Sun | Feb 5, 2023

Soleco teams with TotalEnergies on renewable projects

Published:Friday | January 20, 2023 | 12:49 AM
Angella Rainford, founder and CEO of Soleco Energy.
Angella Rainford, founder and CEO of Soleco Energy.

Renewable energy firm Soleco Energy Limited, led by CEO and founder Angella Rainford, has teamed up with global energy company TotalEnergies to bid on regional projects.

The first was a joint bid on a renewable project in the Cayman Islands. The officials in that territory are still evaluating the bids.

“Looking at the region, we realised that there are people already in the market before us, and so we have said that we will partner. And we are actually looking at partnering with Soleco in regard to renewable,” said Stephen Wedderburn at a panel discussion at the ROK Hotel in downtown Kingston on Thursday.

“Cayman Islands has started a tender process and one of the Total affiliates has partnered with Soleco. We are awaiting word on that tender process. But that is the first of a number of partnerships with Soleco,” he said.

Wedderburn, a former local energy technocrat, in 2021 joined TotalEnergies as one of 60 experts tasked with building out renewable projects globally.

Rainford, who convened the panel discussion on Thursday in conjunction with the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica and IDB Invest, noted that the pipeline for solar projects remained solid. The panellists included heads of business, experts from the Inter-American Development Bank, power utility Jamaica Public Service Company, and others.

Currently, three per cent of Cayman Islands electricity generation comes from renewable energy. The territory plans an ambitious target of getting to 70 per cent renewables by 2037, according to the National Energy Policy Unit in Cayman, the official website for the energy transformation in Cayman Islands.

TotalEnergies, a French-owned oil company, is present in Jamaica where it operates a national gas station network.

On the renewable front, TotalEnergies aims to globally install 35,000 megawatts of renewable projects by 2025 and move that figure to 100,000 by 2030, said Wedderburn.

Under the partnership for bids, Soleco would provide the technical expertise, working with development banks and utility providers, while TotalEnergies would provide capital for the projects.

“We are happy to partner with a company with a regional presence,” Wedderburn said.

No shortage of financing

Rainford said financing for renewable energy projects has never been this good in the region.

“If you have a ready project with off-takers and a good financing structure for the leasing, then you will have no issue accessing capital. That’s a very real shift in the mindset of the market,” she said.

It’s a position mirrored by the IDB.

“There is no shortage of financing,” said panellist Omar Zacarias, investment management officer at the IDB.

Zacarias explained that roughly 60 per cent of new generation funding will come from renewable energy projects, in part because energy demand will double in the region by 2040. Currently, some 20 million people lack electricity and 81 million are without cooking gas supplies.

“There is a lot of investment needed,” said Zacarias. “We are moving slowly in the right direction.”

Last January, the Financial Gleaner reported that Soleco Energy Limited secured US$24.3 million in funding from IDB Invest, to fast-track its projects that are mainly focused on solar energy systems. The IDB funding was approved on December 31, 2021. It is split US$10.99 million as a syndicated loan and US$13.33 million in financing to Soleco.

Presently, Soleco is working on setting up a 2MW solar plant for poultry producer Caribbean Broilers Group in Jamaica.

The renewable energy firm was set up in 2019 as a special-purpose vehicle to finance the construction of energy projects in the region on behalf of its clients, utilising a ‘lease to own’ business model. The clients lease the plant and buy back the asset over a period.

Prior to Soleco, Rainford co-developed the 51MW Paradise Park solar farm in the parish of Westmoreland, which is the largest solar plant in the English-speaking Caribbean.

Concurrently, experts at the renewable energy forum reasoned that advances in battery storage are making solar energy plants more competitive when compared to liquefied natural gas, or LNG.

William Mahfood, chairman of beverage maker and distributor Wisynco Group, indicated that when his firm installed LNG in around 2017, the plant ran on fuel in the region of US$2 per unit, plus transportation fees. Global oil shocks, however, rocketed prices to around US$6 to US$8, which changed the return on investment. That said, he otherwise noted that the heat generated from the plant also serves to power and cool other aspects of the operation.

Stephen Facey, executive chairman of PanJam Investment Limited and panellist at the forum, wants wheeling implemented to allow for the transmission of power generated from one location to other locations, such as to city hotels with limited space for solar panels. The ROK Hotel, where the forum was convened, is owned by PanJam.

Panellists noted that wheeling would require policy implementation by the government; JPS; and the regulator, the Office of Utilities Regulation. A JPS representative at the forum noted that the power utility, which manages the national electricity grid, already has the technology tested and ready to implement wheeling.

steven.jackson@gleanerjm.com