Posts Tagged ‘Solar incentives’

Sara Rafalson

South Carolina Solar is Rising

South Carolina solar

The South Carolina solar market may grow to 300 MW. Sol Systems is actively seeking to invest in commercial solar projects in the Palmetto State.

After two years of negotiations, the South Carolina House of Representatives voted unanimously on new legislation to promote solar inthe Palmetto State. As a result of the South Carolina Distributed Energy Resource Act (S.B. 1189), Sol Systems expects the South Carolina solar market to expand from a mere 8 MW to 300 MW or more by 2021. Here’s how.

South Carolina’s New Solar Program

Under S.B. 1189, larger utilities (those who serve 100,000+ customers – effectively SCE&G and Duke Power) must obtain 2% of their average 5-year peak power demand from solar energy sources. Of this 2%, 1% must be comprised of 1-10 MW solar projects; the other 1% must be comprised of solar projects under 1 MW, 25% of which must be 20 kW or smaller. Here’s the breakdown of that 2%. Read the rest of this entry »

Erica Nangeroni

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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Jessica Robbins

New York Commits Another $1 Billion to Solar. Here’s What You Need to Know.

Will New York join Massachusetts and California as an enduring solar state?

Last Thursday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced an additional $1 billion in funding for the NY-Sun initiative, making good on his promise to extend the program through 2023. The funding announcement includes an overhaul of New York State Energy Research and Development Authority’s (NYSERDA) current incentive program, previously doled out through Program Opportunity Notices (PONs) with varying availability for different solar project sizes and geographies. The new program will take effect June 1st.

With this new initiative, solar should remain a crucial part of the Empire State’s energy portfolio

New York Solar Incentives Explained

The NY-Sun initiative, founded in 2011, coordinates solar programs between the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA, now PSEG Long Island), the New York Power Authority (NYPA), and NYSERDA. The new program, called “Megawatt Block”, will break out MW capacity allocations to specific regions of the state, and then further break down target capacities in each block. Solar incentives in New York will be awarded on a per watt basis for residential PV (up to 25 kW), small PV (non-residential up to 200 kW), and large PV (over 200 kW). Similar to the popular California Solar Initiative rebates, prices will step down as capacity blocks in each region and sector are filled, allowing the market to grow at a steady pace and eventually stand on its own. If the geographic preference follows the earlier program, we can expect to see preference given to areas downstate near New York City.

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Alejandro Neira

Palo Alto Feed-in Tariff Stalled by Lucrative Rebate Program

The City of Palo Alto Utilities (CPAU) has established various programs in the last few years to encourage solar development in the city. Despite space constraints that limit most projects to roof mounts and carports, the administration promotes two distinct initiatives designed to meet the statewide Renewable Portfolio Standard of 33% by 2015:

Photo Credits: Richard Masoner

Solar Panels at the City of Palo Alto Municipal Service Center

-       Palo Alto CLEAN, a feed-in tariff program

-       PV Partners Program, a rebate program that supports net energy metered (NEM) systems

On March 2012, CPAU launched the Clean Local Energy Accessible Now (CLEAN) program, in hopes to expand the production of cost-effective, clean local energy. This was an important step towards greater energy self-reliance, and for the city’s goal of supplying 33% of its electricity with renewable energy by 2015. The feed-in tariff pilot program was initially capped at 4 megawatts and it was targeted to medium-sized commercial rooftops with a minimum size of 100 kWs per installation. After opening the program for applications in April 2012, no applications were received at the initial rate of $0.14/kWh.

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Dan Yonkin

2013 Solar Industry Trends, Part 2: A Look at Geographical Markets

Dan Yonkin and Yuri Horwitz had the second part of their article “2013 Solar Industry Trends” published in the April issue of the Novogradac Journal of Tax Credits

2013_04

2013 Solar Industry Trends, Part 2: A Look at Geographical Markets  

Trends in the geography of solar development are determined by three primary drivers: solar insolation (the quantity of sunlight during the year), local electricity rates (the higher the rate the better) and local regulatory and incentive programs. Good projects are found where bountiful solar resources, costly electricity rates, and generous incentive programs overlap. Nevertheless, even if the first two factors are lacking, strong state and local incentive programs and regulations can singlehandedly determine favorable solar markets for financeable projects. In 2013, a number of new state and local programs, including programs in New York, Indiana, Georgia, Connecticut and Washington D.C., in combination with established markets, like California and Massachusetts, will drive solar development trends nationwide.

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Daniel Watson

Sol Systems Co-founders to Travel to New York as Solar Shines on Wall Street

The Sunshine Backed Bonds Conference will be held May 3rd, 2013

The Sunshine Backed Bonds Conference will be held May 3rd, 2013

On May 3rd, the Information Management Network will be hosting its first annual Sunshine Backed Bonds conference in New York. The event, aimed at introducing investors to solar as a viable asset class, will be located at the Union League Club in lower Manhattan. Sol Systems’ co-founders, George Ashton and Yuri Horwitz, will both be in attendance. George will be participating in a panel discussion entitled “Exploring the Role of Securitization in Renewable Energy Finance.” The conference will largely focus on large-scale financing opportunities available through securities, allowing typical developers to network with ABS investors seeking alternative financing ventures.
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Daniel Watson

Vermont’s 2013 SPEED Program Proposal Deadline Quickly Approaches

The first round of the Vermont Sustainably Priced Energy Enterprise Development (SPEED) program in its new competitive form will close on May 1st of this year. In March, the Vermont Public Service Board altered the structure of the standard offer program in Vermont, reducing the avoided-cost ceiling rate for solar projects and changing the mechanism used to determine which projects receive the offers. The ceiling rate for solar PV systems dropped to $0.257/kWh down from $0.271/kWh. This new rate is based upon a renewed analysis of the costs of solar production. Some fear that this price is based too extensively on the expected decrease in solar costs, as efficiency in the industry grows; however, this rate remains strong in comparison to other states. All avoided-costs for other energy sources have not been altered.

