Posts Tagged ‘Affordable solar’

Sara Rafalson

Sol Systems Closes Financing for 940 kW Solar Project in New Mexico, Launches Financing Partnership with Affordable Solar

Sol Systems' new partnership with Affordable Solar will provide financing solutions for Affordable Solar's national installer network.

Sol Systems’ new partnership with Affordable Solar will provide financing solutions for Affordable Solar’s national installer network.

Sol Systems is pleased to announce the financial closing of a 940 kilowatt (kW) solar energy system in Alamogordo, New Mexico. The project was the second deal that Sol Systems financed on behalf of New Mexico-based developer, Affordable Solar. Sol Systems also closed an 806 kW Affordable Solar project in the fall of 2013.

This recent project closing coincides with a new partnership that Sol Systems and Affordable Solar launched to streamline financing for distributed solar energy projects. Through the partnership, Sol Systems will work closely with Affordable Solar and their national installer network to unearth, provide due diligence, and refine projects before securing financing for each deal opportunity. The partnership will provide project development and analysis tools for Affordable’s installer network, while opening up a broad range of finance options for the projects.

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Sara Rafalson

Sol Systems Closes 1.2 MW Transaction for Maryland Nonprofit, Leveraging Solar Financing & SREC Expertise

Financing for the construction of the 1.2 MW project was handled between Sol Systems and Building Energy.

Sol Systems recently financed a 1.2 MW solar project in Maryland.

Sol Systems has successfully financed a 1.2 MW solar project in partnership with its investor client, Washington Gas Energy Systems, a subsidiary of WGL Holdings (NYSE: WGL), which will own and operate the system. Located at Presbyterian Senior Living Services, a non-profit located in Glen Arm, Maryland, the system will provide electricity under a long-term Power Purchase agreement. Financing for the construction of the project was handled between Sol Systems and Building Energy. Washington Gas Energy Systems will own and operate the system.

To fast-track the financing for the commercial-scale project, Sol Systems engaged its network of institutional investors, structured the transaction, and secured a multi-year solar renewable energy credit (SREC) contract, critical to financing the deal.  Maryland SREC compliance buyers do not typically execute SREC contracts prior to a project’s operation date. However, Sol Systems was able to leverage its reputation as the oldest and largest SREC aggregator in the nation to secure a four-year fixed price contract.

“Early before entering into the U.S. market, we recognized the value of having a solid and reliable financing partner to help us navigate the complexities of U.S. solar market. An experienced partner like Sol Systems has provided us with the support we needed to finance our first deal in the United States,” said Andrea Braccialarghe, Managing Director America at Building Energy.

Since 2008, Sol Systems has facilitated financing for 69 MW of solar projects throughout the country, 8 MW of which are located in Maryland. In addition to commercial project financing and SREC aggregation, Sol Systems is tackling tax equity, one of the solar industry’s biggest financing limitations.

“Sol Systems is proud to have helped Building Energy succeed with their first U.S. solar project,” said George Ashton, CFO of Sol Systems. “This effort is an example of how our commercial financing solutions and SREC services can work in tandem to increase deal velocity, accelerate the tempo of project development, and bring solar to non-profits like Presbyterian Senior Living Services.”

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Alejandro Neira

Employee Spotlight: Andrew Gilligan

At Sol Systems, we realize that our work is a reflection of who we are as individuals, and our success is a direct result of all the different personalities, passions, and talents that your employees bring to the table. Our team has expanded significantly in the last few years, and we are proud to employ some of the brightest talent in the renewable energy industry. On this employee highlight we have Andrew Gilligan, Senior Associate at Sol Systems:

This month’s employee spotlight features Andrew Gilligan from our investor advisory services team.

This month’s employee spotlight features Andrew Gilligan from our investor advisory services team.

What is your current position at Sol Systems?

I am a Senior Associate and help to lead our Investor Advisory Group. As part of this team, I assist renewable energy investors across the United States to successfully deploy capital into solar projects.

How has Sol Systems changed since you first started at the firm?

Since I started with Sol Systems in early 2011, the firm has undergone a lot of changes. Back then, we were a small start-up company only offering SREC solutions. Today, we have evolved to become a financial services firm that can help with any part of the capital stock for projects in all relevant US solar markets.

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Sara Rafalson

Sol Systems Offers the Fast Road for Financing Commercial Solar, Moves Quickly to Secure Investor Funds for 806 kW in New Mexico

Sol Systems has facilitated financing for an 806 kW solar portfolio in Deming, New Mexico, consisting of three separate solar arrays sized 84 kW, 151 kW, and 571 kW. The recent portfolio closing enhances Sol Systems’ track record of financing mid-sized distributed generation solar projects.  Together, the three photovoltaic arrays will provide power for three facilities in the City of Deming’s water system.

The project developer, New Mexico-based Affordable Solar, approached Sol Systems to arrange project financing.  The Sol Systems team swiftly secured an investor who executed quickly and helped the developer to secure financing in only two weeks.

Sol Systems recently secured investor funds for an 806 kW portfolio in New Mexico.

Sol Systems recently secured investor funds for an 806 kW portfolio in New Mexico.

“The team at Sol Systems worked diligently and efficiently to secure capital and move the project forward in a matter of weeks,” said Ryan Centerwall, General Manager of Affordable Solar. “Their team was very accommodating to our needs, and we were impressed with the competitive financing options that they presented to us.”

“At Sol Systems, we pride ourselves in securing the most optimal path to project financing through a combination of pricing, velocity, and of course execution ability, ” said Andrew Gilligan, who helps lead Sol Systems’ investor advisory team. “We were glad we could move quickly to meet Affordable Solar’s deadline and help them succeed in developing these projects.”

This portfolio marks another success in a hot summer for the Sol Systems team. In August, Sol Systems was ranked #91 on Inc. 500’s prestigious list of the fastest growing companies in the U.S., and #3 in the solar industry. Since June, the solar finance firm has secured financing for 10 commercial-scale projects in Hawaii, California, Indiana, Washington, D.C., Maryland, and now, New Mexico. With 10 additional projects currently at term sheet, Sol Systems expects several more project closings this fall. Sol Systems also estimates that it will place around $40 million in tax equity into the solar industry in 2013 through its tax structured finance group.

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Sol Systems featured on AOL Energy!

Sol Systems’ Andrew Gilligan was featured in AOL Energy! Check out the article below.

Hope Shines Through Bankruptcy Clouds for US Solar Sector

A spate of bankruptcies in US solar manufacturers is not a sign of imminent industry collapse, but the inevitable result of competition in a new and evolving market, according to industry representatives.
Solar manufacturer Solyndra announced its intention to file for bankruptcy on the final day of August, following bankruptcy filings by Evergreen Solar on August 15 and SpectraWatt on August 19. The three firms’ failures prompted a flurry of commentary about the challenges facing US solar manufacturing, and prospects for the sector’s survival.
But solar industry representatives suggest that this is just part of the inevitable weeding out of firms that are unable to compete as the market landscape changes. Solyndra’s bankruptcy was “an anomaly…That’s one of the gazillion technologies out there for solar. Some are going to make it, and some aren’t,” founder of American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) Mark Riedy told AOL Energy at the Georgetown University Energy and Cleantech conference on September 2, 2011.

All Eyes East

Competition has intensified for solar panel manufacturers as cheaper Chinese modules have become more widely available. Manufacturing costs are lower in China, due in large part to relatively cheap labor and low-cost loans from China’s state-dominated banking system.

“It’s not like they’re making huge profits either, but they can probably take on more”, said Andrew Gilligan, an associate with solar finance firm Sol Systems.

Another factor that has driven down costs is a reduction of feed-in tariffs in some European countries, according to Gilligan.

“The demand they thought was going to be there in Europe for solar has drastically been reduced in 2011,” he said.

Solar manufacturer and project developer SunPower‘s investments in Italy were hit when the government reduced feed-in tariffs in response to debt crisis, according to project development analyst Brian Bailey.

“SunPower basically lost a major market, and we’ve been moving modules to other markets and trying to fill the gap,” Bailey said at the conference.  Sol Systems' Andrew Gilligan was featured in AOL Energy! Check out the article below.

The Problem With Policy

SunPower’s experience in Italy also highlights the importance of policy risk in the solar industry, as firms are still working towards lower costs that would allow them to compete without government incentives.

Intensified cost competition has not driven every player out of the market. Integrated firms like SunPower and Q-Cells control solar power developments from manufacturing to project implementation, and are less sensitive to manufacturing margins.
The Money Still Flows

And SunPower and Q-Cells have both managed to attract capital, despite uncertain economic conditions.
 

Q-Cells is employing innovative means of raising project funds, such as going through a traditional project finance route but “wrapping” it in an insurance policy, according to director of new market development Nick Chaset. A wrap provides a guarantee against potential losses.

“We’ll provide a parental guarantee as a publicly traded company or we’ll go through a third party like [insurance company] Zurich,” Chaset said.

SunPower is continuing to fund projects using power purchase agreements, as well as lease financing, according to Bailey. The company’s creditworthiness benefits from French oil major Total‘s decision, announced in April, to buy 60% of the solar firm’s shares and provide $1 billion in credit support over five years.

