Case Studies / Photovoltaic

Sunscreen

Sunscreen, a 112 MW photovoltaic portfolio in Italy and Slovakia.

Project Overview

Investment Year: 2018 and 2019
Ownership Stake: 49%
Technology: Polycrystalline rooftop and ground-mounted photovoltaic plants
Industrial Partner: ContourGlobal

Sunscreen is a portfolio of rooftop and ground-mounted solar photovoltaic (PV) plants in Italy and Slovakia, with a total installed capacity of approximately 112 MW. The geographically diverse portfolio has played a role in powering Italy and Slovakia’s rapidly-developing solar markets. In Italy, the PV plants are distributed across the country, while the Slovakian plants are primarily located in southern areas with irradiation levels similar to northern Italy.

Sunscreen is a strong addition to the Energy Infrastructure Partners portfolio, made possible by industrial partner and majority shareholder ContourGlobal. The power utility, headquartered in New York and Vienna, operates renewable and thermal power generation assets around the globe.

ContourGlobal benefits from a strong, proven ability to improve the operational efficiencies of acquired assets by following a well-structured integration plan. The availability of Sunscreen’s extensive operation history also reduced investment uncertainty, while partnering with ContourGlobal gave EIP the opportunity to develop a long-term strategic relationship that has since resulted in further collaboration such as Mirror.

Drives energy transition while decentralizing production

Photovoltaic solar power has been a fundamental player in the move towards renewable energy sources and a reduction of fossil fuel reliance, particularly in Italy. As one of the top countries in the world by total installed photovoltaic capacity, Italy has been a leader in driving energy transition in line with the European Union’s climate goals.

A key selling point of solar PV is its installation flexibility. The technology can be mounted virtually anywhere, from fields to rooftops. Some of Sunscreen’s rooftop plants are located above business and factory buildings, enabling tenants to directly use the energy produced. This creates value at the source and ensures that energy production also benefits local communities directly, while reducing traditional associated production costs such as transportation.

Advantages of polycrystalline panels

There are two primary types of photovoltaic technology: polycrystalline and monocrystalline. Nearly all of the PV plants within the Sunscreen portfolio are fitted with polycrystalline panels. These panels consist of fragmented silicon cells that have been melted together, giving them a blueish hue. Compared to monocrystalline panels, polycrystalline panels create less waste during the production process since they are comprised of fragments rather than single cells of silicon.

Silicon cells are used to convert energy

Solar panels are made up of several layers: within the panel, there is a positively-charged silicon layer and a negatively-charged one, surrounded by a layer that allows for conduction. The panel produces electricity due to the reaction that occurs when photons, or light particles, hit the two differently-charged silicon layers. Before the electricity can be exported to the grid, it travels through a solar inverter, which converts direct current into alternating current.

Sunscreen’s sites benefit from feed-in tariffs

The majority of solar PV sites comprising Sunscreen operate under attractive feed-in tariffs thanks to commissioning dates between 2007 and 2013, when the regulatory framework for solar projects was especially favorable in both Italy and Slovakia. This period led to vast growth in renewable energy sources, but has since slowed due to tighter rules for the solar energy sector.

In Slovakia, electricity from renewable sources is supported mainly by a fixed feed-in tariff for 15 years, in addition to tax exemptions and subsidies. Renewable energy plants are given priority connection and dispatch. However, in 2011 the generous support scheme was restricted by the government due to an overwhelmingly rapid development of large-scale PV systems.

Italy’s similarly favorable 20-year feed-in tariff regulations were amended in 2014, when the government restructured the tariff regime to reduce the peak in incentives payments. Therefore, investors wishing to benefit from Italian PV assets under the feed-in tariff regime must purchase grid-connected assets that were commissioned before regulations changed.

Sunscreen is a great opportunity to consolidate the fragmented Italian solar market and provides an efficient cost-structure to operate a larger portfolio.