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Jessica Robbins

LADWP Approves First 100MW of 150MW Feed-in Tariff

On January 11th, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) Board of Commissioners voted to approve the first 100MW of a 150MW solar feed-in tariff program, designed to help Los Angeles achieve its renewable energy goals through 2016. The program could be open for applications as soon as February 1st, and will be released in 20MW increments every six months with reserves for smaller project sizes (30kW to 150kW). The maximum project size is 3MW.  The last 50MW will come before the Board for a vote in March, once the program is up and running.

Previously, LADWP launched a modest pilot program in spring of 2012 for 10 MW of capacity, only 3.7 MW of which will receive contracts at an average weighted price of $0.175/kWh. This average weighted price influenced the pricing for the larger procurement program which now has a set price of $0.17/kWh for 20 years. That pricing will gradually decrease for each 20MW of capacity contracted for under the feed-in tariff, eventually dropping down cent by cent to $0.13/kWh by the end of the program. 20MW increments will open for applications every six months. Ideally, the procurement program will gradually bring solar in Los Angeles in line with the average cost for other energy sources, program administrators hope, by the time the 30% investment tax credit (ITC) falls to 10% in 2016.

Not all feed-in tariff programs in California have found similar success. For instance, the city of Palo Alto released a small $0.14/kWh program in 2012 that failed to receive any applications, presumably because the set price offered was too low to lead to viable solar projects. While $0.17/kWh is above the current avoided cost for LADWP, officials decided to launch the program at higher-than-average prices in order to meet upcoming renewable energy targets. LADWP aims to get 25% of its energy from renewable sources by 2016 and 33% by 2020.

Because most of the capacity in this program will likely be sited on rooftops, site selection plays an important role in keeping costs reasonable and ensuring that the project is financeable. Sol Systems will be tracking the LADWP feed-in tariff closely as additional program materials are released. Should you have a project that you are bidding into the LADWP Program or have questions about financing for other California projects please contact info@solmarket.com. Our team would be happy to discuss your project with you and assess financing opportunities.

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 solar 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 their origination, diligence, and financing processes. Developers seeking financing for solar 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 www.solsystemscompany.com.

Think Tanks Suggest Overhaul of Federal Subsidy Programs for Clean Tech Industry

After peaking in 2009 at $44.3 billion, Federal spending to support clean energy will decline precipitously between 2009-2014.  The main driver behind this phenomenon will be the expiration of many programs established by the American Re-Investment and Recovery Act (ARRA) of 2009.  These programs include: the Treasury 1603 Grant Program, section 1705 of the DOE Loan Guarantee Program, and the Production Tax Credit (PTC) for the wind energy industry in 2012.  Coupled with declines of support in Europe, the formerly booming clean tech industry could experience a period of significant bust due to oversupply in both the European and American markets.  However, the expiration of such programs need not lead to the stagnation of this critical endeavor to bring clean technologies to cost competitive status.

Several think tanks including: the Breakthrough Institute, the Brookings Institute, and the World Resources Institute recently published policy recommendations that would create sustainable and efficacious alterations to current subsidization practices.  The report emphasized the importance of creating targeted and temporary policies.  Specifically, Federal support should focus on increasing R&D funding, accelerating advanced energy technology commercialization, strengthening advanced manufacturing capabilities, and supporting regional industry clusters.  Other key recommendations include:

  1. Establishing a Competitive Market – New policies should create market opportunities while fostering competition between technology firms.
  2. Providing Targeted and Temporary Support for Maturing Technologies – Perpetual subsidies are ultimately unsustainable and do not incentivize the rapid growth of economies of scale they are intended to create.  Deployment policies should terminate subsidies for technologies that fail to improve in price and performance or become competitive without a subsidy.
  3. Reducing Subsidy Levels in Response to Changing Technology Costs – Incentive programs should gradually decline as the technology performance and prices improve. This will save taxpayer resources and motivate firms to keep up with the “curve.”
  4. Providing Sufficient Business Certainty- While incentives should remain temporary, their structure and content should provide clarity for businesses and investors to make necessary decisions.
  5. Providing Ready Access to Affordable Private Capital- Incentives should seek to avoid high transactions costs, but also open up clean tech investments to larger private capital markets.

The suggestions by these think tanks advocate the replacement of the DOE Loan Guarantee program with more “flexible, independent, and sophisticated” financial tools designed to draw private investment into cleantech projects.  This can be accomplished through a variety of credit, standardization, securitization and investment mechanisms delivered through a Clean Energy Deployment Administration or other entities.  They also underscored the power of military procurement to leverage demand in the short term, as many clean energy technology can be used for both civilian and military activities (advanced vehicle technology, aviation biofuels, advanced solar power, storage technology, etc.).

Furthermore, these policies are believed to foster bipartisan traction in the legislative arena. They aim to reduce the impact on the taxpayer by maximizing the impact of public funds through targeted subsidization.  They also strive to utilize mainly private sector mechanisms, creating new markets in which private firms can thrive.

Read the full report by the Breakthrough Institute, “Beyond Boom and Bust: Putting Clean Tech on a Path to Subsidy Independence.

