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With No Policy Incentives, Turkey's Solar Entrepreneurs Wait Out in the Cold

Government’s inaction could permanently stunt solar industry in a nation sunnier than California, advocates warn

By Julia Harte

Dec 14, 2010

Ateş Uğurel has accepted his government’s reluctance to bet on solar energy, and made photovoltaic cells profitable in Turkey in spite of it.

“Some solar companies are one hundred percent dependent on the government’s decisions,” he says. “We are one hundred percent independent.” By “we”, Uğurel means Clean Globe, a solar energy consulting and project development firm he founded fifteen years ago. The company works on social projects, such as EcoSchools and SolarParks, in addition to installing photovoltaic panel arrays on commercial buildings.

“We’ve been successful because we’ve persuaded companies to use photovoltaics because they are economically wise, not just socially responsible,” says Uğurel. “In countries like Turkey, you can’t rely on the government for help — they change overnight.”

Indeed, far from waiting for an incentive from the government, Clean Globe has been devising routes around existing regulations that restrict the installation of private power systems.

For example, Turkish Law No. 5784, “Electricity Market Law,” requires any auto-producers — legal entities producing energy primarily for their own use — to get a license for a system of more than five hundred kilowatts. But the licensing process can be long and frustrating. So, Uğurel says, Clean Globe will simply install two or more systems of less than five hundred kilowatts side by side, on the same rooftop, if a building requires more than five hundred kilowatts total.

Clean Globe wouldn’t be able to offer solar-generated electricity at such attractive prices, according to Uğurel, were it not for the company’s partnerships with foreign financing institutions and solar development companies outside of Turkey. He won’t disclose the identities of these partners, but he knows their loans are crucial to Clean Globe’s success. In general, he says, “if credit becomes more liquid in Turkey, nothing can stop it.”

But environmentalists at large, like Greenpeace campaigner Diker, are worried that the government’s inaction will permanently stunt Turkey’s solar industry.

“Eventually the market prices for solar will go really low, and even the government will have to move that way. The problem is, if we don’t start investing now, we won’t have our own industry, and we won’t be installing the necessary infrastructure to allow renewables to grow, so we’ll actually lose several years,” he warns.

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