Navigant Research Blog

America Movil Enters the Residential Solar Market

— March 20, 2018

On February 26, Mexico-based America Movil, one of the world’s largest telecom companies, announced the launch of a solar product in Mexico, becoming the first leading telecom company to fully embrace distributed energy resources (DER). America Movil currently serves 363.5 million access lines, including 280.6 million mobile subscribers in Latin America and Central and Southeast Europe.

Its fixed-line subsidiary, Telmex, will provide the service to customers who own a roof. Telmex will install the modules and file all its customers’ paperwork. A 3.3 kW system will cost MXN 166,844 (US$8,957 or US$2.7/W) paid in cash or up to MXN 236,000 (US$12,600 or US$3.8/W) when financed. Payments will be made through an existing Telmex invoice.

Telmex will target high consumption residential customers currently paying the regulated domestic high consumption (DAC) tariff, which in February 2018 was US$0.24/kWh. A user pays this tariff if they consume more than 250 kWh per month in temperate regions or up to 2,500 kWh in the hottest areas.

A Need to Diversify

America Movil already offers mobile, fixed-line, broadband, Internet of Things, and television services in Mexico, but its 61% market share is at the limit of what regulators allow. In addition, after regulatory reform in 2014, Mexican mobile competition increased significantly, cutting margins at America Movil’s cash cow. In April 2017, Mexico’s telecoms regulator put America Movil on notice to legally separate its Telmex fixed-line division from its cellular and retail divisions, putting even more pressure on the company’s finances.

DER: A Tool to Capture the Energy Market

With no room to expand in the telecoms sector, America Movil needs new markets where it can leverage its infrastructure and large customer base. Residential solar fits this description perfectly. Telmex must create new solar installation teams, but other infrastructure already exists: sales, retail partners (Carlos Slim, America Movil’s majority shareholder, owns a large Mexican retail empire), finance (Slim also owns a local bank), customer service centres, billing, etc.

Both Telmex and customers will benefit. Solar improves customer stickiness (finance contracts run for up to 6 years), while reducing electricity costs for its customers.

The America Movil Case Is Unique, but Some Drivers Are Global

America Movil’s situation is unique. Few telecoms are permitted a 61% market share, or have an owner that also owns a bank and a retail empire, or are entering a market with one player not used to competing. But other drivers are global. All telecoms have a large customer base and the infrastructure to serve and bill them once DER is installed. Many also operate in regions with regulated electricity tariffs and abundant sunshine.

Other telecoms are already exploring DER. Last year in the US, Sunrun and Comcast partnered to offer Comcast customers Sunrun’s DER services. In Europe, O2 Telefonica has tip-toed into DER through smart home energy devices like smart thermostats, albeit with mixed results.


DER Opportunities in Spain

— March 15, 2018

Despite the uncertainty created by the Sun Tax in Spain, the industry is growing again. According to the Spanish PV Union (UNEF), in 2017, the annual installed capacity increased by 145% thanks to new self-consumption facilities, growing from 55 MW in 2016 to 135 MW in 2017. This development has been driven by the high degree of competitiveness achieved by PV, the costs of which have reduced significantly in recent years.

Off-Grid DER Is Booming

Most of the growth in 2017 came from agricultural use and rural electrification. In most of these installations, distributed energy resources (DER) has an advantage as it competes with either high fuel costs in applications like water pumping that used diesel generators or, in the case of new rural facilities, with expensive grid expansion costs.

In this sector, the challenge now is to not to reduce the price, but to convince potential customers of the value DER installations can bring. For example, farming operations can reduce diesel consumption to power irrigation pumps by around 70% with the addition of a solar plus storage system, this type of installations have a payback of just a couple of years.

Commercial and Industrial Is Becoming Competitive

The introduction of variable demand charge on auto-consumption (the so-called Sun Tax) in Spain created the impression that distributed solar was doomed to fail as with this charge, installation would be too costly to operate. This impression has lingered although, with the lower cost of solar installations, a significant number of installations could be paid back in 5-7 years despite the variable demand charge payment. The local systems integrator Opengy, reported that 2017 was its best year since 2010, with around 18 MW in its project pipeline (compared to less than 10 MW in 2016 and 2015).

Residential Gaining Momentum

The residential market is also gaining momentum, although it is yet get significant numbers of installation in place. In the latest news from this segment, the challenger local energy supplier, Viesgo, announced in February 2018 a partnership with (the also challenger) Bigbank, to finance Viesgo’s customers that want to buy a DER system (that can include solar, storage, and even EVs). In this agreement, Bigbank offers a 6.95% credit to Viesgo customers, while Viesgo is in charge of installing and servicing the system and collect customer payments. This follows the news of sonnen and SOLARWATT, the German battery and shared energy platform providers, which both entered the market in the last 6 months.

In the Global DER Deployment Forecast Database report, Navigant Research analyses the global market for DER technologies and assesses key market and technology trends. Driven by these trends, Navigant Research estimates that Europe installed 29.1 GW of new DER capacity in 2017, generating $25.5 billion in revenue. Spain missed the mark of what DER can bring to a country, but the future looks sunnier.

