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By Rhone Resch, President & CEO – Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA)

 

You ever play that game Whac-a-Mole? That’s kind of how I’ve felt over the last few months when separating fact from fiction about the solar energy industry in the U.S. We keep knocking down myths about solar, but they just keep popping up somewhere else.

 

But an op-ed by T.J. Rodgers in the Wall Street Journal last week really took that dynamic to a whole new level.

 

First and foremost, what really struck me most was who wrote the article. After all, Mr. Rodgers himself found a great investment opportunity in the solar industry because the very incentives he criticizes helped open market opportunities for his company right here in the United States.

 

I’m not knocking him for that. The U.S. solar energy industry is now one of the fastest growing industries in the United States because of innovation by companies like those Rodgers found to be smart investments.

 

The solar investment tax credit that Rodgers references in his piece has done exactly what it was meant to do. It has opened new markets in states across the country, creating jobs and making solar more affordable for average consumers each and every year. In fact, the price of solar panels has fallen 40 percent since the beginning of the year.

 

Today, the solar energy industry employs more than 100,000 Americans at 5,000 businesses located in every state. Many of these are small businesses that are finding new opportunity for growth in the solar industry. It is leading to rapid innovation — across the spectrum from factory improvements to new financing and sales mechanisms that are allowing more and more Americans to go solar.

 

In fact, the third-party ownership model that Rodgers criticizes has made solar more accessible to homeowners and small businesses than ever before by eliminating what has always been the biggest barrier to adoption: the upfront cost. Solar energy is not a luxury item for the wealthy. Two-thirds of California home solar installations since 2009 have been in zip codes with median annual household incomes of less than $85,000 and not in the wealthiest areas of the state.

 

Rodgers is correct that buying a system outright is ultimately the most cost-effective option. But because you are essentially prepaying your electricity bills for the next 30 years, for most homeowners and small businesses, this is simply not an affordable option. This is no different from purchasing a new car: leases and loans enable more people to enjoy the benefits of owning a new vehicle. So flexibility in financing for homeowners has been a game changer that is saving homeowners money, allowing businesses to grow, and yes, being increasingly viewed as a profitable investment by Wall Street.

 

The notion that we are creating “employee-less corporations” is laughable. As I mentioned earlier, the solar industry in the U.S. employs 100,000 Americans, more than twice as many as in 2009. With the growth in popularity of these new financing mechanisms, small businesses across the country are finding that they need to hire skilled workers to meet increased demand. Roofers, electricians, plumbers and contractors — skilled labor professions that have been hit hard by rampant unemployment in recent years — are finding new opportunities to put their expertise to work in the solar industry.

 

It is true that the global solar manufacturing industry is experiencing a transition, with a global oversupply of PV panels and questions looming over Chinese trade practices which will be determined over the coming months. But Rodgers ignores the intricacies of the solar manufacturing supply-chain and oversimplifies a complex challenge for manufacturers — both in the U.S. and abroad.

 

Yes, solar energy products enter the U.S. from China. They also enter from Europe, South Korea, Japan, Mexico, Taiwan and dozens of other countries, just like thousands of other goods enjoyed by Americans every day. But this is unusual: the U.S. exports solar energy products as well. In fact, the U.S. was a $2 billion net exporter of solar energy products in 2010, even a net exporter to China. Solar energy projects also create significant value beyond the price of physical components. Factors such as site preparation, installation labor, permitting, financing and other soft costs account for a significant percentage of a U.S. solar energy project. These are factors that cannot be outsourced. In 2010, 75 percent of the direct value created by domestic solar energy projects accrued to the U.S.

 

Rodgers also spreads the myth that incentives for energy technologies are a new phenomenon in the U.S. The truth is, when it comes to our energy portfolio, free markets have never existed. The government has chosen for over a century to incentivize energy production because it is the heart of our economy. From 19th-century coal through 20th-century oil, natural gas and nuclear, all energy industries in the U.S. have received substantial, permanent subsidies from the federal government. It was right to invest in those industries to power our economy then; it is right to invest in solar to power our economy now.

 

With a combination of technological and financial innovation, market access, and effective federal incentives, the U.S. solar industry is driving down the cost of solar and rapidly scaling an industry key to America’s energy future. The ultimate beneficiary is American consumers. Homeowners, small businesses, retailers, churches, community centers, cities — all of these can benefit from cheaper, cleaner solar energy.

