Since it is June, the 6th month of the year, we wanted to present you with our thoughts on the six hottest markets for solar financing in the country. If you have questions or thoughts on these markets or any others not listed, don’t hesitate to reach out to Dan Holloway @ Dholloway@scf.com or Joel Binstock @ jbinstock@scf.com

1) California: California is the most developed and saturated solar market in the United States. In 2016, approximately 10% of all energy produced in-state was from solar generation. With $0.15+ per kwh rates, utilities with experience working with solar developers, and ample sunshine California will continue to deploy solar at a substantial clip going forward, particularly in the C&I and community solar markets.

2) Massachusetts: Out with the old, in with the new. Massachusetts has begun to phase out their SREC II Carve-out program and replace it with the new and improved SMART program. SMART is expected to be one of the most attractive solar programs in the country in 2018 & 2019 with significant available capacity to be deployed. Read more about the SMART program and SCF’s SMART offering here!

3) Illinois: Illinois, much like Massachusetts has decided against pursuing a traditional SREC Program to achieve its RPS standards. Instead, it has established the Adjustable Block Program (AB Program) which offers fixed incentives over 5 years in order to encourage solar deployment. The AB program is still in its early stages but anticipated opening is Q4 2018 or early 2019. One thing to note here is that while the Community Renewable Generation category is substantially oversubscribed (some have said by as much as 500% or more), the Distributed Renewable Generation category (2 MW and less) is still relatively unsubscribed.  You can read more about it from SCF here!

4) New Jersey: New Jersey is a challenging but exciting market. While the SRECs in the state are some of the highest in the country, their price volatility creates uncertainty and risk exposure for owners of PV systems. As a result, the cost of capital typically is the highest for states like New Jersey with uncontracted risk exposure. However, there is considerable discussion going on within the state related to modifying the current SREC structure to make it look more like the MA and IL incentive programs. Everyone will have to wait to see how these conversations ultimately play out.
5) Rhode Island: Rhode Island is a smaller more nuanced market than the previous states listed. There is a feed-in-tariff opportunity called the Renewable Energy Growth Program which allows developers to supply electricity directly to National Grid in exchange for a bid-rate locked in for a 20 year term. Similar to the MA SMART program, SCF can provide programmatic site lease pricing using the SCF Suite. Please contact us if you would like to learn more.
6) Arizona: Sunshine galore. Arizona has some of the highest insolation rates in the country. Combined with sophisticated solar developers & installers, Arizona is a state that is trying to compete with California for state-unsubsidized solar. As build prices continue to decline and the price of electricity continues to rise, we are finally reaching an inflection point where financing becomes an attractive option for this market.
31 May 2018
May 31, 2018

Talking SMART

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Introduction:

The state of Massachusetts has a long track record of promoting renewable energy & sustainable development; however, recent legislative changes have prepared the Commonwealth to become one of the largest hot-beds for renewable energy development in 2018 & beyond.
The Department of Energy Resources (DOER) recently finalized the Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target (SMART) Program as its plan to replace the widely successful SREC (Solar Renewable Energy Certificate) Carve-Out II Program implemented in 2014. This program was designed to assist in the procurement of 1,600 MW of solar by 2020. While the SREC program helped jumpstart renewable development in MA, the state’s RPS standards dictate that even more renewable resources be installed; hence the creation of the SMART Program.

The SMART Program

Learning from the past, the SMART Program seeks to integrate the fixed nature of rebates (typically 1 lump-sum payment) with the performance-based & longer-term REC structure. RECs, while critical for solar deployment in Massachusetts, have challenged the financeability of solar projects due to price uncertainty. Simply put, while RECs can offer upside for project economics, they also provide significant risk due to price fluctuations. Rebates on the other hand provide fixed upfront incentives that are often paid within the first year of deployment, therefore ensuring those respective economics. SMART, through significant research & development, hopes to resolve the price uncertainty of RECs through locked-in contracts (20 year terms for projects over 25kW).
SMART is predicated on a “Base Compensation Rate” plus location based, off-taker based, and energy storage based rate adders. The base compensation rate varies based on utility provider, system size, and block availability – once program enrollment hits a certain capacity, there is a 4% step down in the rate for the following block.

