Tesla drops to third in U.S. Solar Installer Rankings due to its strategy shift

dropping PPA prices

Tesla installed 6.3 percent of U.S. residential solar capacity in the first quarter of 2019, marking the first time the company has fallen to third place since Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables has been tracking installer market shares in its U.S. PV Leaderboard, dating back to Q1 2013. Vivint Solar reclaimed the number two for the first time since falling to third in Q3 2017.

Meanwhile, Sunrun which overtook Tesla for first place in the second quarter of 2018, gained market share over both Tesla and Vivint Solar. Sunrun installed 11 percent of all home solar capacity installed in the first quarter of the year, notching its highest share ever.

Leading U.S. residential solar installers

Tesla Sunrun market share

Source: Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables U.S. PV Leaderboard

The top three residential solar installers combined to install 25 percent of all new U.S. residential capacity in the first quarter of the year. This is a significant departure from Tesla’s (then SolarCity’s) peak quarters when it alone accounted for more than a third of the entire U.S. residential solar market.

“Tesla has essentially thrown in the towel on pursuing growth in the residential solar space because it has concluded that acquiring customers is simply too expensive,” writes Austin Perea, Wood Mackenzie Senior Solar Analyst, in a recent report on Tesla’s store closures. “Rather, Tesla will rely on its brand power and low-cost referral methods to keep the solar business afloat until it stabilizes.”

From the same report, Perea writes:

“For Tesla, the installation bleeding lasted into 2018 when its national residential installation volume fell another 41% annually despite other national installers experiencing growth. Vivint and Sunrun’s direct businesses grew 7% and 37%, respectively. But even as other installers grew in 2018, Tesla’s standing continued to have a substantial impact on the national residential solar market.”

According to the report, in 2017 the U.S. residential solar market as a whole fell 15 percent. However, if you were to exclude Tesla from the equation, the market would have only fallen two percent. Similarly, the residential market grew 7 percent in 2018, however excluding Tesla entirely, it would have grown by 15 percent. “Clearly, Tesla had a marked drag on residential solar in 2017 and, to a lesser degree, in 2018,” writes Perea.

“Despite stronger growth from the rest of the market, the growth outlook for 2019 – like 2017 and 2018 – continues to be hampered by Tesla’s decisions to cut back on its customer acquisition channels, though less severely than in previous years,” said Perea.

According to the latest U.S. Solar Market Insight report, Wood Mackenzie forecasts the U.S. residential solar market to grow a modest three percent by the end of this year.

“Tesla stepping away from being a growth driver for solar reaffirms our hypothesis that long-term national growth will continue to be driven by smaller local and regional players and less reliant on national players, though Sunrun and Vivint will remain important,” said Perea. “Indeed, in the long run, it seems that Tesla’s decisions may send a vital message about how solar is sold.”

Additional key findings

• CS Energy (formerly Conti Solar) rose to the top of the commercial solar installer rankings with nearly 48 MW of installations across New York, New Jersey, Minnesota and Rhode Island in Q1 2019.

• Constellation leads the rankings for commercial solar asset ownership this quarter, commanding 5% of the market.

• Both Sunrun and Vivint Solar have now surpassed SolarCity/Tesla as the largest residential solar installers in the US.

• Loanpal leads the financier rankings for the first time ever, less than 1.5 years after entering the solar loan space.

— Solar Builder magazine

CleanCapital reports Tahoe is its largest C&I solar portfolio refinancing to date


CleanCapital closed on a refinancing of its largest solar portfolio: Tahoe. The 46.9 megawatt portfolio, one of the largest independent C&I solar portfolios in the U.S., was acquired from ATN International, Inc. subsidiary Ahana Renewables. Lenders for the $85.7 million financing that matures in 2026 are Santander Bank, N.A. and CIT Bank, N.A.

CleanCapital has grown rapidly over the last year, acquiring more than 84 MW of distributed operating solar since April 2018. The Tahoe portfolio was acquired by CleanCapital last November as part of its partnership with BlackRock’s Renewable Power Group. The underwriting of the debt by Santander Bank and CIT signals confidence in CleanCapital’s track record of quality execution in C&I solar.

“As we continue to build up our assets under management and optimize the value of those portfolios, partnering with the top banks in the market gives us best-in-class execution,” said CleanCapital Chief Investment Officer Matt Eastwick. “We’re pleased to work with CIT and Santander Bank on this refinancing, which enhances investor returns on our largest and most diverse solar portfolio.”