“We have one of the strongest balance sheets in the world behind us”, Bailey said.

And the companies’ solid track records give them a leg up over less established firms.

“Big investment banks, financial institutions aren’t interested in taking risks on a new developer,” said Gilligan.

Two Certainties: Natural Gas And Taxes

But the US solar industry may face additional challenges in the coming years. One of the primary drivers behind a recent boom in solar projects is the option for solar developers to receive a 30% investment tax credit in the form of a cash grant, according to Gilligan. He does not expect the cash grant option to be renewed next year, which would force solar project developers to seek tax equity financing, which may not be as readily available.

And if the price of US natural gas fails to rise, it could act as a barrier to development of all renewable fuel generation sources.

“As long as this natural gas price stays around $4…it’s so cheap that it’s not going to be a good financial decision to build big wind and solar farms,” Gilligan said.

But Riedy argues that there are US solar manufacturers with the potential to survive the culling process by advancing solar technologies and achieving the necessary cost reductions.
“There’s a lot of guys that have really good stories to tell in the solar space and they’re up, they’ve got their projects going, they’re manufacturing panels, the panels are starting to compete with the Chinese,” Riedy said.
Ultimately, any firm that can keep its costs down and provide a reliable product may outlast its competitors.
“Cost is always the key driver,” said Booz Allen Hamilton energy associate David Brown.

Sol Systems Issues Call for Solar Projects – New Project Finance Platform Now Has $400 Million in Available Funding

Sol Systems Issues Call for Solar Projects – New Project Finance Platform Now Has $400 Million in Available Funding

Washington, DC: September 14, 2011 – Less than two weeks after launch, Sol Systems is proud to announce that its new solar finance platform, SolMarket, has increased from $350 million in available investment dollars to $400 million.  In addition, reception by solar installers and developers across the country has been overwhelmingly positive.  SolMarket’s network now includes over 180 companies and 300 users.

SolMarket is a financing platform that will catalyze investment in solar energy projects nationwide by transforming how solar projects are financed.  SolMarket provides investors and developers with the tools they need to efficiently originate, evaluate, finance, and construct renewable energy projects.  It provides a standardized origination platform, a document library, modeling software, and a standardized document suite.  SolMarket will also offer developers group purchase discounts for solar modules and other equipment.  There are no costs for developers to participate in SolMarket.

“We talk to hundreds of solar developers about prospective commercial and utility-scale projects, and unfortunately, many of these solar projects are never built due to an inability to efficiently locate financing,” said Yuri Horwitz, CEO of Sol Systems.  “We have created SolMarket to help drive efficiencies into the solar market and connect investors and developers effectively.  SolMarket will reduce the cost of financing transactions and enhance the tempo of solar project development.”

SolMarket is currently seeking projects ranging from 50 kW to multi-megawatts in size.  Solar developers are encouraged to submit their projects prior to September 30th, when investors will get their first look at projects.  Projects entered prior to this date increase their visibility and the likelihood of getting included in the investors’ 2011 portfolios.

Sol Systems invites interested solar developers to attend a SolMarket webinar, hosted every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday during the month of September at 2 pm EST.  For more information, please email info@solmarket.com or visit www.solmarket.com.

About Sol Systems

SolMarket is a wholly owned subsidiary of Sol SystemsSol Systems is a Washington D.C. based solar finance firm, and the largest solar renewable energy credit (SREC) aggregator in the nation, with over 2,300 customers and over 20 MW of solar capacity under management.  Through its SREC offerings, it has promoted the development of the solar market by providing long-term financing options for SRECs, facilitating over $100 million in solar development.

Contact:

Ms. Sudha Gollapudi, Director of Strategic Partnerships

info@solmarket.com

888-765-1115 x1

Sol Systems Issues Call for Solar Projects – Launches Project Finance Platform with $350 Million in Available Funding

Washington, DC: August 31, 2011 - Sol Systems today announced the launch of SolMarket, a new financing platform that will catalyze investment in solar energy projects nationwide by transforming how solar projects are financed.  SolMarket launches with over $350 million of committed partner funds, actively seeking solar projects in need of financing.

SolMarket provides investors and developers with the tools they need to efficiently originate, evaluate, finance, and construct renewable energy projects.  It provides a standardized origination platform, a document library, modeling software, and a standardized document suite.  SolMarket will also offer developers group purchase discounts for solar modules and other equipment.  There are no costs for developers to participate in SolMarket.

“We talk to hundreds of solar developers about prospective commercial and utility-scale projects, and unfortunately, many of these solar projects are never built due to an inability to efficiently locate financing,” said Yuri Horwitz, CEO of Sol Systems.  “We have created SolMarket to help drive efficiencies into the solar market and connect investors and developers effectively.  SolMarket will reduce the cost of financing transactions and enhance the tempo of solar project development.”

SolMarket has already attracted funding from a number of investors and is seeking projects ranging from 50 kW to multi-megawatts in size.  Solar developers are encouraged to submit their projects prior to September 30th because investors are quickly building out their portfolios for 2011.

Sol Systems invites interested solar developers to attend a SolMarket webinar on Thursday, September 1st, Friday, September 2nd, or Tuesday, September 6th at 11 am EST.  For more information, please email info@solmarket.com or visit www.solmarket.com.

About Sol Systems

SolMarket is a wholly owned subsidiary of Sol Systems.  Sol Systems is a Washington D.C. based solar finance firm, and the largest solar renewable energy credit (SREC) aggregator in the nation, with over 2,300 customers and over 20 MW of solar capacity under management.  Through its SREC offerings, it has promoted the development of the solar market by providing long-term financing options for SRECs, facilitating over $100 million in solar development.

Contact:

Ms. Sudha Gollapudi, Director of Strategic Partnerships

info@solmarket.com

888-765-1115 x1

Magic and Sunrays in the Air

In a neighborhood where painting your door a different color requires approval from a presidentially appointed commission, Georgetown Energy is aiming to permanently change the view of dozens of houses – from the sky.

Georgetown Energy, a student consultancy devoted to helping residents convert to solar electricity, is heading a monumental solar project that involves turning 43 quintessential student townhouse residences to solar electricity in the midst of Washington DC’s historic Georgetown district. Although it is a long-term project to be enjoyed by the generations after many of the current members of the group have graduated, Georgetown Energy students believe that the rewards of such an innovative project are well worth the effort.

What magic surrounding solar coaxed students to become involved so profoundly?  First, there is a substantial payback for the investment. In a solar lease contract signed between Georgetown University, which owns the student townhouses, and Solar City, a leading national solar installation company, adding 96.6 kW of solar capacity to 43 townhouses will require an initial investment of about $164,000, much less than if the University were to purchase the solar panels. Although Georgetown Energy has partnered with SolarCity for this project and used its solar lease scheme as a model, the project will be offered to various installers at its final stages. In the innovative solar lease scheme, the University will “lease” the roof of each townhouse to the installer, which will design, own, and operate a solar photovoltaic system on each townhouse.  The installer will then sell the electricity produced from each solar project to the residents of the townhouse at a lower price than the traditional competing utility. Savings increase every year and over the 20 years duration of the solar lease contract, students would save a total of $458,856 in their electricity cost. After the contract is over, the student body can decide whether to buy the panels at a low price.

Indeed, another charming aspect of the proposal is that everything is student-owned. Originating from the need to allocate a 3.4 million dollar defunct student endowment, the solar investment will take up only a portion of the available fund and coexist with other student proposals as well as generate profit. Ideally, Georgetown Energy sees the proceeds creating a fund for related projects to further environmental awareness and energy studies on campus.

Is there anything else in it for the university, the students, and the DC area? Sol Systems, a strong force in the fight for better solar incentives in DC, believes so. Not only is being involved in such a movement ideal preparation for a career in renewable energy (two recent graduates and former members of Georgetown Energy actually work at Sol Systems), but there is much potential for the greater DC area too. Of course, cleaner air for the district tops the list. It may even attract more students interested in environmental and energy issues and demonstrate the feasibility of clean energy investments, creating a virtuous cycle of environmental awareness and action in the university community. Perhaps the project may even set an example of a successful clean energy investment that some students may follow individually in the future. Lastly, it is a modern display of service to the community, the crux of the founding Jesuit ideals of Georgetown University.

What stage is the project at right now? In April 2011, a student commission voted in support of the proposal. Now Georgetown Energy students are working with University officials on the details. These include contractual issues, billing mechanisms, pricing, and structural and electrical issues with the houses. The Georgetown Energy students are learning some concrete skills needed for evaluating any type of construction investment. The work done from June-August 2011 will culminate in a final recommendation to be handed to the University on September 1st after which Georgetown Energy students will have to persuade the rest of the student body off their feet for a concluding student referendum and choose from final proposals from competing vendors and permitting.  If all goes well, the battle will be won one year from today. The panels will be constructed in Fall 2012 and convert ordinary sunrays to a unique opportunity for revenue and intellectual growth – truly magic!