Sol Systems will continue to track any progress of this and any other initiatives supporting the solar industry on the federal level.  Please also check out our blog for updates on state legislation as well.

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 utilitiesmanage and meet their solar RPS requirements efficiently by providing them with access to diverse portfolios of SRECs. For more information, please visit http://www.solsystemscompany.com.

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!

Maryland & DC Promote Solar Thermal through SREC Markets

Solar Renewable Energy Credit (SREC) markets are comprised almost entirely of solar photovoltaic generators. However, recent legal changes offer opportunities for solar thermal developers to participate in two of the country’s most lucrative programs.

As a background, a solar renewable energy credit is a tradable commodity like a carbon credit. However, unlike carbon credits, an SREC signifies the environmental attributes associated with 1 MWH of electricity, or its thermal equivalent, produced by a solar energy generator.

The value of an SREC is derived by a state’s Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS). A RPS is a state-specific statute dictating that certain percentage electricity must come from renewable energy generators. Thirty-one states within the US have RPS statutes on the books. Of these thirty-one states, seven require a percentage of the renewable electricity production come from solar energy technologies (i.e. solar carve-out). These seven states also define a Solar Alternative Compliance Penalty (SACP), or the penalty a regulated utility or energy supplier must pay if they fail to acquire the dictated number of SRECs to meet the RPS. For example, energy suppliers in MD and DC must surrender $400.00 and $500.00, respectively, for each SREC they fail to acquire to meet the solar carve out defined within the RPS. The SACP functions as the price ceiling for an SREC market.

Currently, only a very small number of solar thermal generators participate in these SREC markets, because until recently solar thermal generators did not meet the definitional requirements of a solar energy generator within RPS statutes. However this is changing.

The SREC landscape for solar thermal generators is now open for system owners in MD and DC. Effective January 1, 2012, the Maryland RPS will allow solar thermal generators to earn SRECs. To earn SRECs in Maryland the following conditions must be met: (1) the system must be installed on or after June 1, 2011, (2) if the system is residentially owned, the facility must meet the Solar Rating & Certification Corporation’s (SRCC) OG-300 standards, (3) if the facility is commercially owned, the components installed must meet the SRCC’s OG-100 standards and an OIML certified meter must be installed to measure generation at the facility, and (4) the facility must be located within Maryland. To participate in the DC SREC market, (1) residentially owned systems must meet the SRCC OG-300 standards, (2) commercially owned systems must utilize components that meet the SRCC’s OG-100 standards and have an OIML meter installed to measure generation, and (3) pending new legislation, the facility must be located within the District.

In light of these recent legal changes, solar thermal developers can now participate in two lucrative SREC markets. In 2015 alone, the Maryland SREC market alone will have a ceiling value of over $100 million. Or, put another way, more than 195 MW-eq. of new compliance appetite is legislated in DC and MD over the next 3 years. To learn more about SREC options available to you, please visit www.solsystemscompany.com. As the country’s oldest and largest SREC aggregator, we can craft the solution that is right for you.

SRECs: Key Drivers in Solar Growth

Recent reports about both the domestic and global solar market have all pointed towards another year of remarkable growth. In fact, Bloomberg Finance identified Apple’s growth following the release of the iPad last year as the best analogy for the projected growth of the solar industry. Just a few days ago, the CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association announced that the “solar is the fastest growing industry in America”.

With this incredible growth, it is useful to examine the key drivers behind the acceleration of the solar market. One key driver is the continuous reduction in PV cost, as prices for solar panels have declined by around 75% in the past 10 years. Solar panel prices in the U.S. specifically are set to drop by U.S. $0.20 per watt in 2011, bringing the average panel price to U.S, $1.40 per watt.

The second key driver is government policy and incentives. German and Japanese governments have been two of the leaders in the solar industry because they have legislated high incentives for solar deployment at the federal level. In the United States, however, state policies and utilities have played a larger role in growth, which has been impressive. In fact, the U.S. solar industry experienced a year-over-year growth of 67 percent. Furthermore, this growth is no longer simply due to California; over 16 states installed more than 10 MW in 2010. Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) CEO, Rhone Resch said, “the Mid-Atlantic region is beating California as the largest market in the U.S. for PV installations”.

Solar growth in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern region is due primarily to policies at the state level, which include both incentive programs and Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS). These state programs award money to owners of solar systems to help offset the initial cost of the system. Renewable Portfolio Standards that include specific requirements for solar (i.e. solar carve-outs) mandate energy suppliers and utilities to generate or procure a certain percentage of electricity from solar or risk paying a steep Alternative Compliance Penalty (ACP).

Both measures have been effective, but solar carve-outs in the RPS represent a sustainable, market-based approach to solar financing. These solar carve-outs make Solar Renewable Energy Credits, or SRECs valuable, allowing solar system owners to realize the financial benefits associated with clean energy production. The percentage of solar electricity that energy suppliers must obtain increases each year until 2025 for most states with an RPS, guaranteeing that there will be a market for SRECs. Furthermore, an RPS is budget-neutral, and thus state governments do not have to worry about running out of funds prematurely, which has happened to several state solar rebate programs.

The Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern U.S. will have need for more than 3 gigawatts (GW) of new photovoltaic capacity by 2015, which is due in large part to these state solar carve-outs. The new capacity will be a mix of residential and business systems as well as utility-scale projects. Furthermore, with continued reductions in PV cost, there may actually be more solar deployment than is needed to satisfy the RPS. This makes the value of SRECs hard to predict in the short and long term; however, it does not change the fact that SRECs will remain an important piece of the solar financing puzzle for the next decade.

