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A bold approach to renewable energy in the Baltics and Poland

Renewable energy company Sunly is on a mission. By taking a holistic approach to its operations – stretching all the way from building solar and wind power to developing inventive energy storage solutions – Sunly strives to give renewables a major push in its home markets.   

Lili Kirikal, CFO at Sunly, does not hesitate when speaking about what some may consider a rather bold business strategy. 

” We want to address all parts of the energy market, not only aim to solve one piece of the puzzle, without caring about who solves the other.” 

But let us start from the beginning. According to 2022 Eurostat figures*, 23 percent of the EU’s energy consumption was renewable energy. The Baltic region was well above the average, with Latvia at 43 percent, Estonia at 39, and Lithuania at 30. Poland, on the other hand, was below the average with a 17 percent share for renewables.  

But regardless of what has been achieved so far, the road to 100 percent renewable energy remains long for all four countries. So, enter Sunly. 

“Sunly is an independent power producer and renewable energy developer in the Baltics and Poland, founded in 2019. We aim to operate 4.6 GW of renewable energy capacity by 2030. This corresponds to about 5–10 percent of the total 2023 electricity production in our markets”, Lili Kirikal says. 

The main part of Sunly’s current operational portfolio is within solar energy, but with plenty of wind projects in the pipeline.  

“We have about 170 MW operational in solar energy, of which 60 MW are from our flagship Rzezawa project in Poland. But hybridisation – combining solar, wind, and battery storage – is at the core of our strategy. Nowadays, we rarely develop solar parks unless they have a wind upside potential.” 

In other words, Sunly strives to develop solar parks in areas where they can be complemented by wind power. According to Lili, one of the reasons is to be able to share the same connection point for both energy types, using the grid as efficiently as possible. In addition, the combination of energy types makes it easier to achieve revenue security, as wind production is typically higher in winter, whereas solar production peaks during summer. 

There is always the issue of long-term storage, for when the sun isn’t shining, or the wind doesn’t blow. The cheapest energy storage technology out there is found within hydro. You have a lot of hydro energy in the Nordics because you have mountains, which the Baltics lack.
Lili Kirikal
CFO at Sunly

Energy storage solutions and other initiatives 

Apart from Sunly’s hybridisation strategy, the company has taken on diverse challenges in renewable energy. One example is energy storage, where Sunly is involved in an inventive project. 

“There is always the issue of long-term storage, for when the sun isn’t shining, or the wind doesn’t blow. The cheapest energy storage technology out there is found within hydro. You have a lot of hydro energy in the Nordics because you have mountains, which the Baltics lack”, Lili Kirikal says. 

One would imagine that this takes pumped hydro storage out of the equation. But no. 

“This is where innovation comes into play. With Zero Terrain, we have developed a fully permitted underground pumped hydro storage solution with one of our partners. By drilling 600 meters into the granite bedrock on the northern coast of Estonia and creating huge underground chambers for turbines and water we can use the Baltic Sea as an unlimited upper reservoir.” 

Lili continues: 

“During an operating cycle of 12 hours, this solution can provide 6 million kWh of previously stored electricity to the grid, which is somewhat more than the average daily electricity consumption of all Estonian households.” 

How far away is the project from being up and running? 

“It’s ready-to-build and will be one of the world's most environmentally friendly pumped hydro projects. Once the shovel hits the ground, it will take about eight years to realise, but electricity production will start gradually, already halfway through the construction process.” 

Big energy storage projects, aside, Sunly also offers smart energy solutions for households. 

“We offer our clients solar panels for their roofs, batteries, and a smart solution for optimising their energy consumption. We have been doing this for a couple of years now, and we expect it to become much bigger as renewable energy penetration increases", Lili says. 

Green financing from SEB 

It is safe to say that Sunly is a very ambitious company in its approach to renewable energy. And ambitious approaches do, naturally, need financing. In 2020, SEB issued a green loan to Sunly to construct 16 solar energy plants in Estonia. 

“We are lucky to be backed by many investors, but SEB was the first commercial bank we got financing from in the Baltics, which was greatly appreciated”, Lili Kirikal says. 

Recently, SEB also issued green guarantees to Sunly, to build 1GW solar parks in Lithuania and Latvia. 

“The green guarantees mean we do not have to deposit a lot of money to secure grid connection conditions for our solar and wind parks. It clearly shows how SEB supports renewable energy production in the region.”  

Anders Larsson, Baltic Head of Sustainability at SEB, is also satisfied with SEB’s and Sunly’s cooperation. 

” The Baltic energy system needs large investments to significantly reduce the climate impact and create energy security. I am very happy we can support Sunly, an important driver in this transition. Sunly works intensely to add new renewable capacity to the market and create the new electricity storage solutions that are needed to balance the grid.”   

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