Kids Learn about Solar Energy Through Show-and-Tell

Sol Systems’ valued customer, Phil Hostetter, recently had an interesting version of show-and-tell at his home in Sterling, Virginia, with twelve 4th and 5th graders from Guilford Elementary School. Phil, who has a 4.05 kW solar photovoltaic (PV) system, gave a tour of his eco-friendly home, which also has a hybrid trombe wall and a solar hot water system . Phil and his wife Stephanie became interested in solar energy during the 1980’s and decided to build a passive solar home, with the idea that it would go solar electric as soon as possible. Although the house was completed in 1986, their initial plans to add PV panels to their home were delayed until 2009. The financial help from tax credits and the current SREC benefits he receives greatly contributed to the execution of the project.

When Phil heard about the environmental club at nearby Guilford Elementary School, he conceived the idea of the show-and-tell as a way to share his enthusiasm for solar and other green technologies and to inspire young students to take an interest in environment issues. The environmental club members had been learning about sustainable living for quite some time. Phil briefly described the process of the system to them but remarks, “The kids definitely knew a lot. They knew how it worked and could recognize many features of the system.” The club practices composting and cultivates a vegetable garden at the school. (Phil and Stephanie donated vegetable and flower seedlings from their greenhouse.) Club members also sell some of the harvest to raise money for the school and are thinking of doing some sort of solar installation in the near future.

Phil received numerous thank you notes and illustrations of his house. “We got a great response from the tour. I’m pleased they took the time to write thank you notes.” We at Sol Systems enjoyed the letters and wanted to share with our other customers. It is without a doubt important to educate the youth of the importance of sustainable living with a limited number of resources in the world. We hope this article and the letters posted below inspire our other customers to host similar events for local school children. Thank you, Phil, for sharing your story, and for continuing to spread the knowledge!

Thank you notes from students at Guilford Elementary School

Financing Residential Solar

Michael Leibreich, chairman of Bloomberg Finance’s Research Group on Energy Finance, recently stated that he believes the cost of developing a solar power project will be cut in half in the next decade. These cost reductions will pave the way for utility scale solar and they will also help make solar a viable option for residential solar.

Residential solar installations will remain a key part of the solar industry’s remarkable growth, and the distributed nature of these systems represents some of the most unique and most advantageous aspects of solar technology; however, reductions in technology costs are not enough to make solar affordable for everyone. Luckily, today, a homeowner has more options than ever to help finance the installation of a solar energy system.

The most basic way is to pay for the system out of pocket. This approach leads to the highest rate of return — assuming the homeowner can take full advantage of the federal investment tax credit/grant, state incentives, and the value of Solar Renewable Energy Credits or SRECs. However, solar PV systems still pose a high initial cost, and many residents do not have the ability to pay for the system completely out of pocket.

A subset of this option is taking out a loan to pay for the system. Residents can take out home equity loans from their banks or secure low-interest loans to cover the system cost from their installers. (In D.C., homeowners have received access to zero-interest loans for the first year through their solar installer.) This approach also allows the homeowner access to all the economic incentives for going solar, which along with energy savings, can be used to repay the loan in a very reasonable period of time.

Two other options that do not require the homeowner to fund the entire cost of the installation would be to (1) lease the system or (2) enter into a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA). Although these structures are now common among commercial solar installations, these financing structures are becoming more popular with homeowners in the past two years.

While the nuances of leasing structures often differ, the customer is basically leasing the solar energy system just like someone leases a car. This approach allows the customer to reduce energy bills without the high initial cost of going solar. However, in leasing a system, the homeowner would not own the system; therefore, they would not receive the federal tax incentives or state rebates – and in most cases they would not be able to take advantage of the economic incentives like selling SRECs.

Finally, a Power Purchase Agreement allows a homeowner to purchase electricity from a system located on their roof at a reduced rate. This means the homeowner will experience savings on their energy bills without large upfront costs. However, just like in leasing the system, the customer will not own the system, be able to take advantage of SRECs, or the federal and state incentives. In effect, they have not “invested” in a solar energy system, but they will still reap financial benefits because they’ve created a hedge against rising utility costs.

It can be a difficult decision for homeowners when selecting which financing option to use. A lot will depend on how the homeowner feels about the high upfront cost associated with owning a PV system. However, if the customer can afford the initial capital, then purchasing the system will provide them with a return on investment over the lifetime of the system.

By owning a solar energy system, the homeowner will be able to monetize all available incentives and also reap the value of producing clean electricity through the selling of SRECs. SRECs are valuable because several states have solar-carve outs in their Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) that require energy suppliers to procure a certain percentage of their electricity from solar or pay a steep Alternative Compliance Fee (ACP).

At Sol Systems, we offer 1, 3, 5, and even 10-year agreements for monetizing the SRECs of a system depending on the state. Fixed cost agreements such as Sol Annuity allow customers to confidently know their cash flow due to SRECs and subsequently calculate their payback period more accurately.

It is important for these financing options to remain economical choices as residential solar continues to grow. Furthermore, it is important homeowners take their time and fully understand the advantages and disadvantages before choosing how to finance their solar system.

Counterintuitive Energy Subsidies

One of the most common arguments against renewable energy resources such as wind and solar is that they are not cost-competitive compared to traditional fossil fuels. Accordingly, government officials, business leaders, and taxpayers are concerned about the billions of dollars that would have to be spent in government funding and subsidies to make renewable energy more cost competitive today. However, when one examines the subsidies that fossil fuels receive annually, as well as their negative externalities, it is harder to argue that renewable energy is “too expensive”.

The majority of industries require support and legislative stability during their infancy, and this is especially true of the energy industry. It should come as no surprise that government funding and subsidies were used to help the coal and oil industries when they were first developing. However, it is unclear why fossil fuels, now a mature industry, received $72.5 billion in U.S. federal subsidies between 2002-2008. To put this in comparison, the solar industry received less than $1 billion in federal subsidies during that same time period, and all renewable energy fields together received $29 billion. If fossil fuels are so much cheaper, why should they receive more than double the amount of federal funding?

Federal subsidies include incentives, tax breaks, loan guarantees and other credits. President Barack Obama made a commitment to support clean energy, and solar subsidies have significantly increased since he took office, highlighted by a 30% Federal Tax Credit or Grant program for solar. Furthermore, Obama has proposed reducing subsidies and tax breaks for oil, natural gas and coal producers in his budget proposal each year. The G20 echoed this rhetoric, proposing in 2009 to begin phasing out fossil fuel subsidies, which was applauded by economists and environmentalists.

Yet nothing has changed. Congress successfully opposed these cuts and reductions, thanks in large part to heavy lobbying from oil, gas, and coal companies. Furthermore, none of the G20 countries have enacted a subsidy-cutting policy.

Even though 80% of Americans agree that Congress should consider reallocating federal subsidies from fossil fuels to solar, and 92% of Americans support pollution-free technology, it appears inevitable that renewable energy will lose out in subsidy fights because of the power of the entrenched fossil fuel industries. Supporters of fossil fuel subsidies point to the fact that oil prices often depend on situations in foreign countries, making the market more volatile and thus they need insulation, but this seems to be a critical disadvantage of the oil industry, not something that should be supported.

At this point, fossil fuel industries have a price advantage over alternative fuel sources because of industry maturity and federal subsidies. If a free market without subsidies existed though, fossil fuels would still be priced inaccurately due to their negative externalities.

An externality is a cost or benefit to a party that did not directly participate in the transaction. For example, fossil fuels’ most significant negative externality is pollution. Fossil fuel energy production is the primary contributor to greenhouse gas emissions that are associated with climate change. In basic economics, when a product or service has negative externalities that are not reflected in the cost, it makes sense for governments to levy a tax or charge that reflects the true cost of that action to society. However, under the status quo, levelized cost does not exist for energy sources – and the fossil fuel industry receives billions of dollars in annual subsidies to help reduce their cost.

Federal incentives for the fossil fuel industry are likely to continue, meaning renewable energies must be able to take advantage of other opportunities in order to compete. Several states have recognized a need for state-based intervention and they have helped create a better market for solar deployment through solar “carve-outs” in their Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS). These carve-outs mandate that electricity suppliers procure a certain percentage of their electricity from solar sources. In effect, this legislation leads to a valuable market for Solar Renewable Energy Credits, or SRECS.

The ability to sell the benefits of clean solar electricity at reliable prices has prompted an increase in solar deployment in states like Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Ohio, and the District of Columbia among others, and this market-based solution does not have to rely on federal or state funding.

Looking forward, states should make good use of solar carve-outs in an attempt to level the playing field with the fossil fuel industry. State-created solar requirements and SREC values can help the solar industry get stable funding in its developing years – and eventually solar will stand on its own in the market.

What House Budget Means for Solar

Early on Saturday, February 19th, 2011, the House passed its version of this year’s budget, which was highlighted by $61 billion in cuts from federal programs. The bill will now move to the Senate where there will likely be amendments and eventual compromise before President Obama signs the bill. Nevertheless, it is an interesting time to examine what this budget and drive to reduce the federal deficit means for solar financing and the solar industry in general.

President Obama has made it clear that, although his priority is to trim the federal deficit, he is not willing to sacrifice funding for clean energy research and development. For the 2012 fiscal year, Obama unveiled a $29.5 billion budget request for the Department of Energy (DOE), which includes $3.2 billion for the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE)– a 44% increase over the current appropriation. This request includes an 88% increase in funding for the solar EERE program specifically.

