Oil giant Royal Dutch Shell has snapped up a near half share in one of the biggest solar developers in Australia as part of a major push to expand its large-scale solar operations in the country.
Shell – fresh from the purchase of ERM Power – a major generator and retailer to small and big business – announced the purchase on Monday of a 49 per cent stake in Esco Pacific, saying it intended to accelerate the development of its large-scale solar projects, and to add to its pipeline.
The strategy is deliberately aligned with the ERM Power acquisition. Shell intends to use cheap solar power to underpin contracts with big and small business users, a key plank of its plan to rival Australia’s existing utility giants and to become a global leader in electric power.
Shell has also bought German battery storage manufacturer sonnen, and had previously announced plans to build a 120MW solar farm in Queensland’s western downs region. This latest transaction adds significant scale to those plans.
“Shell’s investment will enable Esco Pacific to further accelerate development of its project pipeline as well as opening up significant opportunities with a wider range of corporate off-takers looking to procure renewable power,” the companies said in a statement.
Esco Pacific has already delivered nearly 500MW of large-scale projects since 2017, and has a further 350MW of solar assets under long-term management. It has more than 1GW of projects “in the pipeline”, including 500MW of “significantly advanced” projects that it hopes to finalise in next 18 months.
Esco Pacific founder and CEO Setev Rademaker told RenewEconomy the corporate market was particularly strong, and Shell’s extensive . “We still an opportunity for solar in this market.”
Its completed projects – include the Ross River, Childers and Susan River solar farms in Queensland, and the Finley solar farm in NSW. Projects in the pipeline include the Rollingstone, Mirani, Moura, Dingo, Wyalong, Kobaringa, Mulwala, Sandigo, Glenrowan, Lancaster and Horsham solar projects.
“The business will be expanding its project pipeline both organically and by acquisition, while continuing to deliver projects to market in the coming years,” the announcement said.
“ESCO Pacific has been one of the fastest-growing independent solar developers in Australia,” Rademaker said in the statement.
“We’d like to build on that growth and continue our rapid scaling by leveraging the resources that the Shell investment makes available to us. This partnership is a testament to the success of our strategy, our business and our team.”
Rademaker told RenewEconomy the corporate market was particularly strong, and Shell’s extensive . “We still an opportunity for solar in this market.”
The head of Shell Australia, Zoe Yujnovich said the two acquisitions – Esco and ERM Power – would enable Shell to supply more and cleaner energy to utility, commercial and industrial customers in Australia.
“This investment in ESCO Pacific brings us into the rapidly growing solar market in Australia,” added Marc van Gerven, vice president, Onshore Renewable Power at Shell New Energies. “With their proven track record of developing projects, we will accelerate the delivery of renewable electricity to utility, commercial and industrial customers.”
Shell is the latest Big Oil company to shift into the solar business. France’s Total has a majority interest in SunPower and the solar developer Total Eren, BP has recently lifted its share in BP Lightsource, and Italy’s Enel and ENI have both expanded into solar, as has Spain’s Iberdrola. All are active in Australia.