Looking forward, consistent and stable policies coupled with technical improvements will allow the solar industry to continue its remarkable growth.

The 2 SREC Markets

When talking with potential customers at Sol Systems, it is often interesting to hear the diverging views on the benefits and drawbacks of selling Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SRECs) through spot market agreements or multi-year contracts. With spot market brokerage-type agreements, SRECs are sold every month or quarter for the highest current price. Long-term contracts (often called forward contracts) are when a solar system owner locks into a fixed price per SREC for a multi-year term.

A solar REC, or SREC is a tradable credit that represents all the clean energy benefits associated with 1000 kWh of solar generated electricity. Solar system owners can monetize these SRECs because energy suppliers must procure a certain percentage of their electricity from a solar source or pay a steep Alternative Compliance Penalty (ACP). Therefore, energy suppliers look to buy large sums of these SRECs for each compliance year and naturally will attempt to buy these SRECs at a low cost. However, energy suppliers understand that the SREC market, like almost any commodity market, can be volatile and subsequently the majority of energy suppliers hedge their risk by buying some SRECs through the spot market, and some SRECs through forward contracts.

Since there is good reason to believe that SREC prices will trend downwards over time, energy suppliers will typically be able to negotiate lower prices for the SRECs they are purchasing in multi-year contracts than the ones they buy on the spot-market. However, for various reasons, energy suppliers and utilities don’t typically meet all their SREC needs with multi-year contracts (perhaps they want some flexibility for their solar obligations in case SREC spot market prices drop dramatically or they plan to build solar power plants so that they can generate their own solar energy). Thus there are two distinct markets for SRECs: the spot market and longer-term agreements.

For an individual owner of a solar energy system, the decision of which market to enter is all about risk preference and their view of future SREC prices. Customers who are willing to accept more risk because they believe SREC prices will remain high are going to prefer a spot market solution, like the Sol Brokerage option, where Sol Systems acts as a broker and seeks out the highest SREC price. The spot market option allows customers to maximize their revenue from SRECs provided there is strong SREC demand in the market into which they are selling. Furthermore, it does not lock them into an agreement that will prevent them from taking advantage of an unexpected increase in SREC prices.

Other potential customers may be more risk adverse and would prefer for Sol Systems to take on the majority of the market risk. In that scenario, the customer may find it more appealing to lock into a fixed price per SREC, through an agreement like Sol Annuity, for the next 3 or 5 years. A fixed price allows clients to more accurately calculate their payback period as well as shifting risk away, even though they may be giving up some revenue per SREC.

However, in states like Pennsylvania and D.C., customers who entered into long-term contracts with Sol Systems several months ago will be receiving higher prices per SREC that those available on today’s spot market because the market in those states became oversubscribed. Thus in these examples, the multi-year contracts will actually maximize revenue over the course of the agreement. States like New Jersey and Massachusetts currently have very robust SREC markets and high spot prices, meaning many customers are likely to prefer Brokerage agreements because they can see those rates are higher than the Annuity prices. Yet, if those states follow the trend of DC and Pennsylvania and become oversubscribed, the solar REC price may drop substantially at some point.

For the individual customer, there is no “right choice” on how to sell SRECs. It truly depends on their risk preference and market outlook. However, for the SREC market overall, long-term contracts are more desirable because they provide stability, consistent volume, and liquidity. At Sol Systems, we have been able to enter into multi-year agreements with energy suppliers for the sale of SRECs, which has allowed us to become a preferred supplier instead of the supplier of last resort. This is important because it allows us to back up our contracts to solar system owners with agreements and provide them with reliable ways to ensure their solar energy investment pays off.

Why Installers Need to be Careful about the Future Value of SRECs

Solar Renewable Energy Credits, or SRECs, are a key part of financing solar PV systems, typically covering 20 to 40% of installation costs. Therefore, it is critical that solar installers, homeowners, and businesses be prudent when projecting future values of 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. SRECs are financially valuable because many states have Renewable Portfolio Standards (an RPS) with specific solar carve-outs that require energy suppliers to incorporate a certain percentage of solar generated electricity into their portfolio. Most energy suppliers do not have enough solar capacity to satisfy the RPS requirements with their own power and subsequently must purchase SRECs to meet the state requirement. This allows owners of solar systems to trade their SRECs as commodities and receive payments for them.

SRECs have functioned as an important tool for making solar systems more affordable, and therefore SRECs are typically a significant part of the sales pitch that installers use when explaining the economic benefits of going solar. Furthermore, as state grant and rebate programs diminish, SRECs represent a bigger piece of the way to finance solar. For example, in Ohio and D.C., state funds for solar rebate programs are currently depleted, and homeowners must now rely solely on the federal tax investment credit, SREC payments, and energy bill savings to offset the cost of their system.

In many states, the RPS requirements (that make SRECs valuable) increase annually until 2025. This leads some people to assume that SREC values will also increase annually as energy suppliers will need to purchase more SRECs to meet the solar carve our requirement. However, this is not necessarily the case. The amount of solar capacity is increasing along with RPS requirements, which means that in most states, the SREC values are actually coming down. For this reason, installers need to be honest and careful when describing the future value of SRECs, so that customers do not have false expectations about the ROI of their solar energy system.

In addition to the RPS requirement, the two key factors in determining SREC values are the Solar Alternative Compliance Penalty (SACP) and SREC supply.