The budget passed by the House, however, is more aggressive in its attempts to reduce the federal deficit and would cut billions of dollars from federal energy and environmental programs. In particular, the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, which invests in early stage and risky projects, would be hit hard. Similarly, the EERE would lose 35% of its budget relative to last year, a stark contrast to the White House’s plans. The budget would also cut funding for several DOE loan guarantee programs.

The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) has characterized these cuts as “disastrous”. Currently, solar developers use the DOE loan guarantee programs to help finance solar projects at low interest rates, and these cuts could halt solar projects around the country. However, the chances of the House budget passing into law in its current form are very slim. Senate Democrats and President Obama will likely push back against dramatic reductions in the DOE loan guarantee program.

Despite the fact that House Republicans are currently proposing cuts to clean energy funding, it is important to highlight that a GOP Congress has historically supported solar. The first tax credits for solar were passed in a 2005 Energy Bill by a Republican Congress and later extended by President George W. Bush.

Both parties see the job growth opportunities in the solar industry. Solar employers expect jobs to increase by 26 percent over the next year, and lawmakers from both parties share concerns over the current U.S. unemployment rate.

It is important to note that no matter what happens with the Federal Budget, there will be states that maintain policies promoting solar deployment and allowing for job growth in the renewable energy industry. For example, more and more states are adopting a Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) that contains a solar carve-out requiring utilities to procure a certain percentage of their electricity from a solar source. These solar carve-outs create markets for Solar Renewable Energy Credits, or SRECs. An SREC is a tradable credit that represents all the clean energy benefits of electricity generated from a solar electric system. SRECs are a market-based mechanism that do not rely of state or federal funding, so SRECs will help system owners finance their solar energy systems regardless of federal cuts to clean energy programs.

The House resolution on the budget, although likely not to pass in its current form, would certainly be detrimental to the health of the solar industry, particularly the reductions in the DOE loan guarantee program. We hope lawmakers will recognize the job growth and economic opportunity that the solar sector represents, instead of seeing it as a way to trim government spending.

Sol Bridge Allows Business Owners to Go Solar with Low Out-of-Pocket Costs

Sol Systems, the oldest and largest solar renewable energy credit (SREC) aggregator in the U.S., recently announced a new financing solution for commercial-size solar energy systems called Sol Bridge. The bridge financing solves a problem that many prospective solar owners face: commercial-sized solar energy systems have high capital costs (typically more than $100,000), and system owners must pay for the system costs several months before they receive their federal and state solar incentives or solar renewable energy credit (SREC) payments. Because most businesses have limited cash and must reserve their capital for business-related expenses and investments, owning a solar energy system is a distant possibility.

Sol Bridge addresses this problem by providing a 90 day cash advance to system owners for the 30% federal tax grant and any applicable state incentives. This option allows business owners to go solar without tying up capital, while still retaining ownership of their system and all the benefits including SREC payments and electricity bill savings.

The cash advance is provided upon system completion and can be assigned to the solar installer, so that the installer reduces the customer’s payment amounts accordingly. Sol Bridge and the corresponding loan fees are due after 90 days, however, the loan fees can be wrapped into the total installation costs and therefore included in the amount that will be refunded upon receipt of the federal grant and state rebates.

In addition, Sol Bridge can be paired with the Sol Upfront SREC payment option which allows system owners to pre-sell the future SRECs to Sol Systems in exchange for a one-time lump-sum payment. When the Sol Bridge and Sol Upfront options are combined, the system owner is responsible for merely 10-30% of the remaining system costs; moreover, the business owner reaps the full benefits of their electricity savings because there is no ongoing solar lease fee or PPA payments.

Please visit the Sol Systems website for more information about Sol Bridge.

About Sol Systems:
Sol Systems is a solar energy finance and development firm that was built on the principle that solar energy should be an economically viable energy solution. With thousands of customers and hundreds of partners throughout the United States, Sol Systems is the largest and oldest SREC aggregator. We provide homeowners, businesses, solar installers, and developers with sophisticated financing solutions that help make solar energy more affordable. Sol Systems also helps energy suppliers and utilities manage and meet their solar RPS requirements efficiently by providing them with access to diverse portfolios of SRECs. For more information, please visit www.solsystemscompany.com.

Why Big Solar is not Better Solar

As solar energy systems become a more popular and profitable investment, many small and large scale projects are being developed. The idea of large solar projects may be attractive because of cost advantages due to scale, yet while the technology behind big and small solar projects is similar, some of the characteristics of big solar cancel out the advantages that are unique to solar energy.

Let’s define “big solar” as a photovoltaic (PV) system or a concentrated solar power (CSP) system that feeds energy into the grid as opposed to “small solar” which feeds the direct energy load of a given facility (most commercial facilities require less than 1 MW of power).

First, big solar is inefficient in terms of its land use. Instead of using the millions of acres of rooftop space and small vacant lots across the country, big solar is often built in deserts or remote areas, which could be potential agricultural or construction space, or even wildlife habitat.

Second, big solar requires significant transmission upgrades. Since large solar projects are far away from where electricity is used, long and costly transmission lines must be constructed to connect big solar projects with the grid. It costs approximately $1.5 million per mile for new transmission lines, a substantial cost that removes a lot of the economic advantages associated with large scale projects. Big solar projects will require the U.S. to engage in even more costly infrastructure upgrades over the next few decades; whereas small solar projects actually reduce the need for costly infrastructure upgrades.

Third, big solar does not alleviate grid-congestion. Even if new transmission lines can be financed, the electricity will only add to an already congested transmission and distribution system. Whereas, if small scale solar power is added near the power demand (such as the rooftop of a house or building), then it would not add at all to the congestion of the electrical system (one of the main causes of the 2003 blackout in the Northeast). Grid congestion is becoming even more important as U.S. electrical demand is increasing at a much higher rate than U.S. transmission capacity.

Fourth, big solar wastes a significant amount of energy during transmission. Transmission from a centralized power plant to a user wastes electricity: according to the EIA, line losses accounted for 6.5% of total electricity generation in 2007. Small solar, typically constructed on the roof or within a ¼ mile of the building it powers, has virtually no energy loss due to transmission.

Fifth, big solar has the same security disadvantages of large centralized power plants. In other words, large scale solar is just as susceptible as other power plants to national security threats from hackers or terrorist groups.

Now that solar technology is becoming more affordable on a residential and commercial scale, there is the potential to dramatically increase the prevalence of distributed generation power systems. Achieving this would insulate the U.S. against its current dependence on large scale power plants and an outdated electrical grid’s transmission ability. Yet, despite the relative disadvantages of large solar power plants, big solar and small solar often compete for solar incentives such as SRECs (Solar Renewable Energy Credits).

An SREC is a tradable credit that represents the clean energy benefits of electricity generated from a solar electric system. Each time the electric system generates 1000 kWh, a SREC is issued that can be sold or traded separately from the power. SRECs have value because utilities and energy suppliers can purchase them from system owners in order to meet the requirements determined in a state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard. Residential and commercial solar system owners can harness this value to offset the costs of their solar energy systems. In some states, big solar threatens to reduce the value of these incentives by flooding the SREC market and decreasing the price of SRECs.

When creating and adjusting renewable energy policies, legislators and policy makers should recognize the unique benefits of small solar and distributed generation. It is important to understand that even though “big solar” may have some cost advantages, it is not the “best solar”.

Why Businesses are Taking Advantage of Solar Power Purchase Agreements

A Solar Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) is a legal contract where a solar project developer installs and operates a system for a business owner, homeowner, or tenant (the “host”) who in turn agrees to buy the solar generated electricity for a fixed period, usually 10 to 20 years. The host typically purchases the solar power at a fixed rate equal to or less than their normal utility rate and does not pay the upfront capital costs of the installation, making PPAs a very attractive economic option.

Developers like the model because the PPA contract ensures that the developer will be able to sell the solar electricity for a fixed period of time at a pre-determined rate. The PPA contract also removes negotiation and transmission costs that could be associated with solar projects that do not have a guaranteed energy buyer.

Businesses benefit from the federal and state incentives in place for owning a solar system. Specifically, Solar PPAs in the United States rely on the federal solar investment tax credit, which was extended for eight years under the Emergency Economic Stabilization act of 2008 and then amended with the passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 so that the solar investment tax credit can now be combined with tax exempt financing. This investment tax credit covers 30% of the expenditures on a solar system. Several state rebate programs also reduce the capital necessary for PPAs by providing grants corresponding to the size of the solar system.

The host business that is buying the solar generated electricity does not receive any of these tax credits or rebates directly, rather, the developer or company that finances and subsequently owns the system receives these benefits. However, the developer passes these benefits on to the host in the form of lower fixed rates for their electricity.

Because the developer fully maximizes all the incentives associated with a solar energy system, in some situations a PPA can be a better deal than ownership of a system. For example, non-profits cannot receive tax credits, implying that a PPA would be the better financial decision since the developer could access the tax credits and consequently provide solar electricity at a reduced rate to the non-profit. Furthermore, a solar developer can raise funds for a project (or portfolio of projects) through tax equity investors.

