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Come on & Feel the Illi-Noise: Why 2015 Will be a Big Year for Illinois Solar


On September 29, the Illinois Power Agency released its draft 2015 Procurement Plan and a “Supplemental” Procurement Plan for Solar PV

Prepared in collaboration with Sol Systems Intern Mark Noll

On September 29, the Illinois Power Agency released its draft 2015 Procurement Plan regarding renewable portfolio standard (RPS) compliance for the state’s two regulated utilities, ComEd and Ameren – and then, on the very same day, decided to release a second “Supplemental” Procurement Plan for solar PV. The two plans both share great intentions for the best of interventions – and could bring projects with the right entrepreneurial conditions to glory.

Both plans call for the Illinois Power Authority to procure solar renewable energy credits (SRECs), but that’s where the similarities end. They differ with regard to funding, project eligibility, contract lengths, system requirements, and other factors. Sound confusing? It’s OK. We’re here to clear up the confusion.

The First Illinois Plan: Of the Four Procurements, Only Three Matter

The first, “regular” plan sets out the IPA’s 2015 plan for procuring power from renewables for those customers of the state’s two main utilities who have not “shopped” for electricity (most of Illinois’ residents actually have shopped for energy on their own, thanks to electricity market deregulation, and rely on their retail electricity suppliers for compliance). In addition, the IPA has set up a procedure for spending the hourly “alternative compliance payments” (ACPs) the agency has collected from retail suppliers. This is because unlike in many states, some amount of these ACPs are collected each year whether or not the suppliers are otherwise in compliance. It proposes to use ~ $13M of this funding to procure ~80,000 SRECs in one-year contracts.

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Ohio Opposition to Renewables & Solar Energy Mounts

Proposed fee could cost AEP customers $2.00 on their electricity bill.

Proposed fee could cost AEP customers $2.00 on their electricity bill.

Sacrificing renewables promised reduced prices for customers; but now could end up raising the bill for Ohioans.

Ohio’s electrical market structure has long been based on market forces such as varying supply and demand, rather than by political regulation. But recently, moving away from an economy driven, market based structure, to one driven by political whims, has not benefited OH ratepayers.  The result of this style of decision making has caused a change of heart on a previously supported energy initiative. Ohio’s recently elected conservative Senate, along with Gov. John Kasich, agree that renewables are too expensive to continue funding.

On June 13, the Senate passed Senate Bill 310 and effectively froze Ohio’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) and immediately halted all projects that solar developers and investors were working on. Not only did the construction of solar arrays freeze, but the prices of Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SRECs) associated with solar electricity production also plunged. Prices went from a prosperous and positive-trending $70/SREC to $30/SREC, and have not rebounded since. The SREC market in Ohio was not the sole victim of a market freeze; it also knocked the value of surrounding States’ (Indiana, Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia and Michigan) market prices.

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A Sixth YieldCo Goes Public as the Asset Class Has its First Anniversary

Today TerraForm Power Inc. (TERP), a spinoff from SunEdison (SUNE), had its IPO making it the sixth yield corporation or “yieldco” to go public since NRG Yield (NYLD) became the first yieldco one year ago.  High dividend yields and rising stock prices have encouraged a wealth of investment in these new companies. However, investors should be aware of the differences that exist between yieldcos and longer term risks associated with the application of this new corporate structure to the power generation industry.

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Ohio Becomes the First State to Freeze its Renewable Portfolio Standard

The passage of Senate Bill 310 (SB310) has frozen Ohio’s Renewable Portfolio Standard until 2017, making Ohio the first state to roll back renewable energy and efficiency measures.

The passage of Senate Bill 310 (SB310) has frozen Ohio’s Renewable Portfolio Standard until 2017, making Ohio the first state to roll back renewable energy and efficiency measures.

With the signing of Senate Bill 310 (SB 310), Ohio has become the first state to “freeze” its Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS). Ohio Governor John Kasich signed the bill into law on June 13th, effectively halting the state’s mandates for efficiency and renewables until 2017. Come 2017, these mandates will pick up where they left off when the freeze occurred, as opposed to the annual increases in renewable energy and efficiency measures that would have occurred with the RPS.

SB310 will significantly harm Ohio’s solar industry by driving SREC prices down in both the Buckeye state as well as the surrounding states such as Kentucky, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Indiana, and Michigan that sell their SRECs into Ohio. The bill faced tremendous opposition from health and environmental coalitions, as well as a group of 70 businesses and organizations, including Honda and Whirlpool, who urged Governor Kasich not to sign the bill.

