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BP Once Again Taking Bet on Solar Development

BP plc is pouring more investments into its alternative energy business with a $200 million bet on solar development.

The London-based supermajor agreed to buy into Lightsource, a large-scale solar developer, for a 43% stake. The investment, to be paid out over three years, mostly would be used to fund a worldwide growth pipeline of 6 GW, with projects underway in the United States, India, Europe and the Middle East.

The company is being renamed Lightsource BP, with BP acquiring two board seats.

“BP has been committed to advancing lower-carbon energy for over 20 years, and we’re excited to be coming back to solar, but in a new and very different way,” said Group CEO Bob Dudley. “While our history in the solar industry was centered on manufacturing panels, Lightsource BP will instead grow value through developing and managing major solar projects around the world.”

BP, which for years has been the No. 1 North American natural gas marketer, continues to have a large U.S. wind portfolio. BP as of 2013 had invested about $8 billion on alternative energy resources in eight years, more than half of that in wind farms.

However, Dudley said in 2013 that BP had "thrown in the towel on solar. We worked on it for 35 years and it really never made money..." Also, four years ago BP cut carbon capture and storage technology development.

Still, the BP solar investment may be a good one. Global installed solar generating capacity more than tripled in the past four years and was up by more than 30% in 2016 alone, according to BP’s Statistical Review of World Energy. Solar is likely to generate around one-third of the world’s total renewable power and up to 10% of total global power by 2035, according to BP.

Lightsource has grown in seven years to become Europe’s largest developer and operator of utility-scale solar projects. It has commissioned 1.3 GW of solar capacity to date and manages 2 GW of capacity under long-term operations and maintenance contracts.

BP’s stake in Lightsource BP would complement its existing Alternative Energy business, which includes wind energy, biofuels and biopower. BP Wind Energy has interests in onshore wind energy across the United States with total gross generating capacity of 2.3 GW.

“We see significant opportunity to offer affordable, reliable, low-carbon power solutions by integrating solar alongside our existing Alternative Energy and gas business,” said BP’s Dev Sanyal, CEO of Alternative Energy. “We see Lightsource as a strategic partner with a similar vision and, with the benefits of BP’s global scale and relationships, we together plan to build the global market leader for solar.”

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