The SACP is a fee that a regulated entity must surrender in the event they do not procure a sufficient amount of solar electricity. This fee acts as a price cap because a rational energy supplier would not be willing to purchase SRECs for greater than this value. The SACP is defined on a state-by-state basis, and virtually every state has a declining SACP schedule. For example, in Ohio the SACP declines by $50.00 every two years. The SACP alone will not determine the value of an SREC, but a declining SACP schedule will push the maximum value of SRECs down over time.

The supply of SRECs in the market is another essential factor to consider when predicting future values. Naturally, if there is a surplus of SRECs, then SREC prices will come down. This dynamic has already happened in states such as Pennsylvania and D.C., and solar system owners that locked into a long-term fixed contract are receiving higher values than those trying to trade on the spot market.

Since there is a lot of uncertainty about the future of SREC values, installers should make it clear that SRECs are a commodity and that their pricing can be quite volatile. They should also help their customers make an informed choice about how to sell their SRECs that accommodates their tolerance for SREC market risk. Installers will find that customers who have a good understanding of the SREC market volatility may be willing to accept a lot of risk and enter shorter contracts because they are bullish on the future of SREC markets. However, others may be risk adverse, and would prefer to lock in a fixed price for their SRECs for 3, 5, or even 10 year periods.

As long as installers adopt a cautious approach when discussing SRECs with clients, customers will sort themselves along the lines of risk preference.

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.

An Outlook On Solar in 2011

Competition is stiff in the solar manufacturing industry, with companies like Evergreen announcing their departure from the United States to China in order to reduce costs. Enormous global module supply has come online in the last two years to help fuel the rapid build-out in Europe, China and elsewhere, resulting in dramatic declines in solar module pricing. Some, like Gleacher and Company, are modeling module prices at around $1.30/watt right now. Others are actually predicting wholesale module costs at $1.10 in the next few weeks.

The result is a strange dichotomy of a manufacturing industry undergoing rapid growth and simultaneously undergoing a stressful reallocation of resources and a fairly pessimistic outlook on Wall Street. The WilderHill Clean Energy Index, which includes solar and other alternative-energy stocks, fell 5.3 percent last year, compared with a 12.8 percent rise in the Standard & Poor’s 500 index. Companies like SunPower, Yingli, JA Solar, Trina, Canadian Solar, MEMC, Suntech and others all produced significant negative returns, some upward of negative 20 percent.

This fall in module prices, and the corresponding difficulties for module manufacturers, will likely continue through 2011 as the world’s top solar market, Germany, further cuts its solar subsidies and a growing supply of photovoltaic modules outstrips demand, putting pressure on prices and producers’ profits. As others have noted, a weak euro will compound the problem for Chinese and U.S. manufacturers. Last year, Germany, Spain, France, Italy and Czech Republic all cut back their solar subsidies. Further cuts are expected in Germany and France in the first half of 2011 and in Italy in the second half. Those three markets account for around 70 percent of the global market, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Next year may be the first year in which more solar is built in the United States than in Germany.

For the solar installer and developer community this is presumably welcome news (ignoring the risks, of course, that similar reductions in incentives may take place here). As solar module costs decline, so are total system costs since modules compose a significant portion of the overall costs of a solar system.

However, cost reductions do not uniformly impact the solar community. Because of economies of scale, module costs account for a much larger portion of commercial-sized solar system’s costs than residential. The impact is still more powerful with regard to utility sized projects. As a result, falling module costs disproportionately benefit larger systems, as illustrated the figure below (care of SEIA).

Not only are commercial and utility costs already significantly lower than residential costs, they are also falling more rapidly. Indeed, utility projects are falling in price at three times the rate that residential projects are. This is an interesting window into the solar industry in the United States, which is that solar systems will undoubtedly get BIGGER.

To compound this trend, as states drastically reduce or altogether cut their rebate and grant programs for residential and small commercial systems, the economics that once favored smaller projects are starting to disappear. States like New Jersey, California, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Ohio and many others have all gutted their tax-funded rebate or grant programs. American Recovery and Reinvestment monies that flowed through the states in much of 2009 and 2010 are nearing their ends. Although module costs are falling significantly, they are not falling (nor could they) by two to three dollars a watt , which was often the size of grant and rebate monies. The result is a further shift upward in size. In Massachusetts, for example, given the emphasis on a solar renewable energy credit (SREC) market, many developers are starting to focus exclusively on commercial and utility scale projects.

For residential focused installers and developers, this may be an opportunity or a challenge. Presumably, those firms that can secure large economies of scale in purchasing power will better weather these changes than those that cannot. Additionally, because size matters, the industry may see consolidation. Hopefully, it will also see aggregation or collaborative models, where residential and small commercial installers work together to secure better financing opportunities and engineer more sophisticated acquisition models. This, of course, is a primary focus of financing firms like Sol Systems. Additionally, power purchase agreements and lease agreements may gain prominence if effective costs rise for residential customers in the absence of rebates.

For commercial and utility developers, a move upward in size means a necessary move towards more complex financing instruments. It becomes a bit more difficult to make a pure equity play on a multimegawatt project – a blended debt/tax equity/first loss equity product is typically required to reduce risks and bring down the costs of capital. To see this approach succeed, the capital markets will have to open further to solar projects. A lack of access to debt markets and tax equity was a big part of what has slowed the growth in wind and large-scale solar in the last few years. So this may be a challenge. On the other hand, Chinese banks continue to push into the US market to debt finance multi-megawatt portfolios, so it may not only be Chinese modules the US industry is using, it may also be Chinese money.

