Game-changing Solar Finance Model for Mid-size Projects

by Guest Contributor Camilo Patrignani, CEO of Greenwood Energy

Mid-size solar farms hit the ‘sweet spot’ with investor groups willing to invest in renewable energy. 2.9MW ground-mounted Soltage-Greenwood Walpole, MA solar array image via Greenwood Energy
Mid-size solar farms hit the ‘sweet spot’ with investor groups willing to invest in renewable energy. 2.9MW ground-mounted Soltage-Greenwood Walpole, MA solar array. Image via Greenwood Energy

These days, a $40 million dollar equity financing deal might not seem groundbreaking in America’s power markets. But for the keen analyst of distributed solar energy, that same investment may just herald a shift toward the future of project financing.

Count our team at Soltage-Greenwood among the latter, with an outlook brightened by the recent announcement John Hancock Life Insurance would lead a $40 million initial round of equity funding destined to finance multiple project pools across America, starting with 13 megawatts (MW) at six locations across four northeastern state.

Just another solar investment, right? Not really. While the boom in distributed solar energy generation is one of the hottest topics in today’s energy economy, most large institutional investors haven’t traditionally been interested in medium-sized solar installations, and as such, are just now getting into the game.

This trend is especially important considering clean energy investment fell for the second year in a row in 2013, down 11 percent after a similar 10 percent decline in 2012, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. While investor appetites in solar are growing, good investment opportunities can often be hard to find, meaning dollars are scarcer and thus more important for solar developers.

Big investors typically want to invest in big projects and standardized contracts, creating difficulty financing distributed solar. That problem hasn’t played out in the rooftop residential market, where developers like SolarCity have installed record amounts of solar panels because all contracts are standard and investors only need to review a diversified pool of credit scores. The same pattern is true for the large utility-scale market where companies like SunEdison have been able to construct massive solar farms and investors only need to review one set of contracts.

But that problem has vexed mid-sized developers who can often fund project-planning phases on their own but rely on securing long-term investors after projects are fully permitted and construction can begin. Individual arrays aren’t large enough to attract large investors, but project pools can involve many different contracts. Without investment to cover the long period of exposure between when the first rack goes in to when the system switches on, potential projects pile up but result in far too few interconnections to fulfill America’s solar energy promise.

Our approach to this problem may seem simple, but it’s been a success: Package together multiple solar projects in states with favorable renewable polices to create the scale and standardization required for big investors to take notice.

Think back to that 13MW project pool I mentioned earlier – it was sizable enough to attract a major institutional investor and secure sufficient equity financing that not only funds our initial project pool, but empowers Soltage-Greenwood to look ahead to an aggressive series of additional (and larger) project pools in 2014.

Now combine that equity financing with our business model of partnering with leading solar developers through the Soltage-Greenwood joint venture, and solar engineering, procurement, and construction contractors through the Greenwood Biosar joint venture to handle every aspect of projects from engineering to procurement and construction through maintenance, and the reason for our optimism comes into focus.

By vertically integrating the solar development business, mid-sized developers like Soltage-Greenwood can reach the scale needed to attract institutional investors, ensuring project financing through construction and interconnection, allowing power-purchase agreements to be put in place, and providing a positive return on investment that encourages additional investment.

Add it all up, and we believe we are well positioned to quickly and efficiently capitalize on the growing demand for distributed clean energy well into the future.

Greenwood Energy is the North American clean energy division of the Libra Group, a privately owned international business group comprising 30 subsidiaries operating across five continents.

Greenwood creates clean energy options by building and investing in new solar energy projects, manufacturing sustainable fuel to replace coal, and developing combined heat and power fuel cell systems.

This article, Just Another Solar Deal, Or The Future Of Mid-Size Project Financing?, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

Introduction to the ‘Business side’ of Solar: Securitization

by Guest Contributor Travis Lowder.

Originally published on NREL.

The U.S. solar industry is an $11.5 billion market with over 360,000 systems in place [1]. Since 2008, solar capacity additions have exhibited a compound annual growth rate of over 50%, with strong gains anticipated in the coming years.

As the industry grows, it is exploring alternative financing options outside of its traditional funding sources (namely debt, tax equity, and cash equity). Securitization—the process of structuring an illiquid asset into a liquid and tradable one (i.e., a security)—represents an emerging opportunity for the distributed solar market in particular. Access to the capital markets through security issuance can assist the solar market in achieving greater liquidity among investors and an advantageous cost of capital relative to traditional funding sources (namely debt, tax equity, and sponsor equity). Liquidity and lower financing rates have both proven somewhat elusive given solar’s current reliance on project financing and tax equity structures.

A new report from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, The Potential of Securitization in Solar PV Finance, explores this capital market finance option for PV assets. The report provides a general overview of the securitization process (see Figure 1), the actors involved, the benefits (and risks), and the rationale for pursuing this kind of funding strategy.

