to dealing with a new asset that is not linked to production activities is also important, since it requires the development of skills specific to the solar industry, at a time when manufacturers want to concentrate their resources on their core business.

Ignacio Granda Lutz: I agree with Maxime. Setting up a photovoltaic project is an expensive process that can last for years, from the location selection phase to the operation and maintenance phase. There are administrative and environmental barriers to be met, which depend on and vary according to regional policy. This has an impact on project implementation time, feasibility, complexity and costs. Setting up a photovoltaic project requires specific skills.

How do you meet these challenges with your solutions?

Ignacio Granda Lutz: Our pvDesign software helps to speed up and optimise the design and engineering process of solar photovoltaic plants so that studies in the feasibility and design phases can be carried out in a few minutes. In this way, we help to reduce not only the time and costs associated with these phases, but also the final discounted energy cost of our users’ solar power plants. In addition, the tool is constantly evolving based on their feedback, and we try to keep the tool easy to use for all types of user profiles, engineers or not.

Maxime Varin: Our solution is an “Energy as a Service” model, where the investment is supported by SunMind, as is the installation, maintenance and management of the plant, thanks to dedicated technical, legal and financial expertise. For our industrial customers who do not have the available space on their sites to carry out self-consumption solar operations, we are now working on a new complementary Off-Site Corporate PPA offer. This consists of developing ground-mounted power plants on dedicated land, and contracting the sale of electricity directly with these customers.

Can you imagine any complementarities between you?

Maxime Varin: At SunMind, we’ve had a bias towards action since the beginning, which leads us to constantly test new solutions in order to become more efficient. When we started to look at off-site PPAs, we had to learn very quickly how to size relatively large ground-mounted plants in a very short time. We found out about RatedPower through Leonard, and we liked their value proposition. We are currently running three trials with pvDesign in three different countries, and the initial results are really impressive!

Ignacio Granda Lutz: Thank you Maxime! Some of our customers, such as Acciona, have seen their final energy costs drop by 5%, which has translated into a 20% increase in profit. Sunmind is a developer who wants to make a key impact in the industry and offer a faster and more efficient way to build their PV projects, so our software fits perfectly with this spirit. And we hope to share this vision with all the key players in the market!

Finally, what is your outlook for the coming year?

Ignacio Granda Lutz: Currently, photovoltaics is the most competitive energy, and its profitability continues to grow as the technology evolves and the costs associated with economies of scale decrease. For example, the cost of solar panels has fallen by more than 90% in the last ten years, and company R&D continues to bring us ever more efficient components. New technologies such as pvDesign to optimise key stages associated with the life cycle of a solar power plant will only increase public and private sector interest in PV.

Maxime Varin : 2022 will be a structuring year for SunMind. Indeed, we will very soon commission a 3 MWp self-consumption plant in Portugal, entirely developed and financed by SunMind, and we hope to have other very good news to announce concerning our development in Portugal. In the French market, we will also deliver our first plants in 2022, while maintaining the growth momentum of our portfolio, which already has several dozen MWp under development. Finally, 2022 will mark SunMind’s entry into the corporate PPA market, with a major 100MWp project in Sweden, at Stockholm Skavsta airport, currently under development. On the strength of these advances and the support of our parent company VINCI Concessions, we maintain our ambition to secure 300MWp of projects by the end of 2023!

Ignacio Granda Lutz (International Business Development at RatedPower) : igranda@ratedpower.com

Maxime Varin (SunMind’s Founder) : maxime.varin@vinci-concessions.com

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