Washington DC Solar, solar renewable Energy,
Written by Lisa Walsh

Washington DC Solar Owners and Selling Solar RECs Upfront

Solar Service ,Home Solar Panels

Before we dive into this conversation – let’s be clear that SRECs (Solar Renewable Energy Credits) can be the most confusing part of figuring out the economics of a solar project.  Let’s also be clear that – as with anything confusing, (as well as possibly boring) – the temptation is to remove the confusion as quickly as possible.   In the world of solar installation and selling SRECs this sometimes translates to simply selling up to 15yrs of SRECs all at once to a solar installation company, who then installs the system at a bargain price.  Buyer beware – the immediate gratification of selling all of your SRECs in one fell swoop could be misleading.   When it comes to How and When you get paid for your SRECs “…the Sooner the Better”  may not be a sound financial strategy.

That said…Let’s talk Solar Renewable Energy Credits in Washington DC.

Both Maryland and Washington DC, along with eight other states have enacted the Renewable Portfolio Standards which specify that a certain amount of the renewable energy generated within that state must come from solar.   Whether residential, commercial, or institutional, each time a solar system generates 1 Megawatt hour of energy – the solar system owner generates 1 SREC.  This SREC is then sold via aggregators to an  SREC market where it is bought by Power Companies to allow them to meet their share of the compliance obligation, or else pay a legislated fine (Alternative Compliance Payment, or ACP) for every SREC they are short.  Washington DC currently generates the highest SREC values in the country largely due to the fact that the District does not have the real estate to install large solar farms which can oversupply the market and drive down SREC prices.

How Much is an SREC worth?

The value of an SREC in a particular market is dynamic due to two primary factors

  1. by design, SRECs values are intended  to decline over time.  The legislated ACP which serves as a ceiling to the SREC price is usually scheduled to decline in future years. Among other factors, increased installations should lead to decreased system costs and less need for SRECs to help finance a solar system.
  2. The other reason for variations is due to market mechanisms.  Brokers buy and sell SRECs in order to help make a market for them.  When the market is undersupplied, SRECs trade high, at a price close to the penalty (ACP).  This is good for those selling SRECs.  If the market is oversupplied (like Maryland is currently), then SREC prices in that market will decline well below the penalty – not so good for those selling SRECs. Varying SREC payment options are intended to allow system owners to buy down their SREC price risk. The difference between an Upfront Payment option and a Brokerage Payment option (market price) can be many thousands of dollars to a solar system owner.  In an undersupplied market like DC, where there is very little price risk for SRECs, that upfront payment option leaves a lot of money on the table.

How many SRECs will my system generate?

The number of SRECs any given system will generate depends upon the output of your system.  For example, an optimized (as in good and sunny) 5.0 kW system in Washington DC would generate close to 6.0 SRECs/year.

How and When would I receive my SREC income?

SRECs are most commonly sold through an SREC aggregator/broker such as Washington DC-based SolSystems.  However, SRECs here in the District are so valuable – as well as stable – that solar panel contractors are also offering to buy your SRECs and simply deduct the upfront payment off the cost of your solar installation.  So THIS is the heart of this article:  Solar owners have 3 choices for how to get paid for their SRECs:

  1. Upfront Payment (all SRECs are forfeited for a 5yr or 15yr period)
  2. 3yr, 7yr or 10yr Annuity Contract (SREC prices Locked-in for a specific term)
  3. Brokerage (Current market price less broker commission).

Sticking with the aforementioned 5kW system example, the following table illustrates projected SREC values for the system, using current SREC prices (November 2016) offered by a competitive SREC aggregator).

System Size = 5kW                            SREC per Year = 6

So, reviewing the column above, this Washington DC Homeowner with a 5.0kW system has these financial options to choose from:

$$$$$:  Brokerage = $32,101.85 over 25yr life of systems (as warrantied)

$$$:  *Annuity =  $18,690 guaranteed then sign-up for another annuity or go Brokerage

$:  Upfront = $8025.60  SRECs cannot be sold again until 2032.

*Annuity is also available in 3 or 5 yr increments, as well as the 10yr

The Brokerage price is exponentially higher than the other prices, does that mean there’s a lot of risk?

Some risk – yes, because you’re not locked-in to a static price.   But remember – historically DC SREC pricing has remained stable (the geography does not accommodate  huge solar farms that can flood the DC SREC market).  You can receive an email monthly that allows you to check on current pricing AND should the price start to decline – you can, at any point in time, switch to an Annuity.  .

If I choose the 10yr Annuity Option and lock-in my SREC pricing, what happens at the end of that time period?

You simply choose another payment option being offered at the time of contract experation.  Maybe you’ll opt for brokerage – or another annuity, up to you.  Same with the Upfront Payment, after 15 years.

How do I receive my SREC income?

Via check from the SREC aggregator which most pay quarterly (except with the Upfront Payment option which would be one-time).   This generally starts around two months after your system has been interconnected by your Utility and the SREC contract set-up.   We do advise that the contractual SREC relationship be kept between a professional broker/aggregator and the solar system owner.  Third parties, such as the solar panel installation company, may find themselves in a conflict of interest.

