LOS ANGELES, APRIL 15, 2010 — (Reuters) — Installed solar capacity jumped an astonishing 37% in 2009 following an onslaught of state and federal incentives offered during the recent economic crisis to help prop-up demand for new solar equipment. Grants, subsidies, tax-credits and cash incentives helped push revenue past $4 Billion in 2009, a 36% increase from the previous year.
According to a report released last Thursday by solar advocates it was the fourth straight year of unprecedented growth for the solar photo-voltaic industry here in the United States. This contrasts with the long-standing European solar power industry, which has seen a decrease as it’s mainstay nations ramp-down their incentive programs.
New U.S. solar capacity reached 481 Megawatts (MW) last year, an increase of 130 MW from 351 in 2008. Solar thermal for water heating also rose, but at a more modest 10% on the year. The only decline was seen in solar-pool heating, which saw a 10% decline blamed mostly on the slowdown in the housing sector.
Analysts say that the spike in U.S. growth is also attributed to lower prices of solar hardware, which the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) reported fell an estimated 40% in recent years. “Despite the Great Recession of 2009, the U.S. solar industry had a winning year and posted strong growth numbers… Consumers took notice that now is the best time to go solar,” says SEIA CEO Rhone Resch. The increase in solar was led by California, with New Jersey coming in second place, followed by Florida, then Arizona.
According to the SEIA, six solar utility projects also came on line in 2009, including both solar PV and solar concentration plants. Despite the increase, solar still remains under 1% of utilities generation within the United States. The SEIA is optimistic for the future however and predicts 17 Gigawatts of solar power down the line, enough to power over 3 million homes.
“Now we’re talking gigawatts of solar, not megawatts,” said Resch.
View the SEIA’s 2009 Industry Year in Review Here:
Solar energy is gaining momentum in the renewable energy world. It is being heralded as a smart investment due to growth prospects, favorable market conditions, federal and state incentives, and more stringent Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS). Individual and institutional investors are committing capital and taking risk because of potential profits and tax benefits that are associated with developing solar. Existing and newfound factors are driving solar energy to become a more mainstream investment. This article will examine these factors and demonstrate how they are contributing to solar energy’s success.
Growth- Over the past decade, technological advancements have made solar energy more affordable, more reliable and less obtrusive. Lower barriers of entry have allowed solar installers, integrators, and developers to offer competitive pricing on residential and commercial facilities and reduce their installed cost per watt.
Value- Solar energy is a potential hedge against higher electricity prices. It is estimated that electricity prices could conservatively increase by 3.0% a year. Solar energy is a wise alternative to higher electricity bills and can provide clean, green, and cheaper power. Self-Financing, Solar Lease Financing, and Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) Financing are all financial structures that can accomplish reduced electricity costs.
Tradable SREC Markets- Solar Renewable Energy Certificates (SRECs) are environmental attributes that can be transacted and monetized. SRECs are the driving financial component that makes solar economically feasible. SRECs are generated from the production of solar energy and can be monetized on Flett Exchange’s live SREC markets. SRECs are market based. Unlike feed-in tariffs SRECs pass savings on to ratepayers over time, if overdevelopment occurs or if solar becomes less expensive.
State Mandated Markets- SREC markets are state mandated. State governments are establishing stringent Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) and increasing their solar carve-outs. Electric suppliers need to procure SRECs to meet their RPS. If electric suppliers cannot procure enough SRECs in the open marketplace to satisfy their RPS they are subject to a Solar Alternative Compliance Payment (SACP) which is a penalty payment and can be considerably higher then the spot SREC market.
Tax Benefits- Many solar projects are candidates for federal tax incentives and state rebates. The Investment Tax Credit (ITC) returns over 30% of a solar project’s capital cost to investors in the form of a tax credit. Section 1603 of The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Stimulus Bill) also allows investors to receive a grant in lieu of tax credit when the “specified energy property” is submitted to the “grant program.” State rebates may also be available for residential and commercial solar installations. Rebate programs can differ from state to state and exist on a sliding scale depending on the size of the proposed solar facility.
Escalating Fossil Fuel Demand- Global demand for fossil fuels is increasing while supplies are diminishing. Developed and emerging nations are competing for fossil fuels and all petroleum products come with political and environmental risk. Solar energy, on the other hand, is limitless, does not emit harmful emissions, and can be achieved without any political risks. Also if the US Dollar continues to depreciate the price of foreign fuel could continue to rise.
Climate Change- Private and public corporations, organizations, agencies, and municipalities are implementing clean energy programs. Climate change is a growing social and political issue, both domestically and internationally. Insightful entities understand the benefits of renewable energy and the risks associated with not staying ahead of the climate curve. These players are implementing clean energy programs and are well positioned if climate legislation gets passed. The recent US healthcare decision demonstrates that political winds can shift momentarily and legislation can be passed swiftly. Renewable energy strategies and sustainability teams are becoming more conventional, as private and public entities recognize their social responsibilities to the environment and potential legislative risk.
Solar energy is a favored renewable energy source. Solar is easy to install, is a hedge against higher electricity prices, generates a SREC revenue stream, and is beneficial to the environment. So far advantageous market conditions have attracted investors to solar.