SMART Rate = Base Compensation Rate + Location adder + Offtaker adder + ESS adder

These fixed 20-year contracts are incredibly important for solar financing. By locking in revenue that is guaranteed through the SMART program, solar financiers can reduce their risk exposure and offer a lower cost of capital while providing a better solar offering to the market. With base compensation rates ranging from $0.15/kWh – $0.36/kWh, the SMART program expects to be one of the most attractive state solar programs administered in the US.

How SCF is taking advantage of SMART

Sustainable Capital Finance has been following the SMART Program through its development, and is in the midst of incorporating a new site-lease solving feature, soon be integrated into SCF’s Quick Quote calculator and the SCF Suite. SCF’s Developer & EPC partners will be able to use the new feature to approximate site-lease payments that SCF can support under SMART and other programs as well. While the SMART Program is expected to be activated in the coming months, SCF is actively seeking out opportunities for site control in MA. If you are evaluating a project for the SMART program or are interested in learning more, don’t hesitate to reach out to Joel Binstock @ jbinstock@scf.com or Dan Holloway @ dholloway@scf.com.

What are 3 words to describe SCF?
Tight-knit, Agile, and Talented.

What do you like most about SCF?
The team. SCF has worked tirelessly to assemble a multi-talented team armed with skill sets that blanket the solar industry (as well as the surrounding territory). We have team members who came from banking, construction, marketing, and sales. Everyone has a niche within the company and together we are greater than the sum of our parts. It doesn’t hurt that everyone has a great sense of humor either. 

What is your role at SCF?
I manage developers, EPCs, and conduct diligence from a construction risk standpoint.

What career advice would you give for people trying to enter the solar field?
It is important to have a baseline understanding of every component of the industry. This includes sales, engineering, construction, client relationships, utility requirements, financial obligations etc. Even if only one of those areas is your focus, it will enable you to make informed decisions as well as anticipate pitfalls for your project or portfolio.

What professional accomplishment are you most proud of?
I started as an entry level installer and have worked my way up to the top of the solar food chain. I was also named a CohnReznick Capital Juniors in Energy Finance 30 under 30.

What is the best book you’ve read?
Development as Freedom by Amartya Sen with The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Milan Kundera as an honorable mention.

What do you like to do in your free time?
I enjoy watching and playing sports, eco-tourism (off the beaten path), and sampling restaurants with my friends.

What are your hopes for the solar industry?
I want to see the utilities work with solar companies in order to optimize the grid to handle more renewable energy, and the solar companies to implement more storage into their systems to offset peak demand.

What is the best concert you’ve ever attended?
Vampire Weekend.

What has been your favorite city you’ve ever lived in and why?
Park City. I grew up there and was able to ski, bike, hike, and play team sports as much as I wanted.

If you could only drink one beer for the rest of your life, what would it be?
River Ale by Deschutes Brewery.

It’s no secret that U.S politics has become massively polarized over recent decades. In the midst of political divisiveness, there is one area of common ground that has found consistent bi-partisan support in recent years, and that is Renewable Energy. It turns out that renewable energy has the power to bring people together in a way that few subjects do.

In a recent Pew Poll, respondents conveyed (overwhelmingly) that they would prefer our country move in the direction of solar and wind power over all other forms of energy, including coal, oil, natural gas and nuclear. 89% of respondents say they would be in favor of more solar power, and 83% said they would be would be in favor of more wind power. It’s hard to find any topic that Americans agree on with such consensus.

With this in mind, the question is,
if Americans disagree so fervently on climate change, why do they agree so strongly on renewable energy?

