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Concentrated Solar Producer Abengoa Gets Serious about CSR

Words by Andrew Burger
Energy & Environment
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A worldwide leader in developing sustainable energy solutions – concentrating solar power (CSP) plants in particular – Spanish multinational Abengoa has garnered accolades for its commitment to social and environmental responsibility.

On March 23, the company's 'yieldco,' Abengoa Yield, became the latest company to be included in the NASDAQ Clean Edge Green Energy Index. On March 27, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) recognized Abengoa's Atacama 1 CSP plant in northern Chile by awarding the company an Infrastructure 360º Award “for its contribution to clean power generation.” More broadly, Abengoa for the third consecutive year has earned a place on the Ethibel Sustainability Index (ESI) Excellence Europe for its efforts to enhance sustainability as it pertains to the environment, human rights, community impact, business behavior, human resources and corporate governance.

Released on March 18, Abengoa's 2014 corporate social responsibility (CSR) report illustrates the company's broad-based efforts to directly and indirectly enhance social and environmental responsibility. Prepared in accordance with Global Reporting Initiative's (GRI) G4 guidelines, it reports on progress made during 2014. In addition, the report “addresses the major challenges facing the company and sets out new CSR targets for 2020."

Caring for climate

In 2014, Abengoa – in accordance with the United Nations Caring for Climate Framework – became one of the first 20 companies to agree to enact an internal carbon price. Management has established an initial price of €9 (~$9.81) per ton of CO2-equivalent on greenhouse gas emissions produced as a result of its activities.

Abengoa's 2014 CSR report also highlighted the use of funds raised by issuing “green” bonds this past September. The first investment-grade, high-yield green bonds to be issued in Europe, Abengoa raised €500 million (~$545 million) from international investors via the offering. The bonds' “green” credentials are set out by Abengoa in its eligible green projects criteria, as well as in a second opinion by CSR rating agency Vigeo.

Some €9.5 million (~$10.36 million) of the green bonds' proceeds have been invested in social development projects, Abengoa elaborated in its report. The company opened two new PEyC (People, Education and Communities) centers in South Africa and Sri Lanka. Abengoa PEyC centers are now up and running in nine countries.

Solar electricity 24 hours a day


Abengoa is also earning international recognition for the environmental and social benefits afforded by its CSP-energy storage development projects. Chile's Atacama region is home to the world's driest desert, as well as the bulk of Chile's copper and metals mining. In the Atacama town of Santa Elena, Abengoa is building the 210-megawatt Atacama 1 solar energy complex. According to Abengoa:
“The STE plant will prevent the emission of approximately 643,000 tons of CO2 every year. Furthermore, the construction, operation and maintenance of this plant will act as a catalyst for the socioeconomic development of the region, creating up to 2,000 direct jobs and a large number of indirect jobs, generating a network of services that will support economic growth in the area.”

Along with a 100-megawatt photovoltaic plant, the Atacama 1 CSP complex will employ solar tower technology with 110-MW capacity and a thermal storage system that uses molten salts to store as much as 17.5 hours' worth of solar energy. As such, it “will be the first STE complex for direct electricity production in Latin America,” Abengoa highlighted.

The IDB award publicly draws attention to Abengoa and Atacama 1 as leading examples of international private-sector efforts “to recognize and promote different ways of using sustainability practices in planning, designing, constructing and operating infrastructure projects.” Following rigorous review by an international panel of infrastructure and sustainability experts, IDB awarded Abengoa and Atacama 1 an IDB Infrastructure 360º Award “for its contribution to generating clean power, reducing atmospheric CO2 emissions and for the different aspects of the project designed to protect the environment and benefit the local community.”

Clean, renewable energy for South Africans


Similarly, in South Africa Abengoa's Xina Solar One will employ CSP technology and molten-salt energy storage to deliver renewable energy even when the sun isn't shining. On March 13, Abengoa announced it had closed financing on the 100-megawatt project. Deployment of Xina Solar One and other renewable energy projects in South Africa couldn't come at a more opportune time, as Africa's leading economy continues to struggle with power shortages and lack of grid access, as well as ecosystems degradation and environmental pollution associated with coal mining and use of fossil fuels.

Abengoa secured agreements for a total of $660 million in non-recourse project financing from leading international and national development lenders including the African Development Bank (AfDB), the International Finance Corporation (IFC), Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) and the Development Bank of Southern Africa, as well as local investment banks ABSA member of Barclays, Nedbank and Rand Merchant Bank.

South Africa's state utility Eskom has contracted to purchase Xina Solar One's output according to the terms of a 20-year power purchase agreement signed in late 2014.

*Image credits: 1), 2) Abengoa; 2) Harvard Business Review, "Creating Shared Value"

Andrew Burger

An experienced, independent journalist, editor and researcher, Andrew has crisscrossed the globe while reporting on sustainability, corporate social responsibility, social and environmental entrepreneurship, renewable energy, energy efficiency and clean technology. He studied geology at CU, Boulder, has an MBA in finance from Pace University, and completed a certificate program in international governance for biodiversity at UN University in Japan.

Read more stories by Andrew Burger