If the solar system installer is not buying my SRECs, who sets up the contract?

Most reputable solar panel installation companies will coordinate the initial set-up of your SREC contract with an SREC aggregator, as they have immediate access to the documents required for the initial set-up (Passed Building Permit, Interconnection Approval etc.).  Many installers have one or two aggregators they’re used to dealing with – or you may choose your own.

Solar Service ,Home Solar Panels
Written by Lisa Walsh

DC Property Owners: Big Hot Water load = Big Solar Incentives

Commercial Solar Service, Annapolis MD

A growing number of building owners, developers and condo associations in the District of Columbia have come to realize that their building happens to be located in the most solar-friendly city in the USA .  Solar contractors, investors and financing vehicles are falling over each other to get solar panels on District roofs and start generating  the lucrative solar renewable energy credits (SRECs).   Whether via Direct Purchase, or $0 solar leases – SRECs are undoubtedly the reason for the solar season in DC (more to follow on those below).

However, before you sign on the dotted line and fill your roof with a 25-year solar PV (electric) system, as offered by 9 out of 10 solar professionals, make sure that you’re not losing the opportunity to vastly increase your return on investment with a Solar Thermal System.

Solar Water Heating Feasibility

The pre-qualification for a Solar Thermal System involves three questions:

  1. Does your building have a substantial, daily (365 day) hot water need? (i.e. apartment building/condos, restaurant, laundry, brewery, health center)
  2. Does your building have a centralized water heating system (as opposed to individual units throughout the building)?
  3. Can the building accommodate additional storage tanks?

If you answered YES to these three questions you really (really) should first consider a Solar Water Heating system either before – or at a minimum – in tandem with, a solar PV system.  (Shopper Beware – unless your solar contact has experience with solar thermal – which many do not – you’re going to have to be prepared to shop further).

What is Solar Water Heating (or Solar Thermal)?

Other than using the sun for energy generation, Solar Water Heating Systems operate entirely differently from their electron-shaking PV counterparts.  These time-tested, technologically mature systems are mechanical in nature and relatively simple.

Moreover, a solar thermal panel is 60 – 70% efficient; whereas a solar PV (electric) panel is typically 17 – 24% efficient.  Therefore, solar thermal panels generate substantially more energy per square foot than PV panels,  monetizing many more SRECs.

Solar Service , Home Solar Panels, Solar Renewable Energy

 

Let’s Review SRECs…

SRECs (Solar Renewable Energy Credits) – along with the 30% Federal Tax Credit and 100% Year 1 depreciation– are what drive the tremendous economic benefits of solar in Washington DC; one of several jurisdictions that have enacted a Renewable Portfolio Standard requiring that a specific percentage of electricity consumed must come from solar.   Whether residential, commercial, or institutional, each time a solar system generates 1 Megawatt hour of energy – the solar system owner generates 1 SREC.  This SREC is then sold via aggregators to an SREC market where it is bought by competitive energy suppliers to allow them to meet their share of the compliance obligation, or else pay a legislated fine (Alternative Compliance Payment, or ACP) for every SREC they are short.  Washington DC currently generates the highest SREC values in the country, largely due to the fact that DC does not have the real estate to install large solar farms which can rapidly oversupply a market and drive down SREC prices.

How much are SRECs Worth?

Washington DC SRECs are currently trading at $395/SREC.  To provide a frame of reference, a 6000 sq ft rooftop in Washington DC outfitted with a 75kW solar PV (electric) system could generate around 90 SRECs/year (over $35,000/year).   Depending on variables such as system size, corporate tax rate and and project site attributes, this SREC income – combined with a 30% Federal Tax Credit and 100% Year 1 depreciation, typically result in IRR’s between 30% – 60% and a Simple payback of 3 – 5 years.    Assuming solar thermal is applicable, this same roof outfitted with a Solar Thermal System could fit a kWh equivalent of a 150kW+ system, generating 180 SRECs/year – and see an IRR of 50 – 80%, with a simple payback in the 1 – 2 year range.

Solar Service ,Home Solar Panels, Residential Solar PanelsMaintenance

Although Solar PV (electric) clients often opt for an O & M (operations and maintenance) contract through their solar installer, Solar PV Systems  have relatively minor maintenance needs; usually an annual inspection along with ongoing monitoring.    Solar thermal (water heating) requires a little more maintenance including a 3 – 5 yearly service which, at a minimum, includes a replacement of the propylene glycol/energy transfer fluid that can degrade with time.  Nonetheless, the impact of service costs on the overall IRR is relatively small and easily absorbed by the increased SREC income.

Commercial Solar Energy Residential Solar Panels
Written by Rick Peters

SRECs in Maryland and DC

What Does the Future Hold?

Commercial Solar Energy, Residential Solar PanelsSolar 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.

Maryland:

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.

DC

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.

What now?

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.