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Lightsource bp turns 10

Release date:
1 December 2020
As Lightsource bp celebrates a decade in business, we share our top-10 reasons why and how it has become a global leader in the development and management of solar energy projects
 
🕒 6 min read | 📖 Feature| 💡 Why it matters

In 10 years, Lightsource bp (LSbp) has gone from feisty start-up to shining light on the solar scene. It all began at the end of 2010, when Lightsource Renewable Energy set up shop with six people crammed into a tiny corner of a London office. 

 

From small beginnings, the company has gone on to big things, now with activities in 14 countries. Over the past decade, it’s seen and embraced huge developments in the solar industry – from the dramatic fall in the costs of solar power to the rise of sun-tracking solar panels. 


It joined forces with bp in 2017 and rebranded to Lightsource bp the following year. But despite the changing landscape, LSbp has remained true to its roots: it’s a solar business with strong financing expertise. And, as a result, the company has grown steadily, from its first 0.7-megawatt (MW) UK solar farm in 2010, to having developed three gigawatts (GW) of solar to date. 


So, as LSbp celebrates its 10th birthday, we share 10 reasons why we’re proud to work with this remarkable team.

Map showing the number of countries in which LSbp now operates

1. Partnering for a power surge

LSbp’s first site produced just 0.7 megawatts (MW) of solar power. Today, its average development can produce more than 70MW – with the largest in development in Australia at more than 500MW. That’s enough to power approximately 86,000 homes in New South Wales.

 

Since the partnership with bp began, LSbp has more than doubled its global presence, from five to 14 countries. It’s also grown its development pipeline from 1.6 to 16GW. All in the face of unpredictable regulation and policy changes. 

From its humble beginnings in the UK, LSbp now has projects all over the world, including the Vendimia farm in Amochuel, Spain, currently in construct...

Bifacial panels that can harvest light from both sides are used on all new LSbp projects

Last year, LSbp successfully used one of its solar farms in East Sussex, UK, to provide a reactive power voltage support service at night

2. Scouting for tech

LSbp is always on the hunt for the latest technology that could boost panel performance and profitability. For example, all new site designs now include bifacial technology – panels that harvest sunlight from both sides.

 

The company was also the first in the UK to use reactive power to provide a night-time service. And it now plans to adopt new solar tracker technology that uses machine learning to optimize solar panel movement. This clever technology essentially allows the panels to tilt towards the sun during the day and capture the most energy.   

 

Innovation in action:

An LSbp worker

3. Creating a can-do culture

It’s not just LSbp’s physical footprint that has grown beyond recognition. Today, LSbp employs 500 people representing 32 different nationalities. 

 

Some, like technical director Chris Buckland, have been with the company since its earliest days. While he’s seen some changes in his time, one thing has remained constant, he says: “Lightsource bp has always had a strong, distinct, can-do, will-do culture that sets us apart from anywhere else I’ve worked.”


Not just a job:

The Impact Solar site in Lamar County, Texas, US, is expected to generate approximately 450,000MW hours of solar power a year

4. Perfectly predictable 

Is it possible to cut carbon emissions and create good returns? LSbp thinks so. It’s defying market expectations by creating green energy projects with current global average returns of 8-10%. That’s not a target, says Nick Boyle, but a reality: “The beauty of solar is that it produces a predictable, long-dated revenue stream.” 


That predictability is crucial in today’s volatile markets and is testament to LSbp’s tried and tested business model. 

 

Sound investment

💡 Why it matters

In January 2018, bp re-entered the solar market, completing its acquisition of a 43% stake in Lightsource to create Lightsource bp. The following year, the management of LSbp and bp equalized their shareholding to create a simplified 50:50 joint venture. 


Today, the strategic partnership supports bp’s Aim 5 – to increase the proportion of investment in non-oil and gas. More specifically, LSbp is an essential partner in our ambition of having developed 50GW of renewable power by 2030. To put that into context, that’s more than the entire renewable capacity of the UK today. 