In sum, as the industry grows, there will be a continued movement towards larger projects. To succeed, players will have to become more sophisticated. This will favor players in the residential space who are able to collaboratively or individually leverage economies of scale and acquisition models and players in the commercial and utility space who are able to better secure complex financing instruments.

Which is more efficient – RPS or Feed-in-Tariffs?

Two of the most popular policy models administered to stimulate the deployment of solar energy are Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) and Feed-in-Tariffs (FITs).

RPS programs with a solar carve-out define a set percentage of electricity that each utility or energy supplier must procure from solar energy generators. To comply, an energy supplier can develop its own solar projects, or procure Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SRECs) from SREC aggregators or individual solar energy system owners.

In contrast, a FIT is a solar energy subscription program in which a solar energy owner can sell their electricity at a premium to the government or regulated energy suppliers. The solar electricity premiums, like the one in Ontario, Canada can be very lucrative. The stable cash flow from a state body minimizes the risk for the financier. The returns are defined for a 20-year period, the O&M costs of the facility are typically very low, and the project developer can seek financing with the FIT contract in hand.

These two policy models share similar objectives; they accelerate the deployment of solar energy technologies, build economies of scale that reduce technology costs, and carve out a space for solar within the electricity market. Both models also have unique strengths and proven track records of creating exponential growth in solar energy markets.

In some circles, FITs are held as the gold standard in stimulating solar development, while RPS programs are held in a lesser regard. Advocates of FITs can point to solar success stories like Germany and Ontario, Canada and like to discuss how a FIT could be effectively administered in America. Yet, these discussions are premised on the assumption that FITs are better for solar than an RPS. In an attempt to reframe these discussions, we would challenge this assumption and suggest that, in the mid-term and long-term, an RPS program is a more sophisticated policy instrument which is capable of creating a healthier and sustainable solar market.

The fundamental difference between the two models is that an RPS is a self-correcting model based on incentivizing individuals through secondary markets, while a FIT is a subscription program that sustains a solar market to the extent that governments continually allocate sufficient funds or political will. FITs allow solar developers to secure long term financing for solar development, but they do not create an incentive structure which encourages developers to continually reduce costs. An RPS program, as compared to a FIT, does not provide such security. In states with an RPS and an SREC market, system owners recoup their investment through the Investment Tax Credit (ITC), local rebates or incentives, and through the sale of SRECs.

While the ITC and state rebates tend to be reliable, the value of SRECs on the spot market can fluctuate dramatically over short periods of time. This spot market variability thus creates risk for the system owner and financier. And, if we were to stop the analysis here, it might seem clear that FITs are better for solar energy than an RPS. However, this conclusion would overlook the mid-term and long-term growth of solar markets in favor of robust short-term growth (and it would also ignore the fact that system owners can lock into multi-year guaranteed rate SREC contracts).

In fact, one should recognize that the price fluctuations in SREC markets are a result of supply and demand, and are part of the way that RPS markets adjust themselves. The supply is set by the amount of solar energy installed, and the demand is defined by the compliance requirements as established in the RPS. In the event a solar market witnesses exponential growth in solar development and SREC supply outpaces growth in demand, prices will be pushed down for SRECs.

And, to be clear, this is the goal of both an RPS program and a FIT: drive economies of scale and create a competitive market for solar technologies. If prices are pushed downwards in SREC markets, system developers will be incentivized to reduce the costs of the development in order to maintain margins. In the event prices are too low, the supply of SRECs will be short, energy suppliers will be required to pay higher prices for SRECs, and the market will receive the stimulus needed to push development forward again.

In a state with an RPS program and a robust SREC market, the winners will be those that can stay ahead of the curve in developing systems at lower and lower costs compared to other developers. The losers will be those that continually lag in developing systems at lower costs compared to other developers in the market. In so doing, an RPS program creates competition in the market that will ultimately drive down the costs of solar energy and make it more affordable for more people.

FITs, on the other hand, do not create the same sort of competition between developers to reduce costs. Depending on the FIT premium and the payment schedule, developers can maintain strong margins whilst making no investments in efficiency. The result is FITs can become oversubscribed, burn through allocated funds, and then come to a halt because the market never weans itself off of the crutches of government support. Because of the amount of capital required to fund these programs, FITS are also subject to political scrutiny, and if political change occurs, it can wipe a market out almost overnight (i.e. Spain).

For all these reasons, we would conclude that short-term FITs can create spectacular growth in solar markets, but are less sustainable compared to an RPS program which can adjust to the basic laws of supply and demand.

About Sol Systems:
Sol Systems is a Washington D.C. based solar finance and development firm that is committed to making solar energy more affordable. We enable homeowners, businesses, and solar developers to finance their solar energy systems by providing a conduit for solar renewable energy credit (SREC) monetization and long-term price stability. With more than 1,200 customers across 13 states, Sol Systems has become a critical player in developing SREC markets and financing solar energy systems. We are proud to be the oldest, most sophisticated, and largest SREC aggregator in the country.

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.

The Difference Between SREC and Carbon Markets

People outside the solar energy industry often refer to Renewable Energy Credit compliance markets as “carbon markets”, and solar renewable energy credits (SRECs) as “carbon credits”. This is a common misconception, so we wanted to flesh out the underlying similarities between SREC and carbon markets and then clarify the differences.

Carbon markets and SREC markets both utilize tradable permits, and market incentives, to achieve policy objectives. However, whereas carbon markets are established to reduce a pollutant and correct a market failure, SREC markets are established to incentivize the production of solar energy and create value for individuals investing in solar.