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“Sustainability financing is a core competency at Santander Bank and we are thrilled to support CleanCapital and BlackRock in their clean energy endeavors” said Nuno Andrade, Managing Director and Head of Structured Finance for North America at Santander Bank, N.A.’s Corporate & Investment Banking Group. “We are proud to have structured the financing of this complex C&I solar portfolio to support our valued and strong partners.”

“CIT is proud to support the continued growth of CleanCapital in renewable energy with the successful refinancing of this major solar portfolio,” said Mike Lorusso, managing director and group head for CIT’s Power and Energy business.
About CleanCapital

CleanCapital is an industry-leading clean energy investment platform. Its mission is to accelerate investment in renewable energy to address the urgent threat of climate change. CleanCapital’s leading edge technology platform facilitates the evaluation and acquisition of clean energy assets with speed and certainty. Since 2015, CleanCapital has leveraged investments from BlackRock, CarVal Investors, John Hancock, and other partners to acquire more than $300 million of distributed operating solar assets.

— Solar Builder magazine

Inside Nearmap’s breakthrough combination of 3D aerial imagery and artificial intelligence


Boston, as seen by Nearmap aerial images.

Aerial imagery business Nearmap launched its new 3-D product that could revolutionize the way industries such as urban planning, architecture, construction, government and councils view and shape cities across the U.S. and Australia.

Here’s the deal: Nearmap 3-D allows customers to stream and export 3-D imagery on-demand at a massive scale, through its proprietary MapBrowser web application. Additionally, because the imagery is updated frequently, businesses can work with the most current information to make better-informed decisions.

In addition, Nearmap has developed new AI technology that is turning millions of aerial images, captured over a decade, multiple times a year, into valuable datasets. These datasets can be used to more accurately and efficiently measure change and quantify attributes, such as solar panels, pools, roofs or construction sites. Organizations ranging from small businesses to large companies and cities will be able to take advantage of AI-driven location intelligence.

The AI technology will allow organizations to identify locations with specific attributes and in so doing, reduce site visits, generate more leads, and eliminate the time involved to inspect properties manually.

“Nearmap 3-D is the result of a significant investment in R&D, but also listening to our customers and what they need to transform the way they work. Accessing 3-D imagery up to now has typically been an arduous, time-consuming and expensive process – but not anymore,” said Tony Agresta, Executive Vice President of Product at Nearmap. “This represents the single largest, most frequently updated footprint of 3-D accessible through a browser. The ability to measure in 3-D space, size up an area and then export Nearmap 3-D for use in other platforms will transform the aerial imagery market.

Instant Access to 3-D through MapBrowser

Nearmap is making 3-D imagery accessible to anyone in the same way it has with 2-D. While Nearmap has offered 3-D imagery since 2017, this new iteration of the technology allows users to instantly stream 3-D content at massive scale via its MapBrowser web application.

The lightweight platform offers customers a fully immersive 3-D experience, allowing them to visualize cities in 3-D from any direction, measure distances, and immediately export a custom area in a variety of 3-D formats at unprecedented speed – the download time is a matter of minutes for most requirements and only a few hours for very large footprints.

“It’s like switching from DVDs to streaming services,” said Dr. Tom Celinski, Executive Vice President of Technology & Engineering at Nearmap. “Our camera technologies have been capturing 3-D since 2017, but now our secret sauce is bringing it onto MapBrowser, allowing users to easily and instantly stream this content with many export options. Now users can visualize, measure, define a custom area, export our 3-D and use it in their workflows with other commercial platforms and tools. We’re helping 3-D experts and novices alike access reality like never before, and this is an important next step in our Reality as a Service journey.”

Nearmap 3D

San Francisco, as seen by Nearmap

And like the best streaming services, Nearmap 3-D comes with an extensive library, more than 400,000 km2 covered. It is updated once a year and covers major urban areas in Australia and the U.S.

“We live in a 3-D world, we think in 3-D, and so we have to ensure that our products give the closest representation of reality as possible,” Celinski said. “That means businesses that rely on visualizing 3-D content, like architects, for example, can now access up-to-date 3-D models instantly and export them in just minutes. In a tender process, for example, that can be the difference between winning a new project or not. The opportunities for Nearmap 3-D are endless.”

Petabytes of images, and a living data set

Nearmap AI technology is the result of more than two years’ worth of research and development, and a team of close to 20 data scientists and machine learning engineers. The team, led by Dr. Michael Bewley, is using the petabytes of imagery that the business has captured over the past 10 years and turning it into a living dataset to accurately identify changes or quantify attributes from the Nearmap library of aerial imagery.