5. Going big on projects for people and the planet

Project Bighorn is a big deal – a big solar facility that will soon power, through the local utility, the EVRAZ steel plant in Colorado, US. It’s big finance – a $250 million investment from LSbp and partners. 


And it’s big construction, with more than 700,000 bifacial panels set to be installed. That means big jobs – not only will the project create about 300 local construction jobs, but competitive electricity prices and long-term price certainty also help to ensure that EVRAZ’s steel mill, along with its 1,000 jobs, remain in Pueblo. 


As State Governor Jared Polis put it when the deal was announced: “If you were wondering what a renewable energy future would look like, this is a great example.” 


Bighorn’s big impact:

The Ibstock Brick factory in Leicestershire, UK, where LSbp has built a solar farm that will provide 30% of the site’s electricity needs

6. Greening-up heavy industry

From steel to bricks, increasingly, traditional businesses are talking to LSbp about how solar can help them to lower their carbon footprints. In the UK, for example, LSbp built a 4.9MW solar farm that is now powering a 200-year-old brickmaking business.

 

As Ibstock Brick’s land resources manager Tony Fullgar says, it’s all part of their ambition to avoid building “factories that our children will later regret”.


Building a low carbon future:

Sunrise over India

7. Financing for a low carbon future

Over the past 10 years, LSbp has attracted investment from many major institutions across the world. For example, today it is a joint venture partner in EverSource Capital, a fund manager that oversees India’s Green Growth Equity Fund (GGEF).

 

The fund invests in a range of low infrastructure companies, such as Ayana Renewable Power, which is building 500MW of solar across India. In July 2020, bp announced that it would invest $70 million in the GGEF.


Financing the future:

LSbp’s resident beekeeper tends the bees at its UK sites

Each year, the bees produce around 1,000 jars of honey, much of which is given to LSbp stakeholders

Wildflowers, such as this chamomile lawn, attract pollinators at LSbp sites

8. Buzzing with biodiversity

LSbp solar farms in the UK are home to 1 million-plus bees. Working with local beekeepers, the solar developer introduced the super pollinators as part of the company’s broader work to create wildflower meadows around its solar panels and boost local biodiversity.

 

“We don’t just see ourselves as solar farm developers,” says Penny Laurenson, LSbp’s environmental planner, “but long-term stewards and custodians of the land.”


Bee in the know:

LSbp CEO Nick Boyle (sitting left) and bp's EVP of gas & low carbon energy Dev Sanyal (right) sign the deal in 2019

Ann Davies, LSbp COO

9. Making the best of both worlds

Why would a solar company work with an oil and gas business? It’s a question Nick Boyle, the LSbp chief executive, is asked often. His answer: “bp was perfectly positioned to be our partner – their industry has powered the world for the past 100 years.” 


bp believes that partnerships like this are needed to progress the energy transition, where it can bring real value to the joint venture – from global reach and operational expertise, to trading experience and financial strength. 


Secondees help to support the exchange of skills and experience. People like Ann Davies, former head of bp Georgia, who is now seconded to LSbp as chief operating officer. Or LSbp’s Emily Buckley, who is joining bp as a secondee in the role of senior manager, new technologies and solar growth. 


Take it from the top:

Nittany 3, one of the three solar sites that are contributing 25% of the electricity needs of Penn State University in the US

10. Playing the long game

LSbp’s business model relies on multi-decade power purchase agreements (PPA). Signing a long-term contract is a big business decision, but more companies are choosing to work with LSbp in this way. Why? Because long-term price certainty helps them to plan for the future while tackling their own carbon emissions. 

 

For example, in the US, LSbp and Pennsylvania State University have signed a 25-year PPA that now supplies 25% of the university’s state-wide electricity needs. And they’ve also signed a long-term PPA with Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), one of the US’s largest transit agencies, that will supply energy to meet nearly 20% of SEPTA’s annual electricity demand. 

 

Lighting up the electricity market:

The Penn State solar project is also used by students at the university to study soil physics and health, entomology, and conduct pollinator research

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