The underlying similarity between SREC and carbon markets is that both markets are based on the use of tradable permits. In markets with tradable permits, a new commodity is created through the passage of a law. The law requires regulated entities to obtain compliance permits, and in so doing creates a price signal which affects behavior and markets. In the case of mandatory carbon markets, like the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative in the Northeastern US, a regulating agency is given the authority by a law to regulate emissions of greenhouse gasses.

Hypothetically, the regulating agency tells a utility it can only emit 10 tons of pollution in 2011, and then gives the utility 10 carbon credits (each credit equal to 1 ton). The utility can either (1) emit 10 tons of pollution and surrender back the 10 credits to the regulatory agency, (2) emit less than 10 tons pollution and sell the excess credits to another utility or market actor, or (3) emit more than 10 tons of pollution and purchase credits from another utility or market actor. The decision the hypothetical utility ultimately takes is based on its own marginal costs of abatement (i.e. the cost of not emitting greenhouse gas) versus the market value of the carbon credit.

SREC markets share this market structure with carbon markets, and this is why I think people new to the SREC market often inadvertently confuse SREC markets with carbon markets.

However, SREC markets are entirely different than carbon markets in both intention and function. Whereas carbon markets utilize market forces to identify the most economical manner to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, SREC markets incentivize the creation of a new market and a new source of renewable energy. SRECs can be created by individual homeowners that have invested in solar energy, and these SRECs (paired with tax credits, rebates, and energy savings) can make the solar energy system affordable. Companies like Sol Systems can work with solar energy system owners to monetize the SRECs, and achieve the best value for the sale of their SRECs through long-term contracts. By aggregating customer’s SRECs into a large portfolio, Sol Systems can sell SRECs directly to energy suppliers and utilities through long-term agreements that bring security and value to both the utility, and the customer that has invested in solar.

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.

Long-term SREC Contracts to Secure Financing for Solar Power Projects

An article recently posted in the Novogradac and Company Journal of Tax Credits discusses the implications of securing financing for solar energy developments utilizing long-term SREC contracts (as opposed to state rebate and grant money). We recommend reading the full article, but we wanted to provide a quick analysis of its central points, and follow up on the central strength of long-term SREC financing that this article misses.

The article observes that regional and state solar grant and rebate programs are being cut back as cash strapped governments find ways to reduce costs. In replacement of the grant and rebate programs, states (like Massachusetts) are instituting performance-based incentive structures, also known as Solar Renewable Energy Credit (SREC) markets. The subsidy for solar development is tied to performance, the value of the subsidy is determined by market and regulatory forces, and the costs of funding the subsidy are distributed to regulated energy suppliers and their customers.

The article concludes that securing long-term contracts for the sale of SRECs provides a solar energy developer with better leverage to secure financing for his or her project because the SREC contract provides a stable revenue stream for the financier. We agree in full. The article also notes, “prices offered in contracts could likely be either the floor price or something perceived as substantially below market”. While this point may appeal to those bullish on the future of SREC markets; we think this article misses a fundamental purpose of SREC markets.

The intended goal of SREC markets and Renewable Portfolio Standards is it to stimulate economies of scale for solar development, driving down manufacturing and installation costs thereby pushing solar energy markets towards grid parity (i.e. making solar electricity competitive with fossil fuel generated electricity). As solar development costs continue to decrease and the number of solar energy projects increases, the supply of SRECs on the market can quickly outpace the demand created by SREC Alternative Compliance Payments which would cause the floor price of SRECs to fall. For example, in Massachusetts the floor price is currently determined by the Clearinghouse Auction price of $285.00. In the event an energy supplier could broker with project owners to secure SRECs at a value below $285.00, the Clearinghouse Auction would freeze up and the market would find a new bottom.

We think one of the reasons investors often favor long-term SREC contracts instead of spot market transactions is precisely because there is certainty about the SREC floor price. Aggregators like Sol Systems, who manage a portfolio of SRECs through long-term contracts with energy suppliers, provide both a stable cash flow for the project developer as well as security against the intended consequence of a successful SREC market and Renewable Portfolio Standard. And, herein lies the paradox: a successful and vibrant SREC market creates exponential solar development, which drives down SREC values and leads to a mature solar market that does not require an SREC market.

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.

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.

A Secondary Market for SRECs In California?

In California, the environmental attributes of solar electricity are bundled with the electricity; in fact, they are not allowed to be separated. For this reason, the environmental attributes of solar-generated electricity, or Solar Renewable Energy Credits are not tradable as compliance commodities. This means there is no secondary market for Solar Renewable Energy Credits (“SRECs”) in California. However, this may change.

The people of California have been trying to create an SREC market since 2006 when the California Assembly passed Senate Bill 107 (the “Bill”). This Bill granted authority for the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to develop and administer a secondary market for Tradable Renewable Energy Credits (TRECs).

Three years later, in March 2010, the CPUC issued a decision establishing the rules and regulations that would structure California’s future secondary SREC market. The regulations proposed an alternative compliance penalty of $50.00 for 2010 and 2011; this amount would effectively serve as the ceiling value for the TRECs. (This is a relatively low value when compared to more robust SREC markets such as New Jersey and Maryland). However, the CPUC sidelined their decision in May 2010, and that is where the secondary SREC market sits today in California. The decision was sidelined in response to concerns expressed by investor owned utilities (IOUs) and energy suppliers.

However, a new bill in the State Assembly proposes a legal framework for a secondary SREC market in California. The details of this new bill are not firm enough to offer a good viewpoint on what a future SREC market may look like in California.