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Sol Systems Seeks Renewable Energy Intern

Position: Solar Analyst Intern (position beginning in January 2014) targeted towards undergraduates

Description: The Solar Analyst Intern will assist with registration processes, administrative duties, and research tasks, and will be expected to provide clearly defined deliverables. The position will require attention to detail, excellent record keeping, and efficient allocation of time and resources.

Through this position, the Solar Analyst Intern will gain familiarity with solar legislation, solar finance mechanisms, industry news, and industry vocabulary, as well as new product development in a fast paced, start-up environment. This position provides a fantastic launching pad for a career in renewable energy. 

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Reaching Beyond the Roof: Three Strategies for Corporate Investments in Solar

The Compelling Solar Asset Class

There are many options available to corporations interested in investing in solar projects. The market for investing in solar projects is an expanding financial sector that provides corporate investors with an opportunity to diversify their investment portfolios and develop or expand tax credit platforms. In 2012, the volume of solar projects being installed in the United States grew 76 percent year over year, with 3,313 MW of projects built at an estimated value of $11.5 billion. These solar projects will provide enough electricity to power over 350,000 households in the United States. In 2013, it is projected that the asset class will grow by an additional 29 percent across residential, commercial and industrial, and utility scale solar projects.

Retailers and other corporations invest in solar through a variety of financing structures.

Retailers and other corporations invest in solar through a variety of financing structures.

Many corporations are joining retailers, tech companies, utilities, and major financial institutions in the solar space with investments both on and off their properties. In numerous locations, the rooftops of Staples, Best Buy, Wal-Mart, IKEA, Kohl’s, and others within the retail industry feature solar arrays. These retailers, as well as many other solar investors, secure reduced energy costs, tax benefits, and clean electricity for their stores, which further company-wide sustainability efforts and appeal to consumers.

Strategies for Solar Investments

There are three primary strategies for corporations to invest directly in the solar asset class and realize the benefits of solar energy: (1) purchasing electricity from an on-site or nearby solar project through a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA), (2) directly purchasing a solar project to provide free renewable energy to a company’s buildings or property, and (3) strategically investing in solar projects to secure long-term cash flows and significant tax benefits. Each is explored below.

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California Solar Incentive Alert: Re-MAT Feed-in Tariff Program

On October 1, 2013 California IOUs will begin accepting Re-MAT applications for qualifying facilities.

On October 1, 2013 California IOUs will begin accepting Re-MAT applications for qualifying facilities.

Pursuant to Senate Bill 32 of 2009, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) implemented the Renewable Market Adjusting Tariff (Re-MAT) program on July 24, 2013. The Re-MAT program is a Feed-in Tariff (FiT) through which customers can sell electricity produced by qualifying facilities* directly to the utility at a set rate for a term of 10, 15, or 20 years. The bill also raises state renewable energy targets from 500 MW to 750 MW, and increases the size cap on qualifying energy facilities from 1.5 MW AC to 3 MW AC. All investor owned utilities (IOUs) in California with more than 75,000 customers must participate in the program. Although all qualifying facilities are eligible to participate in the program, it is clear that solar will play a large role given the amount of attention the program has already gained with developers in the state.

The first round of solicitations for the Re-MAT program will begin on October 1, 2013, and will continue every two months thereafter until it is fully subscribed. The amount of time it takes for the program to become fully subscribed will depend on the ability for projects to be financed at the set energy price, which is one of the more unique aspects of the program. The base price is currently set at $89.23/MWh, pre-Time of Delivery (TOD) adjustments. This price is subject to adjustment after every solicitation depending on program participation.

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Renewable Portfolio Standards Face Stiff Opposition Across the Country

Renewable Portfolio Standards across the nation are under re-examination by state lawmakers, aiming to diminish or eliminate these Blog-Image-2-Feb-10-2012programs. Despite benefits to local economies and environments, some politicians and lobbyists feel the programs are unimportant. To date, a number of proposals have reached State Senate and House floors throughout the country. Many lawmakers hold that RPS programs across the board create unduly costs for electricity consumers and taxpayers in order to support an industry that should be able to stand on its own. However, organizations funded by oil and gas interests like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the Heartland Institute, and others have also played a strong role in fostering anti-renewables legislation across the country. Our company has been tracking the movement in many states and provides an overview of legislative progress thus far.

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S-REITs – The Closest Option to Public Solar Financing?

