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.