on its epic journey so far and what 
comes next

What do you think is next for solar projects and the industry as a whole? 
Could we power society purely on solar one day?

Yes we could. There is a need to further reduce costs and produce cheap renewable energy, but a lot of work is already continuously being done in that regard. There is also a need to better integrate solar into the landscape which would also make installations more acceptable to the people living near them.

Properly considering market integration is also important in order to understand the impact of solar energy on the overall energy system; for instance, to understand the implications of sunny periods when there is limited demand. In this respect, it is becoming increasingly important to address battery storage.

In terms of size, projects need to be optimised so that they fit within the local grid without risk of overloading it. We are also starting to accept lower capacity grid connections; for example, a 100MWp park with a 70MW connection which will, at certain times, have to be curtailed. 

We also evaluate applying storage as an alternative to curtailment.

With all these things to consider, it is not always the case that a bigger project is better. It’s true that bigger has a positive effect on cost price but it’s not the only criteria. It’s actually much better to optimise the size and the total design for best fit to the broader energy system including the grid.

While it is definitely possible to power society with solar alone, the reality is that it is more likely to be achieved with a combination of wind, solar and storage. I’m convinced that we are on that journey, but we need to keep on pushing to make sufficient progress in view of climate change. The recently published European Green Deal is an ambitious roadmap for making the European economy more sustainable but we’ll only make the difference in the execution.

The park is grid connected via a local microgrid and 2 grid connections and, as part of this, Alfen delivered 54 transformer stations with a very fast turnaround. Solarcentury had an existing relationship with Alfen when I joined the company. It had already helped us with the 45MWp solar park in Budel, which was the first to utilise an 800-voltage structure. In that respect, Alfen’s expertise had already been proven - and also its tagline, ‘power to adapt’ because that is exactly what Alfen helped to achieve.

Can you comment on Alfen’s role in the project and why you chose them?

It is a 110MWp project which is big, but it is not the technical limit. In Spain, for instance, we are building 200-300MWp parks. It includes about 350,000 panels which will cover an area of 100 hectares. The annual yield is projected to be 104,000MWh - enough power generation for about 30,000 households.

We started building the Vlagtwedde solar park towards the end of 2019. Our aim was for it to become operational in the second half of 2020. Despite the Coronavirus setback, which meant we struggled to get the required pan-European workforce on site, we are still working hard to finish it on time this year. The south side is pretty much complete and the plan is to commission it so we can start producing energy while we go on to build the north side.

Vlagtwedde is the largest solar park in the Netherlands. 
Can you tell us about it?

" Bigger is not always better. A size and design that fits the energy system is actually much better "

Solarcentury is active across the entire solar lifecycle. We develop, engineer, finance, build, operate and maintain projects. In Europe, we are present and growing in multiple countries including the UK, the Netherlands, France, Spain, Italy and Greece and we are actively looking to extend to new countries. We have a team in each country, with local presence and local market knowhow. Initially the work is focused on early stage development. When we need to build partnerships with residents, municipalities and grid operators, thereafter, we involve companywide colleagues on engineering, financing, construction and operations.

That is just Europe though. We also have a strong presence in Latin America. Our ongoing internationalisation has been driven by the improved commercial attraction of solar. In the early days the industry was fuelled by national incentives and subsidies, which made for a ‘boom to bust’ industry when they ran out, but the cost of solar has reduced to the point that it is viable without these incentives now in many places. In southern Europe, that is already the case for example in Italy, Spain, Greece and France. We believe the Netherlands for instance, will be there in about 5 years.

Can you introduce Solarcentury?

Solarcentury is one of the world’s most successful and respected solar companies. It provides an integrated service to develop, structure, finance, build and operate utility-scale solar projects globally. Founded in the UK in 1998, by a former oil geologist, the company pioneered in the solar industry from the early days, initially focused on the residential retrofit sector until the feed-in-tariff and renewables certificates made larger projects viable. Solarcentury became the UK’s largest solar company and then made the brave decision to pursue subsidy-free opportunities in Latin America and Europe, seeing its profits increase eight-fold within one year. 

Evert Vlaswinkel is Solarcentury’s Managing Director for EMEA and has a 20-year background in sustainability.
We spoke to him about the company’s current activities and where its extraordinary journey will go next.

An interview with Evert Vlaswinkel,
Managing Director at Solarcentury