Under the Roman Sun: SunPower Builds 85MW In Italy

Sunrise over Roman Coliseum

Italy has proven a blockbuster solar market. The country has been a particularly good bet for companies such as SunPower, which bought an Italian project developer in early 2010 and completed 85 MW of solar energy projects in the country, SunPower said Monday.

The sale of a 13-MW solar project near Rome to Allianz Renewable Energy Partners IV on Dec. 30 capped SunPower’s 2010 projects in Italy which, like Germany, also has policies in place that require utilities to pay a premium for solar electricity. The San Jose, Calif.-based company, which started out as a solar panel maker, jumped into the project development business when it agreed to buy Berkeley, Calif.-based PowerLight in 2006.

Italy was the largest photovoltaic market after Germany in 2010, according to iSuppli. The country is estimated to have installed around 1.9 GW in 2010, up from 720 MW in 2009. And it will remain a big draw for investors and project developers over the next two years, likely adding 3.9 GW of solar projects in 2011, iSuppli said Monday.

Other solar energy equipment makers, from First Solar to Power-One, which makes inverters, have boosted their sales from the booming Italian market. Power-One, which bought an Italy-based power conversion electronic business in 2006, became the No. 2 inverter supplier in 2010 (up from No. 4 in 2009), according to IMS Research.

SunPower bought Malta-based SunRay Renewable Energy for $296.1 million in March 2010, according to SunPower’s filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. That acquisition came with a project pipeline of more than 1.2 GW in Italy, France, Israel, Spain, the U.K. and Greece. SunPower typically develops and then sells its projects to investors; buyers usually hire SunPower to operate and maintain the power plants.

SunPower and SunRay had learned to work together prior to the purchase. SunRay worked with SunPower to complete a 20-MW project in 2009, which was the first phase of the Montalto di Castro solar park near Rome, and SunPower completed another 8 MW of the solar park in the fall of 2010, and an additional 44 MW in December.

SunPower sold the 20-megawatt and the 8-megawatt projects to Etrion for a total of 49 million euros. The two companies also announced in November a plant to build 10 megawatts.

SunPower ended up selling the 44-MW portion to a group of investors that included MetLife, Fondo PPP Italia and Voigt & Collegen). The solar company didn’t disclose the sale price.

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Photo courtesy of Andrew Larsen

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