Similarly, businesses and developers engaging in a Solar PPA can take advantage of Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SRECs). An SREC is a tradable credit that represents the clean energy benefits of electricity generated from a solar electric system. Each time the electric system generates 1000 kWh, a SREC is issued that can be sold or traded separately from the power. Therefore, the legal owner of the system can sell their rights to SRECs to utility companies that need SRECs to comply with state Renewable Portfolio Standards. This represents another substantial method to offset the cost of the system and allow businesses to reduce their net costs and ultimately the PPA rate. As state rebate programs diminish, SREC values will become more important for financing solar.

As PPAs and new solar financing tools become more prevalent, it is important to understand the difference between a PPA and a lease. A solar lease is another common financing tool where a solar company builds a solar energy system on a host’s property and then the host pays a lease payment for the benefits of the system’s electricity production. This is different from a PPA where the host pays directly for the solar power. Many companies that began exclusively in solar leasing are now offering the PPA model to customers as well. Typically, nuances in state laws or consumer preference determine whether a developer will offer a PPA or lease. Solar developers who offer solar PPAs have encountered a large number of interested customers. For example, Wal-Mart, Safeway, and Macy’s all use solar PPAs, and some estimates say that in 2008 PPAs represented over 60% of California’s non-residential solar market.

In short, PPAs allow businesses to take advantage of all sorts of solar incentives like SREC values, federal, and state incentives – all without any upfront capital. As large facility owners and tenants continue to demand solar without high upfront costs, PPAs will become more and more popular.

Sol Systems Unveils Utility-Backed Solar SREC Financing Option in MA

Sol Systems, the nation’s largest solar renewable energy credit (SREC) aggregator, today announced a new three year fixed-rate SREC financing option that will help make solar a more attractive investment for Massachusetts residents and businesses.

“We are very optimistic about the solar market in Massachusetts and we are proud that we can offer solar supporters an affordable, secure way to invest in solar,” said Sol Systems CEO, Yuri Horwitz. “Our three year utility-backed SREC contract will help give prospective solar owners the financial security they need to go solar.”

Massachusetts’ solar REC (SREC) market is relatively new, but several states along the East Coast have established solar credit markets which provide cash flow that make solar energy an affordable option for homeowners and businesses. Sol Systems has been a key player in these markets. In Massachusetts, system owners can cover approximately 25% of system costs through an SREC agreement with Sol Systems.

Sol Systems gives homeowners and businesses a variety of ways to harness the value of SRECs. In Massachusetts, the company offers spot market brokerage services (Sol Brokerage) and multi-year guaranteed rate SREC contracts (Sol Annuity). The Sol Annuity product is available for three and five year contract terms.

Sol Systems also operates in 12 other states where it offers brokerage services and multi-year contracts, in addition to “Sol Upfront”, a pre-paid lump sum for the future value of solar credits.

While multi-year contracts are sometimes available through independent SREC brokers, to its knowledge, Sol Systems is the only company that is providing a 3 year offer that is backed by a contract with an energy supplier. Unlike speculators who bet on SREC futures, Sol Systems’ model provides additional security to homeowners and businesses that are concerned about the volatility of the SREC commodities market.

About Sol Systems
Sol Systems is a Washington D.C. based solar energy finance and development firm that was built on the principle that solar energy should be an economically viable energy solution. Sol Systems enables solar developers, homeowners, and businesses to fully realize the value of their solar energy systems by providing them with a range of options for selling their SRECs. To date, Sol Systems has helped over 1,300 customers with projects ranging from 1 kW to over 1 MW realize the value of their SRECs. Sol Systems currently operates in Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Washington, D.C., and West Virginia. For more information, please visit www.solsystemscompany.com.

Mid Size Commercial Solar Projects Require Guaranteed Long Term SREC Contracts

The mid-Atlantic region has witnessed a rapid growth in solar installations over the past few years. While the large multi-megawatt commercial projects make front-page news, it is interesting to note that there is also vibrant growth in mid-size commercial projects, ranging from 50kW-500 kW. Today, the total capacity of solar installed in the PJM region (solar projects in the mid-Atlantic region) is 262 MW, of which 83 MW comes from systems in the 50 kW-500 kW range. Moreover, the mid-size commercial project segment has shown steady growth, adding approximately 26 MW each year since 2009.

Large solar projects face significant financing hurdles because millions of dollars of capital are required, but these projects also fetch the attention of large banks, energy suppliers and tax equity investors. Mid-size commercial projects face the daunting challenge of financing their projects with less visibility, but they can be successful if they make use of all the available incentives and financing tools.

Many mid-size commercial developers and installers can help the customer through the process for applying to federal and state grants; however, monetizing the Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SRECs) is often more difficult. SREC markets are complex for two main reasons. First, SREC markets differ across various states depending on the State’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (RPS) and Solar Alternative Compliance Payment (SACP), the fee paid by energy suppliers for non-compliance of RPS requirements. Second, SREC markets have been known to be fairly volatile due to legislation changes and variations in supply and demand. These challenges can be mitigated by finding a stable partner with long-term SREC contracts who can help system owners navigate the legislation, and provide security of cash flow payments which allow system owners to accurately determine their payback period.

Investing in a mid-size commercial solar project is a sizeable investment for a small business owner or homeowner, thereby making it imperative to ask some difficult questions to the SREC aggregator or financier. The most important question to ask the SREC aggregator is: “Are your customer contracts backed up with energy supplier contracts?” If an SREC aggregator has long term contracts with energy suppliers, then the SREC firm has foresight into future SREC prices and can offer a fair, guaranteed rate. On the contrary, if an SREC aggregator is speculating on price and hoping to sell the SRECs in the spot market at a future date without any security of a long term agreement, their customer is exposed to a lot more SREC market risk. System owners should also be aware of the other factors that shape the SREC markets, like regulatory changes, rapid adoption of solar, and market shifts due to large-scale solar projects.

Being the oldest and largest SREC aggregator in the country, Sol Systems has matched a majority of its long-term SREC contracts with its energy supplier contracts, thereby providing the market stability and flexibility that mid-size commercial customers seek. Today, Sol Systems works with over 200 developers and installers in financing mid-size commercial solar projects. More information can be found at www.solsystemscompany.com.

Sol Systems Launches Sol Lease in Washington DC

Sol Systems is proud to announce Sol Lease, D.C.’s first solar lease option. Sol Lease is designed to help homeowners, businesses, non-profits, schools, and churches put solar on their roofs and enjoy immediate energy savings. Customers that take advantage of Sol Lease will receive a solar energy system to host on their roof with no upfront costs. They will then simply pay a small monthly payment (much like a car lease payment) and enjoy access to reduced utility bills for the contract term. Sol Lease customers will save an average of 15% on their current utility bills, and are likely to save more as electricity prices increase.

“We are proud to be able to offer Sol Lease, and we see this as a turning point. We are a DC-based company, and we live in the neighborhoods we’re investing in. Success for the solar community means innovation in technology, but it also means innovation in finance. Sol Lease helps our installer partners change the equation and provide solar energy to many that otherwise couldn’t secure it,” noted Sol Systems CEO, Yuri Horwitz.

Sol Systems is currently offering Sol Lease on a pilot basis in D.C. Upon completion of the pilot phase, Sol Systems plans to offer Sol Lease at a larger scale and potentially in other markets.

For more information about the program, please visit www.solsystemscompany.com/solar-lease or email lease@solsystemscompany.com.

About Sol Systems
Sol Systems is a Washington D.C. based solar energy finance and development firm that was built on the principle that solar energy should be an economically viable energy solution. Sol Systems has helped over 1,200 customers finance their solar projects, ranging from 1 kW to over 1 MW. Sol Systems currently operates in Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Washington, D.C., and West Virginia and has partnerships in place with over 100 solar installers and developers. For more information, please visit www.solsystemscompany.com.

Sol Systems Supports the Rebuild Sudan Foundation

Sol Systems sponsored a fundraiser in Washington DC this evening for the Rebuild Sudan Foundation, a small non-profit dedicated to developing and constructing schools for children in southern Sudan as well as other critical infrastructure. Rebuild‘s founder, Michael Kuany spoke to a group of young professional’s about his vision for the future of Sudan, and the journey that has helped shape and drive his passion.

As Michael noted this evening, “Education is family for so many. With education people do not need to fight wars.”

Rebuild Sudan is currently working on a multipurpose school in Jalle Payam. Construction is slated to begin in November 2010. “We had many motivations and principles in mind during the development of this project. First and foremost was to build a safe place for the children of Jalle, especially girls and orphans, to receive a primary education,” said Michael. The school will include a public library, a computer center and meeting/performance space and the building is designed to be environmentally friendly, with walls constructed of stabilized earthen plaster using soil excavated for the latrines.

Michael Kuany is one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, more than 27,000 boys of the Dinka ethnic group who were displaced and/or orphaned during the Second Sudanese Civil War (1983-2005). Approximately 2 million people were killed during this war; 4 million people lost their homes and became refugees. Most of the boys were orphaned or separated from their families when government troops from the north systematically attacked villages in southern Sudan, killing many of the inhabitants, most of whom were civilians.

“Michael has walked a long path and his journey has not been easy. It is clear that his life is guided by his principals and his passion to bring good back to his country and build a future for children through education. This is exactly the type of organization that Sol Systems is proud to sponsor,” noted Yuri Horwitz, CEO and President of Sol Systems.