The report also offers a high-level analysis of the volumes of solar deployment that could be supported given a single securities offering [2]. It posits that a single $100 million securitization transaction (not accounting for fees, overcollateralization, and other structuring/transactional costs) could potentially support 72 MW of residential solar assets, or 100 MW of commercial, or 133 MW of large commercial and industrial (C&I) projects [2]. See Table 1.

Solar projects will likely be pooled into different types of securities based on several factors, including: project size; the type of cash flows securitized; and the entity that will issue the securities. The report broadly identifies three classes of securities that, upon preliminary analysis, would be applicable to the solar industry: asset-backed securities (ABS), collateralized loan obligations (CLOs), and project bonds. ABS instruments are typically used in the securitization of cash flows in the consumer finance sector (e.g., credit cards, auto loans, and student loans); CLOs are securitizations of loan payments and are commonly used to alleviate banks’ balance sheets; and project bonds are debt instruments that have been issued against project-level cash flows [2].

While there are several nuances that would determine which instrument would be applicable in a given solar project or portfolio of projects (such as a tax equity fund for residential assets), the report offers the following general classification:

  • ABS securitizations will be widely applicable to the residential solar sector, as the metrics for evaluating these instruments (e.g., FICO scores) are similar to those for evaluating the credit quality of residential solar assets.
  • CLO securitizations will be more applicable to the commercial sector. This is because the cash-flow pools will require fewer underlying systems to reach the same dollar volume as a residential. Fewer systems mean fewer offtakers, which in turn mean less portfolio diversity. And, without a diversity of offtakers behind the cash flows in the pool, there is greater focus on the creditworthiness of each offtaker. Typically, CLOs are the appropriate securitization structure to manage this kind of corporate risk.
  • Project bonds are debt securities issued against project-level cash flows and have been used to finance utility-scale projects. A bond obligation can look similar to a non-recourse loan on a balance sheet, though it has the distinct advantage of tapping into funding sources outside of the commercial lending market and at larger sums. In the last two years, project bonds have been issued to finance both the construction (MidAmerican’s Topaz and Solar Star projects) and takeout (NextEra’s St. Clair) of large-scale solar projects [2].

Looking Forward

Institutional investors, such as pension and insurance funds, will typically allocate about 5% of their assets for “alternative investments,” such as a renewable energy project investment. Courting these entities will therefore require solar to transcend the “alternative” category and offer itself as a bankable, standardized, and transparent investment product. Institutional investors allocate as much as 40% of their assets to these types of investments, which, by some estimates, could amount to some $37 trillion at the outset of 2014 [3,4].

Even if the PV industry posts half of the annual growth rate that it has from 2008 – 2013, this would amount to about 20 GW of capacity additions by the time the 30% investment tax credit expires in 2017. At an average of $3/W across market segments, 20 GW of solar PV represents $60 billion worth of assets, a third to a half of which would likely have securitizable cash streams flowing through them. A $20 –30 billion base of long-dated assets, made liquid through securitization and investment grade through continued understanding of the credit risk, would be a strong draw for many of the investors in that conventional category.

References

[1] Renewable Energy Finance, Solar Securitization: A Status Report (Fact Sheet). (2013). Golden, CO: National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Accessed January 31, 2014: http://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy14osti/60553.pdf.

[2] Lowder, T.; Mendelsohn, M. (2013). The Potential of Securitization in Solar PV Finance. Golden, CO: National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Accessed January 23, 2014: http://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy14osti/60230.pdf.

[3] Turner, G.; et al. (2013). Profiling the Risks in Solar and Wind: A Case for New Risk Management Approaches in the Renewable Energy Sector. Swiss Re and Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Accessed January 23, 2014: http://media.swissre.com/documents/Profiling-the-risks-in-solar-and-windv2.pdf.

[4] TheCityUK. (September 2013). Fund Management 2013. TheCityUK. Accessed January 23, 2014: http://www.thecityuk.com/research/our-work/reports-list/fund-management-2013/.

This article, Solar Securitization Intro, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

Fascinating Infographic: What Solar Investors Really Want

by Zachary Shahan.

Sara Rafalson of Sol Systems recently sent along an infographic on What Solar Investors Want that her company put together. This isn’t just another flimsy infographic, though. The data came from “a year of our Project Finance Journals, which we distribute on the 15th of every month to approximately 2700 industry professionals” Sara noted. She also commented on why there was even a need for such an infographic:

The shortage of project finance is a limitation to the non-residential, commercial and industrial (C&I) sector of the solar market. Especially compared with other sectors of the market, C&I distributed generation solar is plagued with high transaction costs and a lack of standardization. Though there is no shortage of solar investors trying to break into the promising solar asset class, there is a true shortage of financeable, quality project pipeline. This lack of financeable deal flow is stifling the market and limiting the growth potential of the U.S. solar industry.