In the meantime, California solar energy system owners must sell their electricity and attributes bundled.  Systems sited outside of the state of California can enter into Power Purchase Agreements with California IOUs, to sell their bundled electricity and attributes.  However these systems must be located within the Western Regional Energy Generation Information System (WREGIS).  If, and when, California’s laws change, Sol Systems will be there to develop the SREC market for our customers.

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”

Update on Proposed Changes to Solar Investment Tax Credit and Section 1603 Grant Program

A discussion draft of the Domestic Manufacturing and Energy Jobs Act of 2010 was introduced by acting Chairman of the House Way and Means Committee last week. The Chairman’s discussion draft (the “Bill”) proposes significant changes to the current federal incentive structures for renewable energy.

One major change is that the Bill allows the Section 1603 Grant program to expire. Section 1603, which was funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), allowed companies who installed solar energy systems to receive a cash grant in lieu of Investment Tax Credits or Production Tax Credits. In other words, a business investing $100,000 in a solar energy project could receive a one-time payment from the Treasury for $30,000. This allowed businesses who did not have a tax appetite (due to the recession of 2009-2010) to receive the same financial benefits as they would have received with a tax credit. (Click here for more information on Sec. 1603 Grants).

In place of renewing Section 1603, the Bill would allow the taxpayer to elect a refundable deemed tax payment in lieu of the Investment Tax Credit or Production Tax Credit. Using the example above, a deemed tax payment means that the $30,000 cash grant would be treated as a $30,000 tax payment. In the event that $30,000 exceeds the actual tax liabilities of the business, the taxpayer could file for a refund. Treating the ITC and PTC as refundable deemed tax payments means the system owner will likely need to wait longer to receive the value of the federal incentive, but would not need to have the full tax appetite to fully utilize the subsidy.

Sol Systems will continue to track this and other solar legislation.

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.

Update on New York Solar RPS

The New York State legislature recently introduced Bill S7093 (the “Bill”), its response to the growing appetite for solar energy in America.  The Bill contains draft legislation to effectively grow solar photovoltaic capacity to at least 5,000 megawatts (MW) by 2025, with interim targets of at least 500 MW by 2015 and 1,500 MW by 2020.  This is an ambitious target when viewed in comparison to existing capacity of approximately 34 MW at the end of 2009.  In addition, New York is positioning itself as a major player in the solar industry with higher solar PV targets (by capacity) than its neighboring states, with the exception of solar heavyweight New Jersey.  Aside from the obvious environmental benefits, the draft legislation, if enacted, is estimated to create 22,200 new jobs as well as boost GDP by $20 billion.

In terms of specifics, at least twenty percent of each energy supplier’s annual SREC obligation shall be met through the purchase of SRECs from retail distributors of solar energy generation (i.e. less than 50 kW systems), and at least an additional thirty percent of the obligation shall be met through retail distributed energy generation of any size.  As a result, this promotes a more distributed use of solar energy due to the combined 50% SREC purchase requirement from retail distributors.  Furthermore, the Bill requires energy suppliers to purchase at least 75% of their SREC compliance obligation from systems owned by an independent third party. This effectively provides for a robust secondary SREC market.

While this may seem like a win for solar enthusiasts, certain ambiguities contained in the Bill makes it toothless.  Specifically, the alternative compliance payment (ACP) is not mandatory.  According to the Bill, the New York Public Service Commission is charged “… to establish an alternative compliance payment that electric distribution companies may pay in the event they cannot meet their annual SREC obligation [Emphasis added].”  Without tougher language for enforcement, Bill S7093 may be ineffective.  We look forward to tracking the development of this Bill, and will be sure to keep you posted.

Delaware Senate Passes Amendment to Strengthen RPS

On June 30th, the Delaware House of Representatives voted to pass an amendment to Senate Bill No. 119. The bill would strengthen the RPS requirement and increase penalties for non-compliance. Taken together, these measures will improve the growth prospects for the solar industry.

The legislation ramps up the amount of renewable energy required in Delaware from 20% in 2019 to 25% by 2025. The proposition also raises standards for solar energy, from 2.005% in 2019 to 3.5% by 2025. Short-term solar energy prospects in Delaware are addressed by increases in annual targets for solar that move to .2% by 2011 (previously .048%) and .354% by 2014 (.8%).  The new targets ensure immediate incentives for the development of solar energy and will be seen as welcome news for regional installers and developers as well as Delaware homeowners interested in financing their solar energy systems.

The legislation has different effects on electricity suppliers in Delaware. The fine administered to utilities for non-compliance, known as the ACP, is raised to $400 per MWH (it was previously set at $250). As previously legislated under SB-119, a $50 increase in the ACP will be administered annually to non-compliant utilities.

A new provision in the amendment grants the State Energy Coordinator the authority to adjust the ACP by 20% “to determine reasonableness compared to market-based SREC prices.” Another new provision allows the solar requirement to be frozen if the total cost of compliance exceeds 1% of the retail cost of electricity. These amendments exhibit Delaware’s intent to provide more robust compliance incentives while also safeguarding against unreasonable increases in the cost of electricity.

The amendment to SB-119 is currently awaiting final approval from Governor Jack Markell who is expected to sign the bill this week. The amendment follows similar legislative changes in neighboring Maryland, which has recently expanded its renewable energy targets. Delaware’s proposed bolstering of the RPS is further evidence for the success of RPS programs implemented in several states across the mid-Atlantic region.

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.