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Solar energy giant to invest 'several hundred million' in Ireland


A worker inspects solar panels at a solar farm in Dunhuang, 950 km (590 miles) northwest of Lanzhou, Gansu Province.

A worker inspects solar panels at a solar farm in Dunhuang, 950 km (590 miles) northwest of Lanzhou, Gansu Province.

A worker inspects solar panels at a solar farm in Dunhuang, 950 km (590 miles) northwest of Lanzhou, Gansu Province.

One of the biggest solar energy companies in the world, Lightsource Renewable Energy, is aiming to invest several hundred million euros into Ireland over the next five years.

The UK-based firm, which is the world's third largest solar energy company outside of China and the biggest in Europe, announced yesterday that it is making a "significant" investment in Ireland.

The company develops and operates solar panels.

It both develops stand-alone solar farms and pairs with property owners who rent out their land or property to host solar panels. Lightsource installs and maintains the panels during their operational lifetime.

Speaking to the Irish Independent, Nick Boyle, the Antrim-born founder and chief executive of Lightsource, said that the final amount invested would depend on the Government's current consultation process on renewable energy.

Advocates for solar energy hope that depending on the results of the Green Paper, which is seeking feedback on the role alternative technologies could have in developing renewable energy, subsidies will be put in place to encourage the development of solar energy in Ireland.

Mr Boyle said: "For us to be interested in Ireland at all we need to be looking at hundreds of millions of euros, it is very much dependent on the consultation." Asked why the company is deciding to move into the Irish market he said: "The biggest solar market in the world is Germany, which has similar radiation levels to the UK, which has similar levels to Ireland.

"Solar isn't just about how much electricity you can generate, it's also about how much you can raise or deploy in a particular jurisdiction.

"If you can raise equity in Ireland at 7pc, whereas in others you might have to raise it at 20pc, it is a viable model."

He added that solar development in Ireland could be very rapid, saying: "Solar is very different in deployment to something like wind. Our average deployment in the UK would be about nine months [so] we believe that if the market gets the funding it requires it could be a 1.5 gigawatt market over the next five years.

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"We would be very disappointed if we were not the owners of several hundred megawatts." 1.5GW is enough to power almost half a million households. Lightsource has an operational portfolio of just over 1GW across Europe.

Mr Boyle said that the company, which employs about 350 people in the UK and has a small Irish office, has identified several projects that it is pursuing across the country, although he declined to give further detail.

Solar energy is one of the lesser-used sources of renewable energy in Ireland, which currently has no commercial solar farms. Plans for the county's first solar farms were announced earlier this year by Amarenco, the solar energy business led by former Bord Gáis head John Mullins.

The venture, which will likely look at over 30 farms across the south and south-east, is being bankrolled by one of the world's largest investment banks, Macquarie Bank, which is willing to invest €180m into the project.

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