The answer may lie in how renewable energy is perceived by those with on different sides of the political divide.
For liberals, Renewable Energy is the answer to Climate Change. Many liberals believe that moving to a renewable energy based society will ultimately lead to decreasing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, and eventual reductions in global temperatures. On the other hand, many conservatives view renewable energy from an energy-security or financial perspective.

If a home owner or a business can save money by moving to renewable forms of energy, then the decision is simple. Most would agree that people aren’t in love with coal or gas, as forms of energy. For the past 100 years, these forms of energy have simply cost less than other options.

Times are changing rapidly however; in many parts of the country, renewable energy is less costly than traditional energy provided by local utilities. Additionally, by adding solar financing to the mix, it is now possible for home owners and businesses to go solar with no upfront costs. Using instruments like Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs), many customers can reduce their monthly energy costs from day one without any money out of pocket.

While the dramatic support for renewable energy in the U.S. can, at times, seem paradoxical, when you break down the perceptions behind the support, it becomes very clear why it continues to dominate the field for new energy development.

About Sustainable Capital Finance:  Sustainable Capital Finance (SCF) is a third party financier & owner/operator of commercial & industrial (C&I) solar assets and is comprised of experts that specialize in structured finance and solar development. SCF has a vast network of EPCs and Developers across the US that submit project development opportunities through SCF’s cloud-based platform, the “SCF Suite”. This allows SCF to acquire and develop early to mid-stage C&I solar projects, while aggregating them into large portfolios. SCF has standardized the diligence and transaction process, thus creating cost-efficiencies and risk mitigation, in order to solidify the C&I marketplace as an investment-worthy asset class. For more information, visit http://www.scf.com. Connect with us on Twitter at @SCF_News and follow us on Linkedin and Facebook!

30 Jan 2018
January 30, 2018

Using Trash to Help Balance the Grid

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California has set very ambitious goals for converting its energy supply to renewables. In a bill that is currently being discussed in the State Legislature, SB-100, California would officially establish the goal of reaching 100% renewable energy consumption by 2045. In addition to SB-100 being discussed in the State Capital, on September 8, 2016, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law SB-32, which commits the State of California to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 40% below 1990 levels by the year 2030. While California’s emissions peaked in 2009 and have shown stable (if incremental) reductions over the past 7 years, there still is a great deal of work required to attain Governor Brown’s ambitious target.

While many believe that both pieces of legislation have obvious merit, there remain many challenges to attaining such lofty targets. One of the biggest issues with these goals is the inability of utility providers to balance the various intermittent power sources available that can produce renewable energy. Wind only blows a limited percentage of the time and solar only provides electricity when the sun is shining. Even hydropower is subject to droughts and variable rainfall. How then is a utility supposed to provide consistent and reliable power every day, to everyone, when any, or all, of these energy sources may or may not be available? Historically, the answer to that question has been power plants that run on storable fuels such as coal, natural gas, or other fossil fuels. So, the question becomes: how does California bridge the gap between a 100% renewable energy future and the current system that relies on more than two thirds of its energy coming from fossil fuels?
Is there a way California can solve both problems with currently accessible technology? The answer may surprisingly be yes, and the solution may come from a place very few expected.

Some Brief Facts about Trash:

  • The U.S. creates, roughly speaking, about 250,000,000 tons of trash a year. In pounds that’s 500,000,000,000lbs per year. To make this more clear, that’s 500 billion pounds of trash, every year!
  • About 30% of Municipal Solid Waste is made up of organic materials such as yard clippings, food waste and other organics
  • That means that the U.S. disposes about 75,000,000 tons of organic waste each year
  • All of that organic waste breaks down over time and emits massive amounts of methane gas into the atmosphere
  • As a Greenhouse Gas, Methane is 21 times more potent (meaning it traps heat in the atmosphere)

Hidden within that organic waste is an enormous amount of chemical energy. There are a number of ways that this energy can be captured, but the primary two are:

  • Organics converted into methane – also known as Anaerobic Digestion
  • Organics converted into ethanol – also known as Fermentation

Converting Trash into Fuel:

Each of these methods, when done correctly, yields a storable fuel source. In the case of anaerobic digestion, the storable fuel is methane, which most in the industry would call Biogas. Biogas is equivalent to natural gas depending on the purity and concentration levels reached. The second method, called fermentation, yields ethanol. Ethanol is a type of alcohol, and many might know it as grain alcohol, or moonshine. Both of these fuels can be used combusted in generators to generate electricity.
Through either of these methods, a fuel source, that can be stored for later use, can be derived from something that society pays to store in landfills. Additionally, if California were to utilize organic waste to create energy, it would reduce its landfill content by close to 30% and would capture the methane emitted by the decaying waste,. Utilizing this approach would yield the following benefits:

  • Less waste going to landfills
  • Less methane going into the atmosphere
  • Very low cost fuel that can be used to generate electricity

Additionally, because these fuels can be stored, they don’t have to be used right away. That allows electricity to be consumed in a few different ways:

Energy Consumer

    A typical business could use electrical generators powered by either of these 100% renewable fuels, while not taking up massive roof space, or building intensive carport structures to support solar panels. Additionally, unlike solar, because the business can store the ethanol or methane on site, it can essentially run “off-grid” in the case of a power outage. As long as the business had a large enough fuel tank or regular deliveries, it could run off-grid indefinitely. Lastly, if the business sized its generator for extra capacity, it could deliver additional energy back to the grid. If the business were to send power back to the grid, it could program the generator to wait until energy demand peaked (and corresponding energy prices are at their maximum) before transmitting that power onto the grid. In this way, the business could achieve the highest rate of return on its investment.

Utility Provider

    If a utility placed a small 1-10 MW generator at each of their substations, they could create mini-Peaker Plants (Peaker Plants are power plants that are typically operated only during extreme electrical load peaks) and could fill in the gaps when renewable energy sources are not providing sufficient electricity.
    By doing so, the utilities would get the best of both worlds. They could add significant amounts of additional load capacity to the grid, while maintaining the 100% renewable energy mandate. Additionally, this new load capacity would not be intermittent in nature and would be entirely under the utility’s control.

The only issue not addressed by ethanol/methane driven generators, is the problem of “over production”. Due to the intermittent nature of most renewable energy technologies, it’s not known if they will all be on, some will be on, or they may all be off from day to day.
Given the substantial amount of new solar and wind generation added to California’s grid over the past 10 years, there are times when both solar and wind are producing at their maximums across the state and the grid does not have the corresponding load requirements to use all of that energy. During these times (which are not very common) utilities will ask some of their heaviest usage customers to take some of this additional load if they can. As more renewables get added to the grid, this problem will only worsen. To achieve a goal of 100% renewable energy, utilities will still need to add battery capacity to the grid to balance load and energy production. This is one area where a waste to energy solution will not be an effective solution. Waste to energy is a “supply side” only solution, and can’t be used to add demand to the grid in times of over production. That being said, figuring out ways to add a 100% renewable energy source (derived from waste) to California’s energy mix could be a huge benefit to the grid, to the climate, and to businesses and other users of electricity.

 

About Sustainable Capital Finance:  Sustainable Capital Finance (SCF) is a third party financier & owner/operator of commercial & industrial (C&I) solar assets and is comprised of experts that specialize in structured finance and solar development. SCF has a vast network of EPCs and Developers across the US that submit project development opportunities through SCF’s cloud-based platform, the “SCF Suite”. This allows SCF to acquire and develop early to mid-stage C&I solar projects, while aggregating them into large portfolios. SCF has standardized the diligence and transaction process, thus creating cost-efficiencies and risk mitigation, in order to solidify the C&I marketplace as an investment-worthy asset class. For more information, visit http://www.scf.com. Connect with us on Twitter at @SCF_News and follow us on Linkedin and Facebook!