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SOLAR VENTURES, A SUCCESSFUL ITALIAN GAMBLE ON PHOTOVOLTAIC ENERGY
It is one of Italy‚Äôs leading companies in the production of photovoltaic energy. Solar Ventures (www.solarventures.it) is a very new company, founded in 2005. However, it has taken very little time for this start-up to find its place among the top 50 pioneer European companies to have invested in renewable energies, as classified by CNBC European Business. We asked Michele Appendino, venture capitalist and chairman of A.M.E. Ventures (www.ameventures.it) what are, in his opinion, the reasons why Solar Ventures has deserved this recognition.
Mr Chairman, what has enabled you to earn a place on this prestigious ranking?
When we were chosen, that is a year ago, we were the only company in Italy to classify ourselves as independent energy producers focused on solar energy, and the first to think of the Mediterranean as a natural source. These are the two main elements that convinced CNBC to place us on the list of European pioneers. Today, a lot of operators try to follow our example, but I would like to point out that we started out in 2005, before the others.
Why did you decide to distance yourselves from your usual investment area (Internet, Tlc and new technologies) to explore the field of renewable energy? Are the prospects of a return on investments in this sector not slightly too mid to long term?
We are in fact an energy producer and the returns can therefore be faster. In any case, I have never looked for very fast returns at any price. Even in the Internet sector we have had a mid-term approach that favours basics, and this is why Net Partners Ventures (the first Venture Capital company in Europe focused on investing in Internet start-ups, founded by Appendino in 1997), unlike other companies, still exists.
Italy offers vast possibilities for the construction of plants, thanks to the enormity of the areas that provide sufficient yearly sunlight to make these plants profitable. In addition to the photovoltaic fields in Italy, however, is Solar Ventures also thinking of expanding abroad? And where are the plants already in operation in Italy?
There is immense potential in Italy, you just have to think that if a 1 Mwp plant were built in each Commune, we would have 25 Gwp of solar energy and that the target of 3 Gwp of the energy produced by 2016 would be achieved in only 0.02% of the national territory. We are, however, also looking at the Mediterranean basin, where the potential is even greater and talks are well under way with six countries. In our own country, meanwhile, we have plants in operation in Puglia, Sardinia, Piedmont, Tuscany and new projects in all the main Italian regions.
The incentives for producing photovoltaic energy mean that this type of energy production is to be highly recommended. Does the move towards allowing the sector to stand on its own two feet, without the help of state incentives, begin with the formation of an Italian production chain in photovoltaic energy? What role could Solar Ventures play in this, with not only its industrial but also its financial and engineering experience?
Above all, I would like to emphasise that the first problem are the incentives for fossil fuels, which in the world amount to 280 billion euros as opposed to 13 billion for renewable ones. In Italy, 11% of electrical capacity is subsidised by the «Cip 6» incentives system and for the majority of renewable energy it has nothing. Having said this, Italy already had a production chain that was then abandoned and it is essential to recreate it. Solar Ventures is considering a number of opportunities, one of which is to set up innovative technologies in Italy that have already been developed in other countries, as well as taking part in Made in Italy projects.
On the subject of the contribution that your company could make to the production chain of photovoltaic energy, does Solar Ventures ‚Äď which also designs and installs panels ‚Äď also have the ability to export its technological and industrial experience outside Italy? Is it possible to imagine Solar Ventures being able, in the near future, to also build structures for foreign investors, maybe with partnership initiatives?
As for our expansion abroad, we have requests from some twenty countries and, as I said above, we are analysing six of these thoroughly. As for attracting foreign investors to Italy, this is one of the very few sectors in which they freely invest and every day we receive numerous requests for partnerships.