So, with that background out of the way, let’s start offering investors more financeable solar projects! Here’s how:

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This article, What Solar Investors Want (Infographic), is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

 

Renewable Energy. Zachary Shahan.Zachary Shahan is the director of CleanTechnica, the most popular cleantech-focused website in the world, and Planetsave, a world-leading green and science news site. He has been covering green news of various sorts since 2008, and he has been especially focused on solar energy, electric vehicles, and wind energy for the past four years or so. Aside from his work on CleanTechnica and Planetsave, he’s the Network Manager for their parent organization – Important Media – and he’s the Owner/Founder of Solar Love, EV Obsession, and Bikocity. To connect with Zach on some of your favorite social networks, go to ZacharyShahan.com and click on the relevant buttons.

With Only $0 down Solar Can Save You up to $34,000 Over 20 Years

by Zachary Shahan.

Originally published on Cost Of Solar.

How Much Are Solar Panels? Wrong Question. How Much Can Solar Panels Save You?

OK, it’s true, How Much Are Solar Panels? can be a useful question. But, really, this question is largely of minimal importance today. Either through $0 down loans or 3rd-party-ownership models that let you lease a solar power system instead of buying one, most residents and businesses with a decent roof or ground space for solar panels should have an opportunity to go solar without buying the entire solar panel system up front.

The real question — the real ways in which ‘going solar’ affects your finances — is how much it saves you and how soon, or when, it starts to save you money.

I’ve recently created the short infographic below to highlight the 20-year savings from going solar in some of the most populous states in the country, as well as in Hawaii, which has the greatest average savings per project.

Solar savings graphic
Renewable Energy solar savings graphic (USA).

Notably, those savings are based on 2011 research. The cost of solar has dropped tremendously since then, so the savings should be even greater (on average). Unfortunately, I haven’t seen more recent research on this matter. The specific data points — average 20-year savings from going solar — for those states are as follows:

  • California: $34,260
  • New York: $31,166
  • Florida: $33,284
  • Texas: $20,960
  • Hawaii: $64,769

These numbers were included in a cool solar power infographic I shared last week. However, the map displaying these numbers was number 3 of 4. I’ve gone ahead and pulled out this key map and will insert it below so that you can see savings in your specific state if you don’t live in one of the four most populous states or Hawaii.

Renewable Energy. Solar Power savings over 20 years in the U.S.A.
Renewable Energy. Solar Power savings over 20 years in the U.S.A. Image by 1BOG

These savings are tremendous. Even the national average (again, in 2011, when solar panels were much more expensive) is above $20,000! How much are solar panels… going to save me? That’s the question to ask. (Of course, you can request a quote on Cost of Solar to get a savings estimate and even a follow-up site visit for a more exact estimate, and it will also give you an estimate of how much solar panels for your house or business will cost.)

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This article, How Much Are Solar Panels? Wrong Question. How Much Can Solar Panels Save You?, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Renewable Energy. Zachary ShahanZachary Shahan is the director of CleanTechnica, the most popular cleantech-focused website in the world, and Planetsave, a world-leading green and science news site. He has been covering green news of various sorts since 2008, and he has been especially focused on solar energy, electric vehicles, and wind energy for the past four years or so. Aside from his work on CleanTechnica and Planetsave, he’s the Network Manager for their parent organization – Important Media – and he’s the Owner/Founder of Solar Love, EV Obsession, and Bikocity. To connect with Zach on some of your favorite social networks, go to ZacharyShahan.com and click on the relevant buttons.

Mosaic Says ‘Put Solar On It’ in 2014!

by Nicholas Brown.

Oregon DOT solar project
Oregon DOT solar project

Mosaic has started a new year’s resolution campaign for 2014, motivating people to pledge to put solar systems on their own houses, schools, businesses, places of worship, and other places.

This works by entering the name and location of the place you want to install panels, your e-mail address on the “Put Solar On It” website, and then they will send you more information about how you can go about having solar panels installed.

Mark Ruffalo participated too (he played The Hulk in The Avengers).

According to Yahoo!, he said:

“I’m helping put solar on my kids’ school to save the school money and free up resources that will be aimed at their education instead of fossil fuels.”

“We can also demonstrate the shining future that is now within our grasp. I love that Mosaic is making it possible for all people to participate in an economy meant for all — the solar economy. We are powerful.”

That was inspiring. Hopefully, it contributes to the already significant momentum the solar industry in the US has gained. The solar industry is growing so quickly, that this year, a solar system was installed every four minutes in the US.

Yahoo! added:

“The “Put Solar On It” resolution is part of significant national momentum.

In 2013, a solar installation was installed every four minutes throughout the US and the price of a solar panel dropped to 60% of 2011 prices, according to the US Solar Energy Industries Association and Greentech Media Research.

The nation installed more clean energy than coal, oil, and nuclear combined, according to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

According to the Solar Foundation and U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the solar industry is creating jobs at four times the rate of the economy at large.”

For more stories like these, visit our solar channel, or subscribe to our solar energy newsletter.

Photo credit: OregonDOT / Foter.com / CC BY.

Follow me on Twitter: @Kompulsa.

This article, Mosaic Encourages People To “Put Solar On It” For The New Year, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.