Meet the solar pioneers

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There have been a few casualties in the solar industry in recent years, but one company that intends to be around for some time is First Solar. Founded in 1999, it claims to be the world’s leading PV solutions company, with the ability to manufacture panels, execute projects and broker financing for solar plants.

First Solar has designed and constructed more than 1.5GW of PV power plants, including plants of 500MW in size; it has a contract pipeline of around 3GW; and it has helped arrange project financing of around US $9 billion. Now, the US company hopes to provide its solutions to the myriad of solar projects planned and underway in the Middle East.

Helping to spearhead the company’s drive into the Middle East are Ahmed Nada, the company’s VP of business development for the MENA region, and Matt Merfert, EPC project director, Middle East and Africa.

Nada joined First Solar in January 2013, bringing two decades of experience in the energy and power sectors, including 14 years with GE. Merfert joined First Solar in 2009 and has now managed more than 20 utility-scale solar PV projects.

The company has already registered its first breakthrough, having been selected as the EPC contactor for phase one of Dubai’s Mohammed bin Rashid Solar Park. If the 13MW implementation is a success and GCC governments go ahead with their announced plans, First Solar hopes to be doing a lot more in the region in the future.

“We feel we are extremely strongly positioned on the basis of this pilot plant execution to perform more projects in the future…larger plants and to install them faster,” says Merfert. “We can provide any energy solution in the PV space: project finance, project development, EPC services, OEM services… everything from the module to the plant. We feel very well positioned.”

With his broad experience in the region, Nada is well aware of the factors that would facilitate solar adoption. He is very confident that there is an understanding of those factors and a willingness to address them. “Of course, there is legislation that needs to be adjusted,” he says, referring to the need to create the necessary legal frameworks for IPPs. “Some programmes will engage the private sector, so legislation needs to be changed to accommodate independent power producers.”

Morocco, for example, has issued a law allowing private owners of solar plants to sell energy to consumers. Abu Dhabi already has IWPP models in place to allow private sector partners to own stakes in utility projects. DEWA, which has a utilities monopoly, has recently stated that legislation already allows public-private partnerships in power generation projects.

Another factor that would need to be addressed, in some countries, is grid stability. “It is the ability to manage the power coming in at different times of the day, from different locations and being able to dispatch that correctly such that the grid remains balanced,” explains Nada.

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