However the future of the solar market also comes with challenges and risks. Increased competition could create an overpopulated market. Inexperienced players who are attracted by favorable market conditions could sacrifice engineering and construction quality for short term monetary gains. The reduction of federal and state incentives could make solar less appealing. As the solar market evolves it will be interesting to see if it could sustain itself and emerge as an established renewable energy source.
olar energy is attracting investment dollars. Competitive returns, lower barriers of entry, state and federal incentives, SREC revenue streams, and progressive Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards (RPS) are advancing solar to the forefront of renewable energy world. As the solar market evolves, so are the financial structures that are assisting investors in financing and completing projects. This article will examine various financing strategies, the risks and rewards associated with them, and the incentives involved with solar investing.
Self Financed (Most Risk/Most Reward)– Self financed solar facilities are for residents and entities who want control of their solar destiny. These parties absorb the upfront costs for developing solar and the challenges of operating and maintaining their solar facility. This is the most capital intensive structure and poses the most risk and reward. The risk lies in the development of the project, the failure in properly monitoring and maintaining the facility, and the price associated with the Solar Renewable Energy Certificates (SRECs). The rewards are a reduced rate of electricity for as long as the facility can generate solar energy, declining installation costs, and a revenue stream generated by SREC monetization. Self-financiers take the risk of developing solar because there is the potential for them to payoff the facility in a shortened period of time and realize increased upside profit potential.
Solar Lease Financing (Moderate Risk/Moderate Reward)– Solar lease financing structures are being executed in both the residential and commercial markets. The concept is simple, straightforward, and similar to an equipment or automobile lease. Instead of self financing your solar facility, parties can enter into a leasing contract and agree to make monthly lease payments on their solar installation. Similar to a PPA contract the client does not incur the expensive upfront installation costs or the responsibility of operating and maintaining the solar facility. In a best case scenario the lessee can take advantage of higher SREC values and an option to buy out the system in six years, while the lessor obtains the ITC and accelerated depreciation of the system. A solar lease structure is also an alternative to a PPA contract for non-profit organizations who want to take on SREC risk for potential reward, while the lessor passes on the ITC and accelerated depreciation indirectly through a lower lease payment. Solar leasing firms have a set of criteria that clients need to meet in order to participate in their solar leasing program: commercial clients may need to submit audited financial statements and residents may need to have a FICO score of 700 or greater to be considered. However there are also risks associated with solar leases. One risk is that a lessee could go upside down on their contract. This happens when the solar lease is more expensive than the SRECs being monetized. Another risk is the future price of electricity. Lessees could potentially pay more for solar electricity than basic generated electricity if demand diminishes. The financial crisis of 2008-2009 was a reminder that electricity prices do not always go up and that electricity demand could decline during lean economic times. Solar lease financing is becoming more popular because it is affordable, convenient, environmentally responsible, and lowers your electricity bills. However, interested parties should weigh the risks and rewards associated with solar leases and learn more about the leasing company before signing an extended contract.
PPA Financed (Less Risk/Less Reward)– A Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) is a contract between a solar electricity generator and a client seeking solar energy. This financial structure is designed to provide the client with a reduced rate of electricity for an extended period of time (10-20 years), no upfront installation cost, and the option to purchase the solar facility at the end of the contract. The PPA Provider designs, develops, operates, maintains, and owns the solar facility located on the client’s property. In turn the client pays the PPA Provider for the electricity generated from the solar facility. PPA Providers enter into these agreements because there is a profitable margin between where solar can be developed and what electricity can be sold for. The PPA Provider can also take advantage of the Investment Tax Credit (ITC) and accelerated depreciation. PPA Providers gain ownership of the SRECs which are generated from the solar facility and can monetize them on the Flett Exchange live markets. This solar structure is popular with non-profit organizations that cannot take advantage of the ITC and realize the accelerated depreciation of their solar facility.
Many solar projects are contingent on tax benefits, rebates, and long-term SREC contracts. Without these incentives and risk mitigation strategies solar projects can be difficult to finance and pose significant risk to investors. Let’s examine some of the incentives and strategies that are allowing the solar market to flourish.
Tax Benefits- At this juncture, tax incentives are an integral part of solar financing. The Investment Tax Credit (ITC) returns over 30% of a solar project’s capital cost to investors in the form of a tax credit. Sophisticated investors are utilizing solar as a tax-equity investment vehicle because tax credits can offset tax liability. Section 1603 of The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Stimulus Bill) also allows investors to receive a grant in lieu of tax credit when the “specified energy property” is submitted to the “grant program.” This program runs out at the end of 2010, and the SEIA www.seia.org is lobbying to have it extended. Both the credit and grant programs promote renewable energy on the institutional level and help incentivize solar development.