Nearmap has built highly accurate machine learning models and deployed them on a massive scale. The automated process, and the constantly learning engine, means that the AI technology can be applied to any new geography. Nearmap also applies the models to new surveys, generating fresh results with current imagery.

To date, Nearmap has performed analysis on over 1 million square kilometers of imagery across Australia and the U.S. (which constitutes about 80 million properties) and is performing more analysis every day. Nearmap is now inviting customers to take part in a beta program to experiment with various use cases.

“We don’t prescribe how our technologies or content can be used by our customers,” said Dr. Michael Bewley, Director of AI Systems at Nearmap. “Our solar customers could use the AI technology to easily identify where and when solar panels have been installed for maintenance jobs, to prospect new clients in an area where solar energy’s popularity is on the rise; or a government entity that previously had the arduous task of tracking swimming pools or construction in their jurisdictions will be able to do it automatically.”

“But this is the tip of the iceberg – we’re just getting started. This technology is going to profoundly change the way that cities are built,” Bewley said. “Our plans include delivering AI results in many forms, much the same way we deliver our imagery today.”

Both technologies will be presented at Nearmap’s flagship event, Navig8, in Perth on June 6, Melbourne on June 11 and Sydney on June 13.

— Solar Builder magazine

The perfect couple: How RBI Solar’s new solar tracker relies on custom jaw couplings to conquer tough environments

TB Wood’s L-Jaw couplings

Reliable TB Wood’s L-Jaw couplings connect the drive motor to the driveshaft at the end of each row of PV modules.

Solar tracking system popularity has expanded as costs have come down and as more customers recognize the advantages compared to fixed-tilt systems for certain applications. RBI Solar is the latest well-recognized solar mounting system manufacturer for commercial and utility-scale projects to heed this market demand by debuting its Sunflower Single Axis Tracker.

“We provide single-source responsibility and peace of mind for EPC customers and project developers throughout the United States,” says Eric Oetjen P.E. at RBI Solar. “Developing this solar tracking system was a natural way for us to expand our product portfolio while providing a solution to an industry need.”

Designed to rotate PV modules on the East/West axis to maximize their energy production, the new system is aptly named since young sunflowers turn to face the sun as they track it across the sky.

RBI Solar’s Sunflower Single Axis Tracke

RBI Solar’s Sunflower Single Axis Tracker is designed to rotate PV modules on the East/West axis.

Alternative architecture

Most trackers in the marketplace rely on large motors and heavy steel members to rotate full rows of PV modules at a time. In large-scale installations, rows can be up to 400 ft long, containing as many as 120, 72-cell PV modules. The reason they need heavier steel vertical posts is because, as the large number of modules rotate, they create bending/torque stress. This stress is transferred and increases along the row from post to post.

To accommodate this stress, competitor systems often utilize increasingly larger post sizes as the posts get closer to the drive motor. For example, posts at one end of the row near the drive motor may be 6×9, while posts at the far end of the row may be 6×20.

The engineering team at RBI has developed a tabled (sectioned) system design that utilizes gearboxes. A gearbox is positioned at each post to transmit rotational torque into each foundation post instead of the motor shaft. This prevents accumulation of stresses to the motor. The result is a more load-balanced system that can drive long rows in a more cost-effective manner.

“These gearboxes provide two main advantages,” Oetjen says. “The design is non-back-drivable, so rotational stresses are absorbed at each post and not transmitted back to the motor. This allows us to use the same small post size throughout our entire system. This reduces cost and installation time.

“Secondly, because each row is made up of approximately 35-ft sections, large arrays can be installed over uneven terrain,” Oetjen continues. “Our Sunflower system allows each section of approximately 12 modules to be adjusted at each connection point to accommodate various topographic conditions. This is a major difference compared to systems that require relatively flat surfaces, since their module rows are made up of one continuous, rigid approximately 300-ft section.”

Small component with a big role

The Sunflower system, designed for commercial/utility-grade applications, required a reliable coupling solution to connect the drive motor to the drivetrain at the end of each row of PV modules. The RBI engineering team evaluated options and determined that an L-Jaw coupling was the most economical choice that met the system requirements.

During the tracking system development process, RBI began searching for a coupling source that not only offered the right coupling type and quality level but also convenient face-to-face support.

“Ultimately, we decided to work with TB Wood’s,” Oetjen says. “They were very cost-competitive. Plus, taking into account their high-quality product standards, superior customer service and convenient location, they were the ideal partner. The team at TB Wood’s was willing to work with us to customize the bore geometry of their L-Jaw coupling to provide a better connection to our driveshaft design.”