About Sol Systems
Sol Systems is a Washington D.C. based solar energy finance and development firm that was built on the principle that solar energy should be an economically viable energy solution. Sol Systems enables solar developers, homeowners, and businesses to fully realize the value of their solar energy systems by providing them with a range of options for selling their SRECs. To date, Sol Systems has helped over 1,100 customers with projects ranging from 1 kW to over 1 MW realize the value of their SRECs. Sol Systems currently operates in Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Washington, D.C., and West Virginia and has partnerships in place with over 100 solar installers and developers. For more information, please visit www.solsystemscompany.com.

Leasing Solar: It’s Like Leasing a Prius

In the last 5 years, solar has grown exponentially in the U.S. There have been several reasons for this, but one of the reasons has been the creation of solar financing options that never existed in the past. One of these options is the solar lease.

A solar lease is a lot like an automobile lease – or more accurately, it’s like a lease for a Toyota Prius.

If you lease a Prius, you get the benefits of driving the car, you save on gas mileage, and you get some bragging rights. You won’t get the car title or the tax write-off for owning a hybrid, but you also don’t have to pay $30,000. You just pay a monthly fee, and at the end of your lease, you have the option to buy the Prius.

Similarly, with a solar lease, you get the electricity generated from the photovoltaic (PV) energy system, which can cut your utility bills in half (or more), and you promote clean, renewable solar energy – instead of using dirty fossil fuels. You don’t have to pay $30,000* for the PV System, you just pay a monthly fee, and at the end of your lease, you have the option to buy the PV system at fair market value. Your PV system maintenance is typically covered under the lease too.

The solar lease model, and its cousin the Solar Power Purchase Agreement, first become popular in California and have spread across the country to East Coast states where local rebates and tax incentives make this financing scenario possible.

When deciding whether to own or lease a solar energy system, you should ask yourself some of the same questions as if you were determining whether to buy or lease a car, and a few more.
• Do I have the cash to buy the system outright?
• Do I have access to cheap capital?
• Do I view this system as a long-term investment?
• What are my investment goals?
• What are my environmental goals?

Only solar energy system ownership allows you to claim: the federal tax credit (which accounts for 30% of system costs), state rebates (which can account for up to 40% of system costs), and income from selling your solar renewable energy credits “SRECS” (which can pay back more than 30% of system costs over 5 years). So, if you are looking for a clean energy investment that gives you tax benefits and provides returns in the long-run, solar ownership will be a great option for you.

On the other hand, if you want to “go solar” and get the benefits of reduced energy bills, but you don’t have the required capital and tax appetite to make use of the solar tax incentives, then a solar lease could be the perfect solution for you.

About Sol Systems
Sol Systems is a Washington D.C. based solar energy finance and development firm that was built on the principle that solar energy should be an economically viable energy solution. Sol Systems enables solar developers, homeowners, and businesses to fully realize the value of their solar energy systems by providing them with a range of options for selling their SRECs. To date, Sol Systems has helped over 1,100 customers with projects ranging from 1 kW to over 1 MW realize the value of their SRECs.

Sol Systems currently operates in Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Washington, D.C., and West Virginia and has partnerships in place with over 100 solar installers and developers. For more information, please visit www.solsystemscompany.com.

As the Federal RES Evolves, What Does it Mean for Solar?

This last September, the U.S. Senate introduced the Renewable Electricity Promotion Act of 2010, Senate Bill 3813, a stand-alone Renewable Electricity Standard (RES) that will require sellers of electricity to retail customers to obtain certain percentages of their electric supply from renewable energy resources. If S. 3813 looks familiar, it should. The legislation is what remains of comprehensive climate change legislation that was introduced in the American Clean Energy Leadership Act of 2009 S.1462. This is therefore perhaps the last chance for any comprehensive federal approach to climate change or renewable energy prior to the next election.

So what does it mean for solar energy? In sum, it doesn’t hurt solar, but its immediate effects may not help much either. The proposed alternative compliance payment (ACP), which is the penalty energy suppliers must pay if they do not comply with their requirements is set low, especially when compared to current state RES programs such as New Jersey or D.C that have developed a foundation for a strong solar market. In addition, the portfolio of qualifying technologies may be too inclusive (by including numerous technologies the impact on any one technology is limited.

However, the legislation provides the framework, a seed of sorts, for the continued implementation and development of RES legislation nationwide. As RES markets develop nationwide, the solar industry can begin the task of adjusting to a more sustainable regulatory mechanism that is likely to help accelerate the implementation of solar technology (and others) well into the next decade. Our analysis is below.

BACKGROUND

What Does a Federal RES Do?

The federal Renewable Electricity Standard requires that a certain percentage of the electricity purchased in the country come from renewable energy resources. The purpose of an RES is to set up a competitive market in which utilities either (1) directly produce a specific amount of renewable energy based on their total load or (2) effectively purchase this renewable energy from others producing it or (3) pay a penalty. Most utilities will choose some combination of all three. In some state markets, an RES is called a renewable portfolio standard (RPS) or alternative energy portfolio standard (AEPS).

If utilities opt to go with the second strategy listed above, they usually do not purchase the energy from renewable energy resources, they simply purchase title to the “credit” associated with the renewable energy, termed a renewable energy credit (REC). Since energy can be measured in megawatt-hours (MWh), one REC represents the green attributes associated with one MWh of production from a renewable energy resource. Each time a homeowner or business produces one MWh from its solar system, it can sell the REC associated with this MWh in a competitive market. Technologies compete to produce RECs and sell them, and as these technologies scale, the supply of RECs increases, and the costs of these RECs decreases. The market is designed to drive down the costs of compliance and catalyze alternative energy technologies to scale.

CURRENT RES OVERVIEW

Volumes

The RES targets are less than the twenty to twenty-five percent recommended by most industry groups and President Obama himself this last year. The current RES requirements are below:

2012-13: 3%
2014-16: 6%
2017-18: 9%
2019-20: 12%
2021-39: 15%

The Alternative Compliance Payment

The Alternative Compliance Payment, which is the fee that electric utilities must pay in lieu of actually purchasing or producing the renewable energy credits required by the RES, is $21, adjusted for inflation. This means that for every MWH of electricity that the utility fails to supply from renewable energy, it must pay a fine of $21. The ACP effectively sets the ceiling on the value of renewable energy credits, with the caveat that there are multipliers (described below) that make some RECs more valuable than others.

Qualifying Technologies

Under the current RES, those resources include solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, landfill gas, qualified hydropower, marine and hydrokinetic renewable energy, incremental geothermal, coal-mined methane, qualified waste-to-energy, and potentially other technologies.

Multipliers

In order to incentivize certain technologies, states (and in this case the federal government) often provide multipliers for RECs from specific technologies or locations. Under the federal RES, utilities will receive double credit for RECs produced by renewable energy systems located on Indian land (to incentivize the development of renewable energy on Indian land) and triple credit for small renewable distributed generation less than 1 MW. Although not stated, it is likely that the maximum ceiling on energy efficiency credits will conversely reduce the value of RECs produced from energy efficiency upgrades.

No Preemption

The national RES will not preempt current state RES or RPS standards. Instead, the RES is meant to set a floor for states without current RES or RPS legislation to set up trading regimes and complement preexisting state legislation. The RES is a bit like the federal Clean Air Act or Clean Water Act in this respect, both of which provide states with a blueprint which they can either accept in whole, or mimic with state-specific standards that are as strict or less strict. This is incredibly important for those states that have more favorable solar requirements than the federal RES.

National Market

It is unclear at this point whether a national market will develop because of the legislation. Currently, the legislation provides for the delegation of responsibilities to either a national trading mechanism or a more regional mechanism. States will have to figure out whether they want their REC markets to be regional, like the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), or isolated, like Delaware, New Jersey, Massachusetts and others.

SREC Values

The value of solar renewable energy credits (SRECs) is typically a function of supply and demand . It is therefore unclear what the values of SRECs will be since this supply and demand will differ from state to state. Taken by itself, the legislation will not push SREC prices very high since the ACP is $21, with a potential multiplier of three ($63). However, current RPS states will likely retain their markets, and states without an RPS may develop more aggressive RPS legislation in light of the national RES.

ANALYSIS

Potential Negatives

1. The effective solar alternative compliance payment (SACP) is $63 per MWH for distributed solar energy systems (those below 1 MW in nameplate capacity). This is low enough that it is not likely to create a significant market for solar renewable energy credits (since the ACP provides a ceiling on the value of SRECs). This legislation is therefore unlikely to single-handedly develop robust markets for solar. However, as discussed below, the RES may provide the necessary legislative framework for the creation of such a market.

2. The list of qualifying “renewable energy resources” includes technologies that will be much less expensive to implement initially, and will likely flood REC markets. Solar energy, for example, is not likely to be able to compete with biomass or methane from mining.

3. Utilities can purchase energy efficiency credits. These credits are also likely to be much less valuable than SRECs, and may also flood the market – although they are limited to 26.67 percent of their overall required needs.