Solar finance is not a new concept, but it’s predominately controlled through private and business to business transactions. The limited availability of capital, combined with the risks associated with a still maturing solar market, leave developers with a higher transaction costs in the search of  financing for solar projects. Platforms such as SolMarket attempt to mitigate the challenges of solar finance by matching projects with an appropriate network of pre-qualified investors.

In the search for new sources of capital, topics of “real property” and REITs (Real Estate Investment Trusts) have arisen within the solar community. A REIT, as defined by the Securities and Exchange Commission, “is a company that owns – and typically operates – income-producing real estate or real estate-related assets.” REITs act similar to exchange traded funds where public investors can participate in a diversified pool of real estate investments without owning or purchasing property. Investors would earn a share of the income produced through the commercial site through dividend payments. Currently, there are two tests for REITs. First, the income test requires that 95% of income must come from approved sources (usually rent). Second, the asset test requires that 75% of its assets must be real property.

If the property definition for solar PV systems is changed through tax code reform, investors could begin to explore the potential world of S-REITs (Solar Real Estate Investment Trusts). S-REIT’s would allow for a more transparent, secure, and competitive method of financing solar projects. The pool of investors would expand beyond private investment funds, to retail investors and even pension funds. One of the most attractive features of a REIT is its exemption from corporate taxation, as long as it distributes 90% of income to investors. In the case of solar, the main challenge arises with the income test. Unfortunately, the qualifications of a power purchase agreement as a form of rent are, at best, questionable.

Of course, even if solar fulfills the requirements of a REIT system through PPA installments, PV systems are still considered personal property. A change in the property tax code has to occur in order for S-REITs to exist. One important definition by the Internal Revenue Service regarding real property includes “land or improvements thereon, such as buildings or other inherently permanent structures thereon,” (Section 1.856-3(d) of the Income Tax Regulations) while personal property is essentially everything else that you own.

While solar energy systems can be physically moved, they are often fixed for periods up to, and beyond, 25 years. The main inhibitor to establishing solar as real property is the concept that solar panels operate in a system.  That is, if the inverter or mounting is removed from a solar installation, the array’s functionality is reduced or completely eliminated.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory recently wrote a detailed report on S-REITs.

S-REITs are yet another innovation of the solar finance community. However, like other facets of the solar market, S-REITS face the challenges of complex state regulations and tax codes. While the concept may never come to fruition, the idea signals a greater demand for a more transparent, liquid, and stable solar market.

About Sol Systems

Sol Systems is a solar finance firm and a leader in financial innovation in the renewable energy industry. Since its inception in 2008, Sol Systems has partnered with 350 installers and developers to bring over 3,000 solar projects from conception to completion by offering innovative financing solutions for residential, commercial, and utility-scale projects.

Sol Systems’ financing programs catalyze investments for a broad set of solar projects by simplifying the origination, diligence, and financing processes. Developers seeking financing for projects can access over $2.5 billion in capital through the Sol Systems investor network.

In addition to providing financing, Sol Systems also offers project due diligence, deal structuring, and asset management services – all designed to reduce overhead and transaction costs and quicken project development timelines.

For more information, please visit

Life After the 1603 Grant: the Road Ahead

The following is a mutli-part series on the Cash Grant and the Road Ahead. It is part of Sol Systems‘ continuing efforts to provide the industry with the information and ideas (where we can) that we believe it needs to continue to succeed. For additional resources on project development, we recommend you join the SolMarket community, which provides a number of informational resources and the SolSmart suite of legal documents.

In February of 2009, the federal government passed ARRA, and the 1603 Investment Tax Credit (ITC) Cash Grant program with it. The Program effectively transformed what was traditionally an investment tax credit into a cash grant, awarded by the treasury, within 60 days of commercial operation. It was perhaps the single most important piece of legislation for solar in recent history, spurring huge growth in the sector, recently estimated to be 69% year over year. In January of 2012 the 1603 ITC Cash Grant will expire, and with it the ability for developers and investors to secure the cash grant in lieu of a tax credit.

So what’s next?  Well, let’s take a look.

Part I: Looking Back

Under the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, a 30% tax investment credit for qualifying renewable energy projects was extended through 2016, allowing owners of solar projects to offset 30% of a solar system’s cost through tax credits.  So long as a system owner had enough tax liability over the course of 5 years, he or she would be able to deduct 30% of the system’s gross cost from their federal taxes.