L-Jaw couplings are an excellent solution to connect two shafts and accommodate misalignment when ease of installation and low-cost are the primary considerations.

“These couplings operate with an elastomer element in compression, and they offer a fail safe’design, to a degree,” says John Smihal, product manager at TB Wood’s.

To meet the solar array application specifications and torque requirements, the modified LO95 L-Jaw couplings supplied use a Hytrel “spider” element with a torque capacity of 401 in.-lbs The couplings feature standard sintered steel hubs that are made in the U.S. If the elastomer legs of the spider fail, the coupling can still transmit torque through the hubs.

“We worked closely with RBI to revise our standard L-Jaw coupling bore design to accommodate their unique shaft geometry and provide a more secure hub-to-shaft connection,” Smihal says. “The TBW L-Jaw couplings provided the most flexibility, durability and consistent quality for our solar track system,” said Oetjen. “However, the overall interactions we had with TBW outweighed all other considerations. We were able to rely, with confidence, on their experienced and knowledgeable team as they provided engineering expertise and exceptional service and support, including fast responses, problem-solving skills and timely delivery.”

Several large Sunflower system installations have been completed and the TB Wood’s couplings continue to provide reliable, trouble-free performance.

— Solar Builder magazine

Solar installations expected to increase 25 percent in 2019 after record first quarter

solar q1 2019

In the first three months of the year, the U.S. installed 2.7 GW of solar photovoltaics, making it the most solar ever installed in the first quarter of a year. With the strong first quarter, Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables forecasts 25% growth in 2019 compared to 2018, and it expects more than 13 GWdc of installations this year.

This data comes from the new U.S. Solar Market Insight Report from Wood Mackenzie and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), whom together announced in May that the U.S. hit the 2 million solar installation milestone during the first quarter of 2019.

“The first quarter data and projections for the rest of the year are promising for the solar industry,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association. “However, if we are to make the kind of progress we need to make the 2020s The Solar Decade, we will need to make substantial policy and market advances.”

U.S. PV capacity installed in the first quarter, Q1 2010 – Q1 2019 (MWdc)

solar market q1 2019

Source: Wood Mackenzie / SEIA U.S. Solar Market Insight Report, Q2 2019.

The largest share of installations during the record-breaking quarter came from the utility PV segment, with 1.6 gigawatts coming on-line, making up 61 percent of PV capacity installed. The report notes that with 4.7 gigawatts of large scale projects under construction, 2019 is on track to be a strong year for utility PV, with 46 percent growth over 2018 expected.

U.S. Utility PV Pipeline, Q2 2019

solar market forecast 2019

Source: Wood Mackenzie / SEIA U.S. Solar Market Insight Report, Q2 2019


“Voluntary procurement of utility PV based on its economic competitiveness continues to be the primary driver of projects announced in 2019,” said Wood Mackenzie Senior Solar Analyst Colin Smith. “While many states, utilities and cities have announced or proposed 50 or 100 percent renewable energy or zero-carbon standards, the announcements have not yet resulted in an uptick in RPS-driven procurement,” added Smith.

Residential and non-residential results

The residential market experienced annual growth as well. According to the report, the U.S. saw 603 megawatts of residential solar installations during the first quarter, up 6 percent annually.

“Despite steady installations in Q1 2019, the residential market is still highly reliant on legacy state markets, such as California and the Northeast, which have seen only modest to flat growth over the past several quarters,” said Wood Mackenzie Solar Analyst Austin Perea. “As these major state markets continue to grow past early-adopter consumers, higher costs of customer acquisition will challenge the industry to innovate product offerings and diversify geographically.”

In fact, the report notes that 29 percent of residential capacity in Q1 2019 came from markets outside the top 10 solar states by capacity, the highest share for emerging markets in industry history.

The non-residential segment, which represents commercial, industrial and public sector distributed solar, saw 438 megawatts of PV installed on the quarter, which was down on both a quarterly and annual basis. According to the report, this is largely a result of state-level policy reforms in historically strong markets for the segment including California, Massachusetts and Minnesota. The authors point to new community solar mandates in New York, Maryland, Illinois and New Jersey that will help reinvigorate the segment beginning in 2020.

Total installed U.S. PV capacity will more than double over the next five years, with annual installations reaching 16.4 GWdc in 2021 prior to the expiration of the residential federal Investment Tax Credit (ITC) and a drop in the commercial tax credit to 10% for projects not yet under construction.

— Solar Builder magazine