Potential Positives

Setting up a national RES begins to set minimum requirements, build the framework for the introduction of renewable energy legislation that many states currently do not have in an organized fashion, and develop a sustainable means by which to incentivize renewable energy. RES legislation is especially important for new technologies that may have higher up-front costs (like solar) because requirements can be structured around these costs. Although the standards may not be perfectly structured to assist solar energy at this time, most RES legislation is tweaked over time to better suite solar energy.

OUR CONCLUSION

The proposed federal RES is a good beginning, and provides a decent foundation for future legislation. Although it may not be perfect for solar initially, it forces legislators to address the important issue of alternative energy development, and provides them with a blueprint with which to do so. Our guess is that the requirements, and the ACP, will likely increase on a state-by-state basis. In the meantime, renewable energy is able to put itself on the map, and we’ve taken the first step of many in diversifying our energy infrastructure and moving towards a more sustainable future.

Arlington, Virginia Commercial Scale Solar Development RFP

Notice to developers in the Washington DC metropolitan area: we want to share with you an RFP for commercial scale solar developments.

Arlington County has issued a Request for Proposals to pre-qualify multiple firms for installation of solar thermal and solar photovoltaic systems on County government buildings over the next 3 years. Pre-qualified firms will receive the Invitation(s) to Bid for solar installations. We anticipate these will range from 5 kW to 50+ kW in size.

As always, Sol Systems wants to remind our partners that we have SREC financing solutions to help you reduce the cost of your solar installations and win bids like these.

An Installer’s Guide to SREC Sale Strategies

by George Ashton

As a residential solar installer, you have without question been challenged by prospective customers regarding the high price tag of solar; a typical residential system (3kW in size) can cost between $18,000 and $24,000. Luckily, there are a number of incentives available at the federal, state, and local levels that you can present to your customers to help them realize that solar can be more affordable than often perceived. Federal and state incentives are relatively easy and straightforward to explain. The concept of selling SRECs, however, is more allusive and harder for customers to grasp.

Because SREC income can significantly improve a project’s economics (reducing costs by 20-40% depending on location) and can increase a customer’s return on investment, ensuring that customers understand their SREC options and take advantage of the sale options available will assist your business with closing more sales. This article provides an overview of SRECs and explains the pros and cons of different SREC sale options.

What Are SRECs?
An SREC is a tradable credit that represents the clean energy benefits of electricity generated from a solar energy system. Each time a solar system generates 1000 kWh (1 MWh) of electricity, an SREC is issued which can be sold or traded separately from the power. SRECs have high value in some states where there is legislation called a Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS). An RPS requires energy suppliers to either produce solar energy from their own projects or purchase credits from individuals or businesses that own solar energy systems.

How Are SREC Prices Determined?
RPS Compliance fee schedules dictate how much energy suppliers must pay for each SREC they fail to produce or acquire. As a result, SREC prices usually trade at or below the dollar amount of these compliance fees. In some states, the fee remains the same dollar amount year over year while in other states, like New Jersey and Ohio, the fee decreases over time which will result in a decrease of the price for SRECs over time.

SREC Supply
SREC supply will increase in the coming years. As solar panel prices fall, solar will become more affordable and more popular. As more solar systems are installed, more SRECs will be available on the market. Additionally, as credit markets continue to improve, more large projects will become financeable and built, resulting in more SRECs. Both of these trends will put downward pressure on SREC prices.

SREC Demand
SREC demand will also increase in the coming years. The demand for SRECs in a given state is set by RPS legislation that determines the overall number of SRECs energy suppliers are required to acquire each year, and this number quickly increases year over year in every state with an RPS. Because SRECs are a compliance commodity, if there are more SRECs supplied than demanded in a given state market, the pricing for excess SRECs will likely be equivalent to pricing seen on voluntary SREC markets, which today trade at $15-$30 per credit.

What are the Options for Selling SRECs and the Risks of Each Option?
Selling SRECs on the open market is analogous to day trading in the stock market. Your customers may make good money, but there is no certainty with regards to their long-term profitability. If SREC prices fall for any of the reasons mentioned above, they will receive a lot less for their SRECs. This option is best recommended for SREC sellers who do not rely on SREC proceeds to pay for the cost of a solar energy system and have a little extra time on their hands to monitor the market.

Selling SRECs into a long-term contract can be a strategy that provides adequate returns, but with less risk than selling on the open market. A typical long-term contract offers a fixed price per SREC for a 3-5 year term. By choosing this option, your customers will know exactly how much income they will receive over the contract term. However, the true value of a long-term SREC offer depends heavily on what supports that offer.

The most secure offers come directly from energy suppliers as they are the ultimate purchasers of all compliance eligible SRECs. However, very few energy suppliers offer contracts directly to non-commercial system owners. The next best offer is a contract from a select few SREC companies that back up their promises to purchase SRECs with their own long-term contracts to sell those SRECs to energy suppliers. These SREC companies have negotiated to sell your SRECs to energy suppliers at a specific price for 3-10 years at a time and can pass that guarantee on to you. Beware of SREC companies offering long-term contracts that have not negotiated fixed price long-term contracts to sell SRECs. If they have nothing to support their promises, and the market price falls, it will be difficult for them to honor your customer’s contracts.

Selling your SRECs for an upfront, lump sum payment is the SREC market’s version of a risk free investment; the return is a noticeably lower than the other options, but there is absolutely no risk. With this option, you will sell the rights to your future SRECs in exchange for a discounted one-time payment received close to the date of installation. You keep that money regardless of what happens to SREC markets. This option is recommended for solar energy system owners that are risk averse or having trouble with accessing financing through banks.

Educating your customers on all three SREC sale options and helping them evaluate their risk tolerance and financial needs will be a key strategy to selling more solar energy systems. The metrics presented in this article should help you identify the best route for your customers. Regardless of which option a customer chooses, monetizing their SRECs will play a critical role in financing their solar energy system.

George Ashton is Vice President and CFO of Sol Systems, a solar energy finance company located in Washington DC.

Solar Energy Gets Cheaper Than Nuclear Energy

The steady decline in solar photovoltaic system costs is helping solar electricity become cheaper than electricity from new nuclear power plants. In a recent report titled “Solar and Nuclear Costs – The Historic Crossover (1), Dr. John O Blackburn and Sam Cunningham of Duke University makes a strong case for utilities to adopt a distributed model of electricity generation. The study indicates that the cost of solar electricity is expected to reduce from 14 cents per kilowatt-hour in 2010 to 7.5 cents per kilowatt-hour in 2020 while nuclear-generated electricity will be 12-20 cents per kilowatt-hour. Moreover, rooftop solar plants can be installed in a few days whereas construction of a new nuclear plant can take up to 6 years.

Some solar critics argue that solar electricity is only affordable because of government tax benefits. While this may be true, nuclear also benefits from government aid – in the form of government backed insurance and loan guarantees. Meanwhile, the rapid cost decline of solar technology will help solar electricity reach grid parity by 2020. In contrast, nuclear power is yet to be cost competitive despite being operational for the last 40 years.

The power industry and the energy economy are undergoing a paradigm shift from a centralized power source to a more “distributed” power model. A 2007 report by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) (2) shows that 77% of new energy service demand is met by energy efficiency. These energy efficiency gains and most of solar supply are located in residential homes. The combination of energy efficiency, wind generation, solar water heating and solar photovoltaic technology has challenged the traditional model of centralized power generation.

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(1) http://www.ncwarn.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/NCW-SolarReport_final1.pdf

(2) ACEEE, “ A White Paper prepared for the Energy Efficient Finance Forum”

The Status of PACE Loans

Since their inception in 2008 in California, Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) loans have provided homeowners and businesses with the upfront financing necessary to implement energy efficiency retrofits as well as the installation of solar arrays. These loans are funded by municipal bonds at low interest rates and, in general, have a payback term of 20 years. Another benefit for borrowers is that they are only required to make payments on the loan annually through an increase in their property tax. In theory, the borrowers should gain more in combined energy savings throughout the year than they must pay out at the end of the year. As such, the idea quickly caught on with states across the country including Maryland, North Carolina, Ohio, and Virginia, all of which created their own PACE programs.

However, on July 6th, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) stated that these loans “present significant risk to lenders and secondary market entities, may alter valuations for mortgage-backed securities and are not essential for successful programs to spur energy conservation.”i The FHFA have taken this position because PACE loans are senior liens on a borrowers’ property, which means they take precedence over other mortgages. The FHFA oversees Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae and the organization believes this senior lien presents a risk to their mortgage portfolio. Currently, all PACE programs have been put on hold until further notice.

The FHFA needs to understand that PACE is a key component to the successful implementation of a sophisticated domestic energy policy. Many stakeholders have voiced their concern are trying to reverse or sidestep the FHFA’s resistance to the program. The State of California has filed a lawsuit against the FHFA, while numerous senators have introduced legislation that could potentially save PACE funding. Hopefully, they will prevail, since the program is a great way to create growth in the renewable energy sector and does not burden the borrower with high interest rates like many other lending opportunities. The most promising option appears to be a compromise in which the FHFA allows for a “pilot project” of between 10,000 – 300,000 homes to test out their concern over the perceived risk of this financing option.ii If approved, the success of this test cycle could lead to an increase in funding for solar energy systems.