 

Rodgers is correct in one respect. Since its beginning in 2006, solar project developers found it difficult to actually use the investment tax credit. This is because most developers were either small businesses or startups that did not have the “tax appetite” to use the 30 percent credit. Put another way, they did not yet have the taxable profits necessary to use the full 30 percent credit on their returns.

 

This is where tax equity players came in as partners with project developers. These were large firms — like investment banks — that did have taxable income. Where Rodgers sees a scam, most people saw a win-win-win. Tax equity players found a solid investment, solar energy businesses were able to continue building projects and creating jobs, and consumers saw solar energy as an increasingly affordable energy choice.

 

But the financial crisis in 2008 decimated the availability of tax equity in the marketplace. Banks that were hanging by a thread no longer had the tax appetite necessary to continue investing in projects and developers suddenly faced an overwhelming shortage of available capital. Tax revenues across all sectors sank, shrinking the national pool of tax equity almost overnight. Meanwhile, thousands of parts of our economy who rely on tax policy still sought to use the shrinking pool, meaning demand far exceeded supply and little was left for solar. What was left was expensive to get.

 

Recognizing that the tax credit was not working as they intended, Congress passed the Section 1603 Treasury program as a temporary fix while tax equity markets recovered. The 1603 program allows flexibility in how project developers monetize the tax credit. Instead of writing off 30 percent of the cost on their tax return in April, which was impossible for businesses with small profit margins, developers could now opt for a direct upfront payment and solving the tax issue. The amount and cost to the Treasury was the same, but that critical change in timing made all the difference for energy project developers across the country.

 

This program has been a resounding success, not only for solar energy developers, but for developers in over a dozen energy technologies. The program has leveraged $23 billion in private sector investment for more than 22,000 energy projects located in all 50 states. And it’s not a new credit: the 1603 Treasury Program is merely a tweak to the tax code to allow what Congress intended to create — an incentive for energy technologies to help power our economy and increase national security by diversifying our energy resource mix.

 

The program is set to expire at the end of this year, despite the fact that the tax equity markets have not yet recovered to their pre-financial crisis strength. The U.S. Partnership for Renewable Energy Finance estimates that available financing for renewable energy projects will be cut in half if the 1603 program is allowed to expire. For solar energy in particular, they estimate that more than $10 billion worth of solar energy projects will not proceed if it expires on December 31.

 

This is why a broad coalition of more than 750 companies and business associations is calling on Congress to extend this program before the end of the year. An extension of the program would create 37,000 jobs and add 2,000 megawatts of additional capacity in just the solar industry alone. And that is just one of a dozen energy technologies affected by this program.

 

Make no mistake, if the program expires, we will start to see projects scrapped and jobs lost almost instantly in 2012.

 

You can help us make sure that the solar industry continues to create jobs and investment across the U.S. Call your Senators or send them a message and tell them not to let this job-creating program expire. There are only a few days left in the year and this is an all hands on deck effort for the solar energy industry and our allies in other energy sectors. If you want the U.S. to meet its potential as a powerhouse in renewable energy, this is one simple way you can help. Or we can let Congress do to renewables what this guy is doing to electronic moles.

 

Originally published on Huffington Post.

 

Rhone’s full biography and information about SEIA here.

A recent survey by the Climate Institute found 81 per cent of respondents placed solar power within their top three preferred energy options and two-thirds placed coal in their least preferred three.

Climate of the Nation 2012 measures Australian attitudes to climate change, related policies and solutions in mid-2012.

A couple of things are clear from the survey according to the Climate Institute: “Australians are sick of the politics and scared about rising costs of living”.

Clear also is Australians’ passion for solar energy. While solar was among the top three energy options for 81 per cent of respondents, wind was the second most preferred option with 59 per cent and hydro, 44 per cent.

Solar power was the most popular energy choice in all states, with the highest number of most preferred votes in Western Australia (88 per cent), followed by South Australia, Queensland and Victoria (each at 82 per cent), and New South Wales (75 per cent).

While  28 per cent placed gas within the top three most preferred sources, for 31 per cent it was slung in the three least preferred energy options.

Two-thirds placed coal in their least preferred three, just a whisker more than nuclear at 64 per cent.

76 per cent of respondents stated increasing the amount of renewable energy in Australia’s energy mix was the most effective greenhouse gas emission reduction policy.

