Norway solar firm signs 2.5 bln-euro deal with Iran
TEHRAN - Agence France-Presse
Just days after U.S. President Donald Trump called for further isolation of Iran, a Norwegian solar company signed a deal on Oct. 17 to invest 2.5 billion euros in the country over the next five years.
“Norway is fully committed to the JCPOA (nuclear deal) and this is proof that we have taken the opening very seriously, and we will see more investment very soon,” Norwegian ambassador Lars Nordrum told AFP.
He was hosting the signing at his residence in Tehran by Norway’s Saga Energy, which will work with Iran’s Amin Energy Developers to install two gigawatts of solar panels in multiple sites around the central desert region.
It comes just days after Trump gave a bellicose speech, imposing further sanctions on Iran and calling for European allies to curb their financial dealings with the country.
The new solar project is being financed by a consortium of European private and state investors, and backed by a sovereign guarantee from the government of Iran.
“I’d like to thank Norway, which has always been one of the best friends to Iran, for this exciting opportunity,” said Saeid Zakeri, head of international affairs for Amin.
European and Asian businesses have shown great interest in tapping into Iran’s relatively wealthy and largely untouched market of 80 million people.
But despite the 2015 deal with world powers that lifted global sanctions in exchange for curbs to Iran’s nuclear program, the United States has maintained a raft of tough measures that have made investors wary of taking the plunge.
There have been a few big deals, most notably France’s Total which signed a $5 billion gas deal in June alongside China’s CNPC.
A few other major firms such as Siemens, Renault and Peugeot have extensive investments in the country.
But Trump’s aggressive rhetoric, which included a demand last week for Congress to pass new sanctions against Iran, has done little to allay concerns.
The Norwegian solar deal was eight months in the planning, and the timing so soon after Trump’s speech was purely coincidental.
But it will be seen as a sign of the challenge Washington hardliners face in convincing Europeans to abandon their growing commercial ties with Iran.
“We expect there to be some business risk in the Middle East, and Europe stands united in its support of the JCPOA,” said Nordrum.
“This is a great win because Iran really needs renewables and this is a new sector for us,” he added.
Saga is a young company, formed by former oil and gas project managers and engineers who shifted into the renewables sector after traditional energy markets were struck by falling prices.
A partnership with Taiwan’s Delta Electronic, a major player in the solar sector, has helped them mobilize considerable capital from Europe.
“We are a small company with mighty partners,” said Saga’s development manager Gaute Steinkopf at the signing.
“We hope to build a factory in Iran to build the panels so that we are also generating jobs here,” he added.
The tough climatic conditions in Iran offer a chance for research as well as business.
“To withstand the heat here, you need very good panels. This is the huge challenge,” said Saga director Rune Haaland.
“We want to learn more about this, and we’re hoping to establish a relationship between a university here and in Norway,” he said.