Because most solar project companies or developers working on commercial and utility-size PV projects do not generate enough taxable profit on their balance sheets to utilize the 30% tax investment credit (ITC), they had to seek a financial intermediary with the necessary tax liability to buy a stake in the project company and monetize these tax credits, what is commonly referred to as “tax equity investors”.  Tax equity investors are effectively companies with large balance sheets, traditionally banks and more recently larger corporations, which purchase tax credits to shelter otherwise taxable income, while also providing an essential financing tool for large renewable projects.

In 2007, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) estimated there were up to 28 tax equity investors, primarily financial institutions led Morgan Stanley, JP Morgan and others.  However, the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the financial crisis of 2008 effectively ended most of these companies participation in the tax equity market for renewables.   Several companies, such as AIG and Prudential, departed the tax equity market entirely because of bankruptcy or uncertainty about whether they would have sufficient taxable income.

II. The 1603 Program

In response, President Obama approved the Section 1603 Cash Grant Program (as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009), to effectively stabilize renewable energy market by providing $1.9 billion of cash grants in lieu of tax credits.  Under the 1603 Program, owners of a renewable energy system could simply apply for a cash grant to cover 30% of the system’s cost, regardless of their tax liability.

The 1603 Program catalyzed the solar market, with approximately 80% of solar projects opting for the cash grant, driving growth of 104% between 2009 and 2010 in the United States. As of mid-August 2011, 87% (2,095) of the 2,410 cash grants awarded under the 1603 program were provided to solar energy projects (although only 27% of the nominal value if these grants). Since October of 2010, the federal government has invested over a billion dollars in solar projects through the 1603 Grant Program.

Unfortunately for the solar industry, the Section 1603 Program is set to expire at the end of this year, and it appears highly unlikely that it will be renewed again.   With the expiration, interested parties without the necessary tax liability will again have to rely on tax equity investors to fully monetize the ITC.   The problem is twofold: (i) the tax equity market has not yet fully recovered and there are only an estimated 10 to 15 investors looking for tax equity deals and (ii) integrating tax equity into deal structures will significantly increase transaction costs, raise the costs of development, and potentially limit smaller deal sizes.

The result will be a bottleneck in 2012-13, where a substantial number of solar developers and other interested parties look to construct or own commercial-sized solar system, but only a select few can secure the requisite tax equity financing. This will mean a number of projects will not be developed, and those projects that do secure tax equity will see increased yields. Some projects are likely to seek safe harbor under the 1603 Program by securing 5% of the total costs of the system, but this strategy brings with it its own challenges.

So now, as we look towards the horizon, what’s next? What will happen to this 80% of the industry opting for the cash grant? Companies like Sungevity, Sanyo and Vivent are quickly lining up tax equity for the upcoming year, and some believe market growth will slow by up to 50% in the second half of 2012. Might these challenges be mitigated by solar modules priced below $1.10/watt? What creative solutions will our industry implement to meet these financing challenges?

Please join us(and others) next week for Part II of this Series: “Life After the 1603 Grant: Looking Ahead”

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 or visit

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.


Ms. Sudha Gollapudi, Director of Strategic Partnerships

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 or visit

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.


Ms. Sudha Gollapudi, Director of Strategic Partnerships

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

Carbon Markets: Carbon Credits, Carbon Offsets, and RECs

Due to the dramatic increase in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions over the past several decades, there have been different policy measures and regulations initiated in an attempt to reduce the level of GHGs, especially carbon dioxide. Governments and organizations can use a variety of tools to reduce GHGs, including carbon credits, carbon offsets, and renewable energy credits, however, all these tools share the same idea of putting a price on carbon.

One of the most common tools is the creation of carbon credit markets. A carbon credit is a generic term for any tradable certificate or permit representing the right to emit one ton of carbon or carbon dioxide equivalent. The carbon credit “cap and trade” mechanism used today is very similar to the methodology used for the U.S. Acid Rain Program, which was an emission trading program launched in 1990 aimed at reducing sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide levels. In essence, a regulator establishes a cap on the overall emissions of a group and then distributes emission allowances to the separate participants, up to the cap limit.

If a company’s carbon emissions fall below its assigned amount, then that company can sell their surplus of carbon credits to other organizations that may have exceeded their respective limit. Cap and trade schemes allow companies to buy and sell “credits” for many types of pollutants, such as acid rain, but the market for carbon credits is by far the biggest.

In 2007, the size of the global carbon credit market was approximately $60 billion, with over 23 million metric tons of carbon dioxide traded in the U.S. alone. Today, carbon credits are relatively cheap, but carbon markets will become even more important in coming years. Louis Redshaw, head of the environmental markets at Barclays Capital, predicts that “Carbon will be the world’s biggest commodity market, and it could become the world’s biggest market overall.”

