PORTUGAL - Green Economy
Country Manager, Akuo Energy
João Maria de Macedo Santos is CEO of Akuo Portugal since the creation of the entity in 2018. Following the success at the first national solar auction held in 2019, he has built a team of 12 people. Between 2015 and 2018, Macedo was VP Project Finance at Akuo headquarters in Paris, having closed several landmark transactions for the Group including 180MW wind in the US, 100MW in Uruguay and 120MW in Eastern Europe. Prior to that, he was Project Director at Egis Projects in Paris having worked in the structuring of an airport transaction in the Philippines. João also spent 2 years as Vice President at Newstate Partners in London, working on Project Finance advisory mandates in Africa. He started his career at the European Investment Bank in Luxembourg as Junior Investment Officer for urban regeneration projects in Portugal and Spain. João has 15 years of experience in business development and project structuring and financing in infrastructure in several geographies, João is graduated from leading French engineering school ENSTA Paris with a second Msc in mathematics and mathematics methods in economics and finance from Université Paris I – Panthéon Sorbonne.
In just a few short years, Akuo Portugal has become a leading contributor to Akuo worldwide, with 20-25% of the group’s total capacity in the Iberian nation.
How would you assess the current developments defining the Portuguese renewable sector?
The market of renewables is quickly becoming one of the most dynamic segments of the national economy. Ease of doing and starting a business in Portugal is much easier today, and the renewable market has become more transparent since the auction system was implemented in 2019. Based on the national energy mix and outstanding local resources, renewables are a necessity and an opportunity at the same time. In 2018, Akuo decided to set up a branch in Portugal. When we entered the market, the sector was not as regulated as it is today. The main challenge was related to the grid connection, which is the main bottleneck for a quicker penetration of renewables. In 2019, the government realized the importance of allowing companies and operators to bid on the grid and get the best value for this scarce public good. It was a good time for us, as we entered the market in 2018, we had all the time needed to prepare for this auction securing land across the key solar regions of the country. We managed to be among the awarded bidders with 370MW (three lots) of grid connection in Alentejo region. For the group worldwide, we have currently 1.2-1.3GWp in operation. So, after ensuring 450MWp in Portugal, we can proudly declare that 20-25% of the group’s total capacity will be in Portugal. Winning this auction cemented Akuo Portugal as a leading contributor to Akuo worldwide. It is a major achievement for the company.
What are your main ongoing projects, and what is Akuo’s business model?
The main projects of Akuo in Portugal are the three projects secured at the 2019 solar auction. We aim to start construction this year following the last two difficult years. In November 2021, a public session with the presence of the Prime Minister, the Minister of Environment and Climate Action, and the Secretary of State for Energy was held in Monforte, which is the most advanced of the three projects. It has 180MWp, and construction should start shortly. We are facing challenges mainly linked to increase of investment cost and disruptions of supply chains driven by commodity prices increase and the war context. On the other side, the importance of renewables is currently emphasized given their fundamental role for the EU energy independence. Akuo’s business model, is always the same: we keep the assets. We generate our revenue selling electricity. This model implies that we will develop, finance, build and operate the asset. Traditionally, companies operating in the sector developed and sold the asset to other companies. They make money from the sale of the product. We make money from the sale of electricity. We have a long-term vision, characterized by a long-term positioning in the market. Akuo has a strong commitment in Portugal. We are developing projects to operate them in the long term—30 years—we took the decision to set up our internal operation in maintenance. The O&M and Asset Management local company will provide services to our three projects and will also be able to sell service to third parties in the market at competitive price.
How will do you differentiate yourselves in what is a small, competitive market?
The market is getting increasingly competitive. To make a difference, a long-term vision is key. Even 25 years might not be long enough to make a return on an investment. It would take 30 years to bring out the big players’ financial power that had a long-term vision to make a difference. It is not a market or investors that want a high return quick. It is a market for the very long term at a steady pace. Second, we are a private company. Akuo’s two owners offer the company flexibility, which is an advantage. We are quick to take decisions and are able to take risks, which is key in a fast-moving, changing environment.
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