While Spain is far from the leading DER market and local legislation is not especially welcoming to DER, the demand charge could be improved and the lack of a flexibility market limits the revenue streams DER could tap into. The country is finally waking up from its distributed generation nap and a combination of a better economy and better system economics are behind it. The utility-scale record low bids in last years’ tenders put renewables back in the front pages, this time with a positive note and word-of-mouth marketing about savings at the distributed level are creating a buzz. Once these trends consolidate, Spain could become the first European country to have a successful DER industry that does not rely on any type of incentive (direct or indirect) to thrive.


Is Distributed Generation in Spain Waking Up from Its Long Nap?

— March 8, 2018

For a long time, Spain’s intent to launch a clean energy industry was resolute despite the mishaps that occurred after the financial crisis of 2008 and the effect of European fiscal deficits in 2009/2010. In fact, my career in the sector began thanks to a job posting that required engineering and Spanish knowledge (to cover the growing Spanish renewables market).

With the financial crisis, Spain’s renewable energy ambitions not only collapsed, but the industry was thrown into the fire as part of the political and economic post-crisis fallout. The country stopped any new installations and slashed already signed feed-in tariffs (FITs) while the public opinion also turned against the industry.

Blocking the Sun

On the distributed side, the country passed from a FIT to a de facto veto on installations, then to a model that taxes auto-consumption on installations that maintain a connection to the grid, formally known as the Royal Decree on Auto Consumption, colloquially known as the Sun Tax.

The Sun Tax has a fixed component that, in reality, is a demand charge. Each year, 75% of it is paid per kilowatt of installed capacity, and the remaining 25% is a variable component that is paid for each kilowatt-hour consumed by the owner (coming from the grid or owner’s system). The fees are set by the government each year and vary depending on location and the customer’s type of grid connection.

The Sun Tax Does Not Always Shine

The Sun Tax came into effect in October 2015, just as Spain prepared for its December 2015 general election. With the election in sight, the government moved into other matters and did not pass the necessary regulation to make the Sun Tax applicable in practice.

When the government failed to win a majority in the parliament, any possibility of passing the regulation collapsed. It took a second election and almost 11 months to form a new working government. While the government is still led by the Partido Popular—proponents of the Sun Tax—it does not hold a majority; therefore, other parties can block any attempt to pass the tax’s secondary regulation.

This has put the Sun Tax and the future of distributed energy resources (DER) in limbo. Any financial analysis of distributed generation in Spain that considers the tax would reduce the competitiveness of DER solutions against grid electricity, but there is no process to pay this charge to the government or utility. This put the industry on hold, as potential customers could not estimate if and when an installation would be paid back by the savings. But this is starting to change. Even in the worst case scenario, DER installations are becoming economically attractive. DER opportunities in Spain will be presented in the second part of this blog.


China Seizing Leadership in Global Solar

— February 8, 2018

In November 2017, I wrote about the surging Chinese solar market. On January 2018, China’s National Energy Administration (NEA) confirmed this trend when it announced that 52.8 GW of solar were installed in 2017. To put this into perspective, this is more than the cumulative solar installed capacity in the US at the end of 2017. At the same time, PV became the technology of choice for the country—at least on installed capacity terms—as in the same period, China only installed 45.78 GW of conventional generation.

China As an Example for Solar Development

With a record year in 2017, China’s cumulative solar capacity reached 130.3 GW, or around 7.3% of the country’s national power generation capacity—3% of it coming from capacity installed in 2017. While this is still far from the levels of conventional generation, it does show the potential of PV to scale quickly and have an effect on a country’s electricity system. After all, China has the largest generating fleet in the world, with close to 1,800 GW of capacity.

Perhaps more surprising about the record installation figure was the take-off of the Chinese distributed solar generation sector. The country continues with the trend shown in 1H 2017 and is estimated to have closed the year at around 20 GW and a massive annual growth of 370% to reach 29.7 GW of cumulative capacity. As explained in November, this rise was caused by a rush to capitalize on highly attractive feed-in tariff (FIT) premiums that expired at the end of 2017.

Duration and Stability Expected

Despite the opportunistic nature of the surge in distributed solar, this sector is not expected to collapse in 2018 (although it might see a fall in new additions). There are several trends that still support the distributed sector. First, the new FIT, although not as attractive as the previous one, is still interesting enough to keep investment in the sector. In addition, the Solar Energy for Poverty Alleviation Program will also support new installations.

Distributed solar has also been beneficial for more fundamental changes in the Chinese electricity sector. The Chinese market is seeing increased competition thanks to China’s power sector reform, now nearly 3 years old, which has included a gradual effort to unbundle retail and distribution business from the large grid companies to varying degrees across provinces. On October 31, 2017, NEA and the National Development and Reform Commission jointly announced a new initiative for Market-oriented Distributed Power Generation as a new part of the power sector reform. The document calls for the creation of platforms that will facilitate electricity trading between distributed generation projects and end users across a local electricity distribution network, starting with large-scale pilots in yet-to-be decided locations. Although it will take time to implement, this initiative should help develop distributed solar installations as behind-the-meter installations will be able to trade their generated electricity freely, paying only distribution network costs, not transmission network costs.


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