Solar energy: companies plan to start building at multiple sites

The country’s transition to renewable energy has been given a new boost, with another large-scale solar project showcased by developers.

(File photo)
Photo: Unsplash / American Association of Public Authorities

Local solar technology developer Far North Solar Farm and German sustainable investment manager Aquila Capital, which partnered in 2021, announced plans to begin construction on a series of solar projects that could provide around 4% of the country’s total energy demand when completed.

The companies aim to innovate this year on four North Island projects in its 1 gigawatt (GWp) pipeline.

“We look forward to beginning construction of the solar PV sites that we have planned and approved,” said FSNF Director John Telfer.

“Partnering with a global investor as committed to clean energy generation as Aquila Capital, and on the scale we collectively envision, is exciting not only for us, but for the entire country.”

The investment cost would be more than $1 billion, with projects expected to be deployed over the next two to five years, Telfer said.

Telfer said it was looking for local investors, but found no one willing to find the money it needed or willing to take on the risks associated with construction, such as cost explosions.

The two companies planned to build the projects across the North and South Islands and had already secured 13 sites near the transmission points.

FSNF began work on the first site in Pukenui last year at a cost of $30 million.

They also said the projects would create 40 full-time jobs.

FSNF and Aquila Capital were the latest companies to join the solar party.

Power companies Contact Energy, Genesis, Meridian and new players Lodestone and Helios have all announced plans to build solar developments of varying sizes over the past 12 months.

Jarden Securities stock analyst Grant Swanepeol said in April that power companies are now seeing the benefits of solar power generation within their businesses.

“The cost of producing solar power has probably been reduced to around $75 per megawatt-hour (MWh), which is comparable to wind at around $65 MWh and geothermal at less than $60 MWh.

“[It’s] get to that competitive but not quite as competitive area, but when you look at the other side, it will actually achieve average prices above the average market price.”

This compensates for the higher price of construction, he said.

He estimated that nearly 2,000 gigawatt hours (GWh) could be in the pipeline, which is relative to a national demand of about 42,000 GWh.

Swanepoel said industry-wide interest in solar energy has sparked a land grab for large sites across the country that receive sufficient sunlight and are close to transmission points.