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) first noted that a tradable permit system is one policy instrument that has been shown environmentally effective in the industrial sector. The carbon credit mechanism was formalized in the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement between more than 190 countries whose aim was to address the issue of climate change. Under the Kyoto Protocol, each country is issued an Assigned Amount Unit (AAU) of carbon credits, and they are entered into the country’s national registry, which is validated by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Countries who ratified the Kyoto Protocol set quotas for the emissions of local businesses and organizations, thus establishing a carbon market through a cap and trade scheme. The Kyoto mechanism has been used most notably in Europe, where the European Union Emission Trading Scheme (EU ETS) was established in 2005. The EU ETS is the largest emission trading scheme in the world. It employs a basic cap and trade model where the ETS imposes annual targets for carbon dioxide emissions on each EU country. The major carbon emitters in each country are then given national allowances that they can sell or purchase depending on their need.

The United States, however, did not ratify the Kyoto Protocol and there is no national cap on carbon emissions at this point in the U.S. Consequently, there is no mandatory cap and trade scheme in the U.S. for carbon credits. Nevertheless, carbon markets have still developed in the U.S. due to voluntary commitments from corporations to cap their emissions. The Chicago Climate Exchange (CCX) is a U.S. GHG-trading platform where members make a voluntary, but binding commitment to meet annual reduction targets. The members who reduce GHG emissions below their targets can profit from the surplus. In addition, several states have discussed carbon cap and trade programs, and California recently announced that they would in fact start a cap and trade program for carbon credits in 2012. More commitments like these and the possibility of a national cap in the near future will increase the robustness of the U.S. market for carbon credits.

Although cap and trade is the traditional route for reducing carbon emissions, “carbon offsets” are increasing in popularity. A carbon offset firm acts as a middleman by estimating the emission levels of a company and then providing opportunities to invest in carbon-reducing projects across the world. By investing in these carbon-reducing projects, a company can receive carbon offsets for the carbon emissions that its investments are removing from the atmosphere.

Carbon credits and carbon offsets are not the only financial mechanism for discouraging pollution; another common policy tool in the U.S. is the use of Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs). RECs are present in U.S. states that have adopted Renewable Portfolio Standards, which require local utilities to obtain a certain percentage of their electricity from renewable sources. RECs are also tradable commodities, but they represent the environmental attributes coming from the generation of one-megawatt hour of electricity by a renewable energy source. In general, RECs have much higher values than carbon credits, and solar RECs (SRECs) in particular tend to have very high values. Whereas carbon credits trade in the range of 0.30-$3.50, SRECs generally trade from 200-$650 per credit.

Today, carbon markets are still in their infancy in the U.S., but carbon credits, carbon offsets, and renewable energy credits represent great potential for reducing pollution and protecting the environment through economical, market-based approaches.

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

Comprehensive ACORE Report on Renewable Energy in the 50 States

Last week the American Council on Renewable Energy released an impressive report “Renewable Energy in America: Markets, Economic Development and Policy in the Fifty States ”; and it’s free. The interactive report provides an executive summary on a state by state basis of the capacity of renewable energy installed, the type of technology, a description of large economic developments, and a review the various policy and incentive structures intended to deploy renewable energy technologies. The report provides macro-level analysis on large trends occurring within the renewable energy sector in America, but more importantly, the report provides in-depth, yet digestible, sector and policy oriented analysis of renewable energy markets. We recommend this report to experienced professionals in the renewable energy sector, and also for those people interested just starting out and looking to learn more.

Ontario Solar Explained

Ontario Solar Explained

According to the Canadian Solar Industries Association (CanSIA), the Canadian Province of Ontario had only 2 Megawatts (MW) of installed solar electric capacity in 2008. In 2010 alone, approximately 100 MW of solar capacity has already been installed in Ontario. Furthermore, CanSIA expects the province to install nearly another 100 MW of capacity in the remainder of this year. The Ontario solar market is booming, and it is because a relatively nuanced Feed-in-Tariff (FIT) program launched in 2009.

A FIT is a production-based incentive, in which a solar energy owner is guaranteed a fixed, above-market price for the sale of their solar electricity over an extended period of time. As an example, in a FIT program, a system owner may be guaranteed a sale price of their gross solar electrical output for $0.20 per kWH for a period of 20 years; meanwhile the weighted average price of electricity could be closer to $0.08 in the system owner’s geographic region. This program allows system owners to secure a stable and significant source of revenue and an appealing return on their solar investment.

