SolarCentury in expansion plan

UK-based SolarCentury intends to have as much as 10MW of PV capacity in place in both Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa by the end of the year, as it kicks off an ambitious overseas expansion strategy.

Two projects – one each in Kenya and South Africa – are already underway, and SolarCentury aims to have a third rolling forward “in the next three months”, says Bertrand Belben, who was hired recently as director of international business development.

The London-based company has opened offices in Cape Town and Nairobi to target eastern and southern Africa, and will open another in Latin America. SolarCentury’s largest shareholder, private-equity firm ECOS, is headquartered in Panama. 

Among the most experienced players in the UK’s solar rooftop space, SolarCentury has diversified aggressively over the past year into developing and building ground-mount arrays, mostly for other pre-arranged investors.  

The company is moving towards a “clever” engineering, procurement, construction (EPC) business model, says Belben, where it does everything from early-stage development work to arranging debt finance to lining up final investors.

“There’s not much to distinguish regular EPCs from one another these days – not even the price anymore,” he tells Recharge. “You need to bring a lot of added value, and that means having a team that can [bring together] an entire project from start to finish.”

One of the biggest buyers of SolarCentury-developed projects is Lightsource – the UK’s largest solar generator. But Belben says the company is already pinning down new investors for future projects.

“Don’t get me wrong, if the Lightsources of this world are happy to do business with us outside the UK, then perfect – it will help,” he says. “But we’re not going to just rely on that. We are going to be sourcing – and have started sourcing – investors outside the UK.”

The overseas focus will be on grid-parity markets, Belben says, which will necessarily mean sun-belt countries in emerging economies.

Belben’s recent appointment comes amid a wave of new hires underscoring SolarCentury's international push.

Tilman Beller, formerly of Trina Solar and SunPower, is now business development director for Latin America, while Archie Fraser – formerly head of alternative-energy research at Redburn Partners – has been named director of corporate finance, with a focus on building relationships with project investors.

Frans van den Heuvel was hired as chief executive last year, having spent nearly a decade at the helm of Dutch PV group Scheuten Solar.

Broadly speaking, however, SolarCentury does not intend to expand its headcount too quickly, aside from a handful of hires in the new locations. “If you overstaff, you kill the business,” Belben says. “We’re going to have to work hard, and that’s fine.”