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The COP26 climate summit is fast approaching. One of its main goals is to secure global net-zero emissions by mid-century and to keep within reach the possibility that the world can limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Countries are being asked to come forward with ambitious 2030 emissions reduction targets that align with reaching net zero by the middle of the century.
To meet these targets, countries need to encourage investment in renewables. Solar energy has a key role to play, thanks to low prices and promising innovation.
On hearing the term “solar energy”, most people immediately think of panels on rooftops or large solar farms. Indeed, so far, projects of this kind have dominated the renewables market, with citizens across the EBRD regions already seeing the benefits of such investments funded by the Bank and its donors.
However, projects like these are not the only option. There are innovative solar-power technologies on the market, such as floating solar farms, solar window blinds and bifacial solar panels.
Currently, two major technologies help convert sunlight into electrical energy: photovoltaic (PV) panels, which directly convert sunlight into electricity, and solar thermal technology, namely, mirrors that concentrate solar radiation.
Today, there is plenty of ongoing research and development (R&D) in the sector, with a variety of solutions under development, from rigid to flexible technologies and the use of precious metals to maximise efficiency.
These innovations can revolutionise the way we think about renewables.
The EBRD is a pioneer in this field, having supported numerous businesses and countries in their solar endeavours. The Bank’s clients are at the forefront of the renewables revolution.
As Erriyadi Mounir, Project and Energy Manager at Maghreb Industries, an EBRD client in Morocco, explains: “We are one of the first companies in the region to have installed PV panels and an energy conversion system. Now other companies come to us seeking advice.”
With support from the European Union (EU), the EBRD helped Maghreb Industries to install a photovoltaic plant on the roof of its factory and implement energy efficiency measures that have helped reduce the firm’s energy costs by 60 per cent.
In Ukraine, Yevhen Erik, another EBRD client supported by the EU, came up with SolarGaps, an innovative solution that produces energy and eliminates the need for air conditioning in buildings.
SolarGaps are window blinds equipped with photovoltaic modules, which can be installed on the outer side of a window. The solar modules act as the slats of the blind, collecting energy from sunlight, while the product itself provides optimal shade for the premises. Echoing the movement of sunflowers, the blinds automatically angle themselves towards the sunlight throughout the day to collect as much energy as possible.
And the list of examples goes on, with the EBRD promoting the use of solar energy in nearly all of the economies in which it invests, having supported the development of numerous pioneering projects and achieved many “firsts”.
A flagship EBRD project is Egypt’s Benban, the largest solar park in Africa and one of the largest in the world. It extends over 37 km2 and will generate 1.5 GW, enough to provide renewable energy to more than 1,000,000 homes.
The EBRD is proud to be the main financier of this park, having supported 16 of the 32 plots. The project is supported by the Green Climate Fund (GCF), the EU and donors to the Southern and Eastern Mediterranean Multi-Donor Account (SEMED MDA) (Australia, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Spain, Taipei China and the United Kingdom).
In Benban, the EBRD has also led the way in providing finance to roll out innovative bifacial panels, a product that is more efficient and achieves greater productivity in the generation of solar power.
The Bank worked with Norwegian developer Scatec Solar ASA, who proposed the use of bifacial panels for Benban on the basis that the groundbreaking product delivered better value in terms of yield and durability. The use of bifacial technology increases total generation because both sides of the panel can produce power.
Benban is not the only example from Egypt. The EBRD, the OPEC Fund for International Development (the OPEC Fund), the African Development Bank (AfDB), the GCF and the Arab Bank worked with ACWA Power for the construction of the Kom Ombo solar plant, the largest private solar facility in the country.
The development of this plant will add 200 MW of energy capacity, increasing the percentage of renewable energy in Egypt’s energy mix and further promoting private-sector participation in the Egyptian power sector.
The EBRD has also supported the country’s first private-to-private purchase agreement for solar photovoltaic power. With the help of the Bank’s Green Economy Financing Facility (GEFF) in Egypt, which is supported by the EU, SolarizEgypt’s first impactful project materialised when the company received assistance in the installation of a rooftop PV system for the Coca-Cola Company.
The GEFF’s support provided SolarizEgypt with the opportunity to receive finance from QNB Alahli Bank, one of GEFF’s partner banks. Although the 1 MW PV system is installed at the Coca-Cola Company’s facility in Sadat City, SolarizEgypt retains ownership of the solar facility and sells the electricity produced to power the factory, so all parties benefit.
The success of this project paved the way for the market to replicate this new model and stimulated the partner bank’s appetite for financing similar projects with other clients.
Another EBRD-supported flagship investment is Hellenic Petroleum’s (HELPE’s) set of 18 solar PV plants in Kozani, Greece. It is the largest renewable energy project in Greece and the biggest solar energy project in south-eastern Europe to date. The solar park will be built close to existing coal-fired power plants that are being phased out and is expected to reduce CO2 emissions by 320,000 tonnes per year.
In Armenia, meanwhile, the EBRD, the IFC (a member of the World Bank Group), and the EU supported the country’s first utility-scale solar power plant (which was also the first for the Caucasus). The 55 MW facility will boost Armenia’s supply of renewable energy and help the country reduce its reliance on imported fuels.
Lastly, a 12.9 MW floating solar photovoltaic farm in Albania is the first floating solar plant of this size in the country and the Western Balkans. The EBRD provided a €9.1 million loan for its construction and mobilised €315,830 to support the project preparation, including from the green economy project-preparation and implementation framework financed by the Austrian government (the DRIVE Fund) and from the TaiwanBusiness-EBRD Technical Cooperation Fund.
These projects demonstrate that the solar-energy market has come a long way and its future looks bright!