“..Australians’ vision for a low-carbon future is one that taps into the nation’s abundant renewable energy resource,” said John Connor, CEO of The Climate Institute.

The Climate Institute has conducted comprehensive quantitative and qualitative research into Australian attitudes to climate change and its solutions since 2007.

The latest survey was carried out among 1,131 Australian adults.

 

Originally published on EcoBusiness.com.

Welcoming news that Sainsbury’s has installed 69,500 new solar panels across 169 stores in the UK, becoming host to the largest solar array in Europe, Friends of the Earth Director of Policy and Campaigns Craig Bennett said:

“This major solar investment will make Sainsbury’s a greener grocer and gives a significant boost to the UK’s renewable energy sector.

“Firms across the UK are waking up to the business benefits of using clean British energy from the sun, wind and waves to reduce our reliance on increasingly expensive fossil fuels.

“It’s little surprise that 85 per cent of the public want the Government to force the energy companies to use more renewable energy and less fossil fuels – if we do this and cut waste it will bring down bills in the long term and create new UK industries and jobs.

“The Government must do more to reap the UK’s huge potential for renewable energy – their new Energy Bill must aim for a carbon-free electricity sector by 2030.”

Late 2011 and the first half of 2012 has seen global investment in renewable energy reach new, unprecedented heights. Solar power has now surpassed wind power as the most popular renewable technology for investment and here in the UK our solar market emerged onto the international photovoltaic (PV) scene thanks to the tried and tested method of Feed-in Tariff (FiT) reduction. Despite being mismanaged by the government, the UK FiT’s have generated the spark required to move commercial solar investment into the realm of reality. This article will take a look at the current state of commercial solar investment in the UK, what kinds of projects are being considered and by whom.

Investment and funding of commercial solar power projects in the UK has never been a more diverse market. Knowing who has the control of this funding, what kind of projects they are interested in and how to produce viable, attractive proposals for the market of private equity and public investment is becoming an increasingly important and lucrative skill.

Here at Solar Selections Commercial we are competent with the understanding and sourcing of highly suitable clients and interested lenders and would be happy to assist anyone with commercial projects in need of funding to move their projects forwards.

Firstly let’s look at how this market has established itself and where it currently stands.

Large Scale Solar Power in the UK

The first standalone MegaWatt (MW) solar power installations in the UK involved forward thinking blue chip utilities such as Thames Water, major renewable energy manufacturers such as Canadian Solar and offshore equity investment groups like Isolux Corsan. The risk assessments and returns were scrupulously appraised by all involved and this is testament to their eventual success. This has in turn opened up the market for other projects to get off the ground.

What we are seeing now and through 2012 has been more farmersprivate conglomeratesproperty owners and investors becoming involved in the MW scale of solar PV investment. Of importance to all of this local councils, energy utilities and infrastructure services have also adapted their once somewhat prohibitive policies to make solar a more straightforward investment opportunity. Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROC’s) are present and despite an upcoming review in early 2013, are providing some stability on Return On Investment (ROI) figures.

Establishing Viability

As with all investment some opportunities are more attractive than others. We can separate ground and roof mounted solar power systems because the criteria differ slightly for each. It is important to note that whether the funding be private equity based or public, these factors hold equal importance.

Ground Mounted Solar Installation

The more of these considerations a potential site adheres to positively, the better chance that investors are going to be interested and the better returns are going to be involved. Note that this is not a comprehensive list, but a starting point.

    • The history of the land – especially including previous production capacity such as for agriculture or industry.
    • The size and location of the land.
    • Presence of rocks/debris.
    • Proximity of the area from major roads, communal areas and foot traffic.
    • Proximity of the land from protected regions of natural beauty.
    • Status of the land as ‘Derelict’.
    • The rating and age of the connection to the grid – energy capacity and phases present are of special interest.
    • Proximity to a suitably sized energy substation.
    • Potential of a potential Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) client.
    • Energy usage on site.

How does one know whether the energy usage or substation status of any one potential site is considered positive or not? Best to consult a professional such as Solar Selections; in short, it differs.