After an extended rule making process, Ontario launched its FIT program at the end of 2009. This FIT program is delineated into six different tranches, in which different Feed in Tariff values are determined by the size and type of the solar generator. Below is a schedule of the FIT value for each tranche, and an estimated cumulative value of the incentive in the column to the right (this column estimates the total value garnered for each KW of capacity installed). As the column furthest to the right indicates, investing in solar is not a risky decision in Ontario currently, but a quite profitable one.

The End of Renewables As a Political Issue

The International Energy Agency (IEA) recently noted that solar electricity could represent up to 20% to 25% of total global electricity production by 2050 based on their Solar Photovoltaic (PV) Roadmap and Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) Roadmap, which are meant to assist governments, industry and financial partners accelerate energy technology development and uptake. The report concluded that PV technology will become competitive globally by 2030 on the utility-scale in some of the areas with the best insolation given the right climatic factors. Further, the report indicates that PV has the potential to provide more than eleven percent of all electricity worldwide.

This analysis is good news for those of us in the solar energy space; however, the stated assumption is that governments, like the United States, will implement more concerted policies to facilitate solar energy. Even as some argue that solar energy will soon pass cost parity with nuclear energy, solar energy will likely remain at a competitive disadvantage to traditional fossil fuels unless governments implement policies that recognize the numerous positive externalities of solar energy.

One may wonder: is this political support likely in a country that has failed to pass a comprehensive energy bill? Are the key political drivers that change how our government engages and incentivizes the development of solar and other renewables changing? Will they in the future?

Answer: Almost certainly so. The political and economic interests that have prevented a significant comprehensive approach to solar energy and other renewable energies are changing, and will continue to change dramatically.
Perhaps the single largest driver for political change is the economic change that has taken place in this country in the last two decades. As detailed in a fascinating article in the Washington Post by David Callahan, the United States has moved from a country where thirty-seven percent (37%) of the wealth for the country’s top 400 individuals came from oil and manufacturing in 1982 to merely seventeen percent (17%) in 2006. An overwhelming number of the richest individuals (and the largest political contributors) now represent industries such as finance and technology.

The political implications of these changes are enormous. Currently, according to Open Secrets, an estimated 17.4 percent of all state and national campaign dollars come from the top 100 donors, a hugely disproportionate share. As the political clout of traditional energy wanes, the clout of other industries has grown.

As Callahan points out, although John McCain far outraised Obama among employees of energy and natural resources companies in 2008, pulling in $4 million from this group, Obama simply went elsewhere, and raised $25.5 million from the finance and technology sector. Similarly, he oil and gas industry has been a traditional source of GOP cash and was consistently among the top 10 sources of money for federal candidates for decades, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. In 2008, it moved down to 16th. The entire energy and natural resources sector gave $77 million in campaign donations while lawyers gave $234 million, more than three times as much.

Moreover, many of the individuals in the financial and technology sector are committed to renewable energy. Last year, for example, George Soros pledged to make $1 billion in renewable-energy investments and other billionaires, including Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, John Doerr and Vinod Khosla, are also investing in the sector. Companies are doing the same. Google recently became an independent power producer with the creation of its affiliate, Google Energy LLC, so that it could purchase renewable energy for its large data centers and also purchase energy futures to hedge against an increase in electricity prices.

To make things more interestingly, Google’s most recent purchase of wind energy was from NextEra Energy Resources. NextEra is none other than large utility Florida Power and Light, which changed its name in January of 2009 to better market its commitment to renewable energy. Other utilities, including Duke, First Energy, Pepco Holdings Inc. and others have all made similar commitments to developing renewable energy resources either through direct development, or by helping to finance other projects. Exelon Energy, for example, recently developed a 10 MW solar project called City Solar that will provide energy to over a thousand homes.

In sum, the economic constituency is shifting towards solar energy and other renewables, and so too will the political constituency. The new economy is producing a powerful group of companies and individuals that are committed to fundamentally changing the politics and economics of renewable energy; politicians, both Republicans and Democrats alike, will not be able to ignore this constituency.

The result is an emerging political consensus, among both Democrats and Republicans, traditional energy businesses and financial ones, that renewable energy resources like solar must be supported. This may be through a carbon cap and trade legislation, but more likely the proliferation of solar energy systems will occur through a more incremental approach such as a national renewable portfolio standard and economic incentives like solar renewable energy credits (SRECs). In either case, renewable energy will emerge in the next five years as a non-political issue, and our guess is that the required market incentives to ensure the success of solar energy and other technologies will be implemented.