What Does the Future Hold?
Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SRECs) have played a large part in the financing of solar energy systems in Maryland since the RPS (Renewable Portfolio Standard) was enacted in 2005. These market-based, tradable credits are the property of the solar system owner to resell, typically to brokers who bundle them for final resale to competitive energy suppliers in the interest of meeting their solar compliance goals. In Maryland (as well as Washington DC), these credits are generated by both solar electric (PV) and solar water heating systems.
The price of SRECs is supposed to reflect the over or under supply of these credits in the marketplace. Both Maryland and DC have very aggressive solar goals (2% by 2020 in MD and 2.5% by 2023 in DC) with steep adoption curves so we need lots of SRECs to meet compliance.
That said, the solar industry boomed for several years recently and we are currently going into an oversupply phase in Maryland. This has the effect of pushing down prices on SRECs in the near term. There are many contributors to the oversupply and the industry and legislators are frequently working hard to promote policies that help to smooth out the supply, but in the end, SRECs are a market mechanism that is subject to “animal spirits.”
As solar prices decline it is fitting that SREC prices are declining too – after all, we should need less incentives as solar costs come down to “grid parity.” When Maryland’s SREC market was conceived, the designers planned for a declining value as more solar got on to the grid. In fact, the Alternative Compliance Payment (ACP) schedule – the amount energy suppliers have to pay if they cannot buy SRECs – is designed to decrease over time. The ACP is considered to be the maximum that an SREC would cost in a rational market. Recently SRECs have traded on the order of 35% of the ACP, but as high as 75% a few years ago. In Maryland, the ACP is scheduled to drop from $400 to $350 in 2015 and then down to $200 in 2017, $150 in 2019, and so on.
Washington DC is a different market and one that is much better insulated from the shocks of large utility scale systems that flood SRECs onto the market. The sheer geography in DC does not lend itself to 10 MW solar farms and thus the SREC supply curve is a little smoother due to the requirement being fulfilled primarily with many smaller systems. As a result, DC SRECs have shown more consistency and maintained a higher price, benefitting system owners and prospective system owners.
Regardless of the trends for solar return on investment (ROI), we all want to maximize our incentives for our own benefit. SRECs are no different. While there are many more new solar customers every day, there are also many solar system owners now approaching the end of 3 or 5 year SREC contracts (aka “strips”) and they too need to decide how to proceed going forward. Do I want to sign up for another strip (3 or 5 year term contract) and accept a large discount on my SREC price for that price security or do I want to maybe float with the market for a while? I’ve got no crystal ball, but I do know that there are many efforts underway in Maryland, some legislative and some not, to help to smooth the SREC supply and thus maintain a reasonable value for SRECs to continue to help incentivize solar. For that reason, I believe we will see some recovery of SREC prices in Maryland in the next year or two and thus maybe it is better to hold off on a term contract. In DC, I would personally opt for more surety and take a term contract with the discount price, but that is my risk averse nature. Others might like to bear more risk and float in hopes of higher SREC values in the future.
Either way, we are lucky to have these incentives in Maryland and DC. They are working to increase solar installations and jobs and they are also helping to drive down the installed price of solar in our region.