In Conversation with Mr. Nick Boyle Group CEO Light Source
Let’s start with the recent developments at your organisation in last one year
The past twelve months have probably been some of the busiest Lightsource has ever seen, which really is saying something.
Since the summer of 2016, we’ve launched several international business ventures,including offices in San Francisco, Philadelphia, Mumbai and New Delhi, and we’ve recruited two highly experienced executive teams with extensive regional industry expertise to lead our two new business units – Lightsource North America and Lightsource IMEA (India, Middle East and Asia). The Lightsource IMEA team has already successfully secured the company’s first tender, winning a bid for a 65MW ground-mount solar farm in the Indian state of Maharashtra.Construction is set to begin imminently, and we anticipate completion by the end of the financial year.
Late 2016 saw Lightsource’s industry-leading Operations and Maintenance division, the largest provider of solar O&M services in Europe, secure a 30 year contract for 365MW of solar assets previously owned by SunEdison yieldco Terraform. These 24 fully operational solar farms are located across England and Wales, and are all now owned by Vortex, a European renewables investment platform of private equity firm EFG Hermes.
In the early months of 2017, Lightsource successfully planned, developed, constructed and connected more than 80MW of solar farms across Great Britain and Northern Ireland.These projects included a portfolio of 14 sites in England, Wales and Scotland, connected in time to meet the UK government’s final Renewable Obligations Certificate deadline in March. The ROC portfolio connection was followed by the completion of Northern Ireland’s largest solar energy development to date, consisting of five interconnected solar farms totalling 32MW across Country Antrim, wired in to one single point of grid connection.Adding this cluster of sites to our historic Crookedstone solar farm, the first ever large scale ground mount solar installation on the island of Ireland, providing power to Belfast International Airport, Lightsource now has a significant portfolio of sites across Northern Ireland.
Perhaps our most significant achievement in the last year occurred in July, when Lightsource and BlackRock Real Assets have entered in to a strategic partnership with a value of £1billion. The partnership targets the acquisition and ownership of UK solar power generation assets, representing a total target installed capacity of circa 1GWp, which we seeded with 200MW of our own assets
As a developer, what are you looking for in new geographical markets?
The decision to move internationally was not one that we took lightly. A great deal of thought, discussion and planning went into the development of our global expansion strategy. Rather than trying to break into 20 markets at a time, we’re focusing on just two new markets to begin with – North America and IMEA. We selected these regions based on two main criteria.
Firstly,we wanted markets where the rule of law is strong, where we can be sure that if we tick all the boxes and fulfil all stages of the process that we’re actually going to be able to achieve a positive result at the end. We’re not afraid of hard work; if the barrier for entry is hard work then that’s only a barrier for other people. Our process is highly regimented and very detail-oriented- we’re going to operate our assets for 30 years, therefore it’s in our interests to get things right from the very beginning.
The second criteria we took into account was market size.We looked for competitive, auction-oriented markets, capable of providing 1GW or more, in order to drive down costs. Our aim in new markets is to supply renewable energy to large corporates at a lower cost than that offered by traditional utility companies.
Which countries do you believe will see maximum solar energy investments this year?
We anticipate significant advancements in the solar industry in both America and India in the near future, which is another reason why we’ve chosen to expand into those markets.
The American energy landscape has reached a point where a large proportion of their grid and generation infrastructure will need to be retired in the near future, and the electricity supplied by that infrastructure will need to be obtained from other sources. Solar is perfectly placed to fill that need, using the existing networks and structures or creating new ones as necessary.
India has an enormous need for electricity generally – there are 300 million people across the country without electricity, so it is a fast-paced market with a great deal of room for the solar industry to grow.It’s a market that has already proposed to deliver over 100GW of solar and under Prime Minister Modi’s direction, the trajectory is looking extremely positive.
We’re also paying close attention to the solar developments in China. While Lightsource isn’t currently looking to move into the area, we’re keeping a keen eye on the industry just in case!
What are your plans for the Indian market?
Lightsource hopes to build a multi-GW portfolio made up of a mix of SECI, local and SME installations, with a range of different financial upsides. We look forward to operating a portfolio of profitable projects from which we can drive efficient revenues, long into the future.
We intend to use not just the central government SECI tenders where the provisional development is essentially removed because they are ready to build, but also to actually develop sites in our own rights. While we’re happy to have the critical mass of the business delivered via the SECI tenders, we want to use our foothold in the region to then develop and build sites ourselves from scratch.
In order to realise these plans, we’re working with some of the members of the incredibly talented regional leadership team at SunEdison to create a foothold in the area. We firmly believe that the key to Lightsource’s success in any new market is to identify teams that are familiar with the market and have an excellent track-record of solar success.
What are the milestones your IMEA platform wishes to achieve by the end of this fiscal year?
In the immediate future, Lightsource’s main goal in India is to successfully build and connect the solar farm in Maharashtra by the end of the 2016/17 financial year.