Accelerated Depreciation- Developers of commercial projects can realize additional tax benefits from the depreciating cost of their solar facility. An entity “can depreciate the installed cost of the system minus 50% of the business Investment Tax Credit (ITC) over the first five years of ownership (SEIA 2008) using the modified accelerated cost recovery system (MACRS) (DSIRE 2008). According to a report by Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory, the tax benefit of this depreciation is equivalent to 26% of the installed cost of the system, 12% of which comes from the ability to accelerate it over a five year period (Bolinger 2009).” –National Renewable Energy Laboratory, “Solar Leasing for Residential Photovoltaic Systems.”
Long-Term SREC Contracts- are helpful in financing proposed solar projects. Flett Exchange brokers long-term SREC contracts between qualified institutional counterparties. Our ability to facilitate and streamline long-term SREC contracts is value-added to both buyers and sellers. Buyers gain direct access to large pools of SRECs at a discounted price to satisfy their RPS, while sellers have the ability to mitigate risk and lock-in profits. Counterparty credit risk is paramount in this market. Buyers and sellers enter into bilateral contracts to secure price, quantity, and term of the SREC contract. Counterparties agree to pay or delivery SRECs at a specified future date. Flett Exchange augments this process by employing a stringent vetting process and presenting quality and creditworthy solar projects to the market. Flett Exchange is currently brokering 1-7 year SREC contracts in the open market and growing our ability to facilitate longer term deals for eligible commercial entities.
As the solar markets continue to evolve new and innovative thinking will be the most prized commodity. The emergence of banks, lenders, financial institutions, and new financial structures will be welcomed and as solar makes the transition form a subsidized market to a self-sustaining market.
Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia SREC generators can register their solar systems in the District of Columbia. This provides the following SREC sellers the potential to sell their SRECs into the District of Columbia solar market.
However if too many solar generators register to sell their SRECs in a particular state or region an oversupply scenario could occur. Market saturation could diminish SREC demand and depress prices. It is also important to note, that a solar facility generating SRECs outside of Washington, DC and also registered within Washington, DC might not receive the same price of a purely sited Washington, DC SREC.
Flett Exchange is pleased to introduce four new solar markets. Our online auction-exchange now hosts live Solar Renewable Energy Certificate (SREC) markets for the District of Columbia, Delaware, Maryland and Pennsylvania.
For the past two years Flett Exchange has established a premier presence in the New Jersey SREC market. Our online auction-exchange has completed over $1.7 million in transactions for 2009 and has over 680 customers. Flett Exchange has an extensive network of Load Servicing Entities (LSEs) in the PJM-GATS region which increases SREC liquidity and price discovery. Our mission is to bring our diligent solar service to the DC, DE, MD and PA SREC markets and help increase solar transparency.
The solar market structures for DC, DE, MD and PA are similar to New Jersey. The DC, DE, MD and PA SREC markets clear through The Generation Attribute Tracking System (GATS) and all solar owners registered with (GATS) are eligible to participate in our markets. Load Servicing Entities (LSEs) use the Flett Exchange to buy SRECs to satisfy their Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) requirements.
Flett Exchange looks forward to bringing transparency, price discovery and immediate execution for DC, DE, MD and PA SREC markets. Our online auction-exchange is supported by knowledgeable professionals who provide personalized service. Flett Exchange’s online auction-exchange is the most reliable and cost-effective solution to transacting and monetizing your SRECs. For a free account or immediate assistance call (201)-209-9426 or go to flettexchange.com and discover our SREC, NJ Class 1 REC, RGGI, Interest-Rate, Physical Gold and Silver markets.
Flett Exchange LLC announces the launch of its District of Columbia Solar Renewable Energy Certificate (SREC) market. Load Serving Entities in the State are required to purchase .4% of their total energy output from solar energy systems by 2020. Similar to New Jerseys SREC program each certificate will represent 1000kWh of renewable energy. Details on the PA market can be found at Pennsylvania AEPS Website or at https://www.flettexchange.com/markets/washington-dc/market-data
Flett Exchange will leverage its experience in the New Jersey markets to help match LSEs and solar systems owners with its value added transparent web based trading/auction platform. The Exchange has brokered over $1.7 million in transactions year to date with over 650 customers. Flett Exchange’s NJ SREC market has operated continuously for two and a half years allowing buyers and sellers 24 hours access to live pricing information and the immediate ability to monetize their SRECs.
Flett Exchange looks forward to bringing transparency, price discovery and immediate execution for DC, DE, MD and PA SREC markets. Our online auction-exchange is supported by knowledgeable professionals who provide personalized service. Flett Exchange’s online auction-exchange is the most reliable and cost-effective solution to transacting and monetizing your SRECs. Buyers and sellers meet on Flett Exchange to negotiate price and quantity of Solar Renewable Energy Certificates (SRECs). Our internet-based auction platform brings transparency and price discovery to SRECs markets allowing Flett Exchange users place working orders in live. Public entities can auction their SRECs on the Flett Exchange platform and obtain a competitive price in a transparent manor. The solar community is choosing Flett Exchange because our trading platform is easy to use, always reliable and absolutely secure. For a free account or immediate assistance call (201)-209-9426 or go to www.flettexchange.com and discover our SREC, NJ Class 1 Rec, RGGI, Interest-Rate, Physical Gold and Silver markets.