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i Werthan, Jeffrey. “Federal Housing Finance Agency Warns About PACE Loans; Warning Communicated by FDIC,” Corporate Financial Weekly Digest < http://www.corporatefinancialweeklydigest.com/2010/07/articles/banking/federal-housing-finance-agency-warns-about-pace-loans-warning-communicated-by-fdic/>
ii Hiskes, Jonathan. “Fate of PACE clean-energy programs about to become clearer.” < http://www.grist.org/article/2010-07-20-fate-of-pace-clean-energy-programs-about-to-become-clearer/>

Sol Systems and Clean Currents Announce SREC Partnership

Sol Systems and Clean Currents, two pioneers in distributed solar energy finance and development, have partnered together. The collaborative partnership between Sol Systems and Clean Currents ensures more prospective solar energy system owners across the mid-Atlantic will have access to SREC financing, which makes generating solar energy both affordable and simple. “With Clean Currents’ accomplishments in context, it is a great honor for Sol Systems to announce this collaborative partnership” said Sol Systems CEO, Yuri Horwitz. Under the new partnership, Sol Systems will work with Clean Currents to ensure their customers continue to receive the highest value for the sale of their SRECs.

Clean Currents is a leading independent solar energy installer and clean energy broker, operating in the mid-Atlantic region. Clean Currents provides a diverse array of services, ranging from solar installations to power switch agreements for homeowners and businesses. Recently, Clean Currents provided Sol Systems with a Wind Renewable Energy Credit (REC) purchasing agreement that offset Sol Team’s entire business and personal carbon footprint. Clean Currents has been honored with such awards as the Maryland Green Company of the Year in 2010 and the DC Mayor’s Environmental Excellence Award in 2009. For more information about Clean Currents, please visit www.cleancurrents.com.

Sol Systems is a Washington D.C. based solar energy finance and development firm. With more than 1,000 customers across 13 states, Sol Systems has become a critical player in developing SREC markets and financing solar energy systems. Sol Systems currently offers long-term, fixed price SREC contracts, upfront SREC contracts, and SREC brokerage solutions in New Jersey. By utilizing Sol Systems’ options, customers can reduce solar installation costs anywhere from 20-40%. For more information about Sol Systems, please visit, www.solsystemscompany.com.

As New Jersey Announces a New Round of Solar Funding, SRECs Remain Prominent in Project Finance

After several weeks of uncertainty, the New Jersey solar energy rebate program set a start date of September 1st, 2010 for the third funding cycle for solar energy systems. Known as the Renewable Energy Incentive Program (REIP), the program has been extremely popular with New Jersey homeowners looking to take advantage of the state solar incentives. In the previous round of funding in April, 2010 more than 1,000 applications were received within the first week – despite the fact that incentives had been lowered from $1.75 per watt to $1.35 for residential installations. The popularity of the program caused a delay in the new round of funding which was finally confirmed last week.

The current cycle of funding will offer $0.75 per watt in incentives limited to the first 7.5 kW of solar installations. Excluded from funding eligibility are commercially owned systems as well as all systems over 10kW. The current rates mark the lowest incentive offerings by the REIP since its inception.

Overall the REIP program has been very successful in making solar energy more affordable. However, as REIP incentives are scaled down and applications for incentives are backlogged, homeowners interested in installing solar energy are relying more heavily on SREC income to finance their solar energy systems. New Jersey SRECs remain the most valuable in the country and as state incentives decrease, SRECs will play an even larger role in making solar energy affordable to homeowners across the state.

Currently,  NJ homeowners and businesses interested in SREC financing have three different options to monetize their SRECs, each of which are available through Sol Systems: multi-year fixed-price contracts (Sol Annuity), upfront payment for SRECs (Sol Upfront), and a short-term market-based option which allows owners to sell SRECs at their current spot-market value (Sol Brokerage).

For more information on Sol Systems products, please click here. For more information on solar energy rebates and incentives in the state of New Jersey, please visit the Database of  State Incentives for Energy and Efficiency.

A Call to Action

Approximately 50 miles off the coast of Louisiana lies the epicenter of one of the worst American environmental disasters in history.  Even now, over a month after an explosion rocked the offshore drilling rig, Deepwater Horizon, and sent it to the ocean floor, oil continues to gush out of the rupture in the well that BP had contracted Transocean to drill.  Initial government estimates placed the amount of oil that was leaking at 5,000 barrels per day, though this was recently revised upwards to 20,000 to 40,000 barrels per day.  Worst case scenario estimates from BP put this figure at 162,000 barrels per day, though this was later tempered down to 60,000 barrels per day.  Despite these dangers, why are we so reliant on oil?  According to the EIA, approximately 37% of America’s primary energy consumption comes from oil, partly because the resource is readily abundant, it is relatively cheap, and it works well with our current infrastructure.  This blog seeks to address these three points:

  1. Oil may be readily available now, but it is increasingly located in hard to access and costly places.  Reserves are either held by OPEC-member countries, or are waiting to be found in environmentally challenging areas such as the deepwater Gulf of Mexico.  The Deepwater Horizon was capable of drilling in water depths in excess of 10,000 feet, however, exploring for, and developing reserves from these frontier areas are expensive endeavors.  Some of the latest offshore drilling rigs cost operators over $500,000 per day to lease.  Compare that to the estimated $27 million per day that BP is spending to clean up the Oil Spill.
  2. One of the reasons why oil is relatively cheap is because the negative externalities aren’t fully factored into the price.  BP has already spent over $1 billion trying to contain and stop the spread of oil, but the true cost of the Oil Spill, including all of the untold liabilities, is anyone’s guess.  Oil has already made landfall on parts of the U.S. coastline, adversely affecting marine life and various ecosystems.  The radius of the contamination grows with each passing day, as the leak has been met with limited success in stemming the flow.
  3. Our current infrastructure handles the transportation of the resource relatively well (barring any accidents such as the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill off the coast of Alaska).  Oil can be transported from the wellhead to a refinery through complex pipeline and delivery systems, and ultimately converted into useable gasoline for automobiles.  However, like all industries, this infrastructure was not always there, and was subsidized in order to get it into place, much like what is happening to the solar industry now.

So why not turn to an alternative energy source?  When the true costs are factored into the price of oil, solar is a cost-competitive energy source that is readily abundant.  Empirical evidence[1] supports this claim, as the market for solar panels continues to ramp up.  It is important to note that much of this growth is driven by residential homeowners putting photovoltaic panels up on their rooftops, and not just large corporations installing 1 megawatt solar farms.  However, proper incentive structures such as a national renewable portfolio standard (RPS) program with a residential carve out, is vital to develop the proper infrastructure to address our energy needs.

The time to act is now.


[1] http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/rea/news/article/2010/04/us-solar-sees-38-growth-in-pv-capacity-in-2009

SAS New Solar Farm Coming Online

On October 16, 2009, SAS, a leader in business analytics software and services, announced that they would partner with groSolar and FLS Energy to develop a second solar farm on the company’s North Carolina headquarters campus.  The project should be coming online within the next few months and is slated to add 1.2 megawatts of capacity, which, in addition to SAS’s first solar farm (which came online December 17, 2008, and was designed by SunPower and installed by Southern Energy Management), would bring total capacity to 2.2 megawatts.  The incremental addition would generate approximately 1.9 million kWh/year, enough to power more than 200 homes.  Progress Energy would then purchase the generated energy for the public energy grid to go towards satisfying their regulatory requirements.

Under North Carolina law, 3.5 percent of energy sales must come from renewable sources by 2012, ultimately increasing to 12.5 percent by 2021.  As a result, utilities such as Duke Energy and Progress Energy have been relatively active in renewable investments over the past couple of years.  For example, Duke Energy entered into an agreement in 2008 to purchase the electricity produced by a 21.5 megawatt solar farm in Davidson, NC.  As a renewable energy source, solar power falls under these guidelines and fortunately for utilities, they can purchase up to 25% of their SREC requirements from out-of-state as the SREC market opens up in North Carolina this summer.

The two solar farms combined would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by more than 3,500 tons annually, the equivalent of burning 367,000 gallons of gasoline.  With the imposition of both federal and state incentives/regulations, companies are increasingly turning to solar power, as it reduces their carbon footprint, while at the same time making economic sense.  Going green no longer equates to doing so at a loss, and SAS is a prime example of a company that values both environmental stewardship and corporate profitability.

Sol Systems to Present at SEIA Solar Road Show

Sol Systems’ President and CEO, Yuri Horwitz, will be presenting at National SEIA’s road show conference on May 10, 2010 in Philadelphia.  The conference is tailored for small businesses and designed to give them the tools and information to maximize revenue and business growth.  Topics will include the following:

  • Latest policy and market information
  • SEIA’s installer campaign, including free marketing materials and legal resources to grow
  • New financing opportunities
  • State policies to benefit installers and their customers.

Horwitz will be presenting on the solar renewable energy credit (SREC) market and SREC financing for homeowners and businesses.  Horwitz will also be addressing market factors, such as supply and demand, for the Mid-Atlantic states.

The meeting will run from 10am to 4pm and will take place at the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania at the downtown Marriot Hotel.  For those interested in registering they can explore the opportunity here or register by email with pvdivision.rsvp@seia.org.