Roof Mounted Solar Installation

Roof mounts are similar in most respects. Factors that can affect viability include:

    • The roof space available for panel installation.
    • Location of the site.
    • Orientation and pitch of the roof.
    • Visibility of proposed panel location to highways and major thoroughfares.
    • The number of energy meters on-site (triple phased especially).
    • The status of the site as protected or heritage listed.
    • The rating and age of the connection to the grid.
    • The proximity to a power station or substation.
    • Presence of a potential PPA client.
    • Energy usage on site.

Types and Sources of Investment

Sites that can tick the boxes on the above considerations are in amazing demand at present. Private equity sources running through brokerages or consultancy firms are especially interested in outright purchases of such leads. Depending on the company rates for commissions to purchase the entire opportunity, finance the required capital or pay as a rental amount differ. For a better idea on what is available for your potential site, contact Solar Selections on 0844 567 9835.

Depending upon the clients profile and security there are many ways funding can be found. Let’s start at the top and work our way down through the various parties and possibilities involved.

‘Low Risk’

Client: For a freeholder or client to be considered low risk, they would need to be substantial, well established and profitable businesses. We are talking about organisations from HM Government to Tesco’s and British Gas to McDonald’s. To give an idea, Tesco’s had a turnover of £62.5 billion in 2010.

Fund: Large, international asset finance groups and commercial fund managers not specifically interested in renewable energy technologies. They would provide excellent rates of interest and usually no upper limit on funding available with a minimum spend of £150,000 being the norm.

An example of this would be Commercial Asset Finance Group Australease (CAFGA) who have an Operational Lease Funding arrangement openly available in the UK. The client needs to be suitable as outlined above and also the freeholder of the site. As well as this they would need to consume the majority of energy from a proposed PV installation on-site. For more details, contact Solar Selections on 0844 567 9835 or go to www.solarselections.co.uk/commercial/commercial-solar-finance-package

Approach: A plethora of options from competitive out and out finance provision to tax-break inclusive operational lease arrangements and roof/site rental agreements with eventual transfer of ownership.

‘Medium Risk’

Client: Established business with healthy balance sheets and turnover in the general range of £1,000,000 to £50,000,000 or public sector clients such as councils. Turnover could differ significantly for private clients on this scale, and comprehensive vetting process would take place to verify assets and suitability.

Fund: Far more open than low risk opportunities, the specifics of site viability come into play more than before. These firms will usually possess some kind of interest in renewable energy above more mainstream investment markets like shares or bonds. Incredibly suitable sites owned by businesses with relatively weak security assurances would still be considered and possible. It’s as much about who you know as what you know in the finance market so best to consult with a professional for further advice.

Approach: More likely to involve partial generation benefit for the client with a view towards eventual ownership after a fixed term or perhaps a site rental arrangement. Usually the tariffs and earnings would be allocated towards the fund temporarily. Still a very attractive prospect for the client considering the lack of Cap Ex required.

‘High Risk’

Client: A renewable energy enthusiast with some land or property looking to how they could generate income from an installation. Generally this would be anyone from a farmer, freeholder of land to estate managers and smaller scale building developers that cannot provide large private or business turnovers or security assets. Realistically capital outlays over £20,000 are beyond this kind of client depending on site characteristics of course.

Fund: Generally smaller, less prohibitive and capital heavy private equity lenders specifically interested in renewable energy. They can also take the form of PV installation companies and their direct partners.

Approach: The Rent-A-Roof scheme is an example of this at a domestic level, as is the more recent cash-flow positive domestic finance. Essentially the client would receive the installation for no or nominal cost but receive limited benefits for the first 10 years or so.

Summary

It’s a complex and often fruitless task marrying up sites, clients and funding in the one project. Each party has it’s own variables and opinions on how best to go about installing a MW or large scale commercial PV installations. On top of this, solar installers differ massively in their capacity to provide experienced, timely and professional installation services. The success or failure of a project can come down to the meeting of deadlines and information provisions  as well as the ability of a fund or installer to provide their services as proposed, so vetting is of incredible importance within a potential project.

Solar Selections work with some of the most prominent, experienced utility and large scale solar installers in the world. We also have a network of funding partners such as the aforementioned CAFGA with which we can provide funding solutions for installers with their own clients or direct to clients looking for a complete management service. For specific assistance or advice on commercial solar project viability, funding or installation contact Solar Selections 0844 567 9835 and one of our commercial team will get in touch with you today.

Written by Jarrah Harburn

jarrah@solarselections.co.uk

0844 567 9835

© 2012 Solar Selections Ltd