Solect Energy launches commercial energy storage division

NEC Storage systems

Solect Energy, one of Massachusetts’ top commercial-scale solar developers with over 400 installed projects, is now launching an energy storage division. In launching the new division, Solect has signed an agreement with NEC Energy Solutions, a wholly-owned subsidiary of NEC Corporation, to sell NEC’s DSS (Distributed Storage Solution) product line for commercial customers. NEC is one of the world’s leading energy storage solutions providers with more than 250 MW (megawatts) of projects installed or currently under construction.

“We couldn’t be more excited about our collaboration with NEC and the opportunity to bring tremendous additional value to both our existing and new customers,” said Ken Driscoll, CEO of Solect Energy. “We are at the doorstep of the energy storage boom and Solect is extremely well positioned to bring these new solutions to our commercial customers, saving them money and building resiliency.”

Since Massachusetts has some of the highest demand charges in the US, accounting for up to 70% of a commercial customer’s electricity bill, both Solect and NEC anticipate that Massachusetts will be one of the next major markets to see commercial-scale energy storage rapidly grow the way it has in California. Demand charges are based on a customer’s monthly peak load and, according to Solect’s market analysis, up to 70,000 commercial customers in Massachusetts currently pay high enough rates to economically justify installing a storage system to even out their energy load profile and lower their demand charges. When paired with solar, the economics are even better due to tax advantages and other ways to monetize the benefits of both systems working together.

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“As Massachusetts’ leading commercial-scale solar energy provider, we are delighted to be working with Solect as a Qualified DSS Partner. There’s no doubt they are well positioned to become one of the leaders in the solar+storage market here in the Commonwealth,” said Steve Fludder, NEC Energy Solutions CEO. “Over the next few years, we expect energy storage to rapidly expand in Massachusetts as commercial customers look for additional ways to cut costs, reduce emissions and enhance resiliency. We look forward to working with the Solect team to capitalize on that growth.”

As a Qualified DSS Partner for NEC, Solect will act as a reseller and independent contractor, installing, operating and maintaining DSS energy storage units. The DSS platform is scalable from 85 kWh to 510 kWh of energy storage capacity and offers from 100 kW up to 710 kW of power capability. As a standardized, UL safety-certified, AC-ready system including power conversion system, the DSS product is preconfigured in outdoor-rated enclosures, compliant with all relevant regulatory and environmental requirements and is backed by up to a 10-year product warranty.

— Solar Builder magazine

Schools using solar energy has doubled in three years — here’s why

solar schools

Schools and solar are a perfect match. This is no longer just a theory either, with 5,489 K-12 schools in the United States now using solar energy — a number nearly double the total solar capacity that was installed at schools in 2014, according to a major new report by The Solar Foundation, Generation 180, and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).

The report, Brighter Future: A Study on Solar in U.S. Schools, 2nd Edition, captures the accelerating trends of solar adoption in U.S. schools. As you might expect, California leads the nation in the number of solar schools by state, with 1,946 solar schools and a 489 MW capacity, followed by New Jersey, Arizona, Massachusetts and New York. Nevada has the highest adoption rate, with 23 percent of schools using solar energy statewide. Arizona has the most solar school capacity on a per capita basis, at 86 watts per student.

Nearly 4 million students in the U.S. attend schools with solar power, with a combined capacity of 910 megawatts (MW), an increase of 86 percent over 2014. The amount of electricity these schools produce annually, at 1.4 million megawatt-hours, is enough to power over 190,000 homes.

“There’s a reason solar is spreading so quickly across America’s school districts, and it’s pretty simple — when schools go solar, the entire community benefits,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, SEIA’s president and CEO. “By switching to solar energy, schools immediately see their electric bills go down, leaving more money for learning. Plus, what teacher wouldn’t want a life lesson in science and conservation right there on school grounds? It’s a win all the way around.”

Why? Lower prices, more financing

The dramatic growth in solar school adoption has been driven by rapidly declining installation costs. The average price of a solar school installation has dropped 67 percent in the last 10 years, and 19 percent in 2016 alone, this report found.

At the same time that costs are going down, schools have more financing options that minimize up-front investment. In recent years, most schools have financed their solar installations through power purchase agreements (PPAs), in which a third-party finances, builds, owns, and maintains the system. This allows schools and districts to purchase solar with very little initial cost. Within the last three years, nearly 90 percent of the schools for which data is available used a PPA to install solar.

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Solar Schools Campaign

In conjunction with this report, clean energy nonprofit Generation 180 is launching a national Solar Schools Campaign to mobilize parents, students, school districts, and local leaders to support the transition to solar energy in their communities. The campaign is creating volunteer teams and will leverage a detailed “how-to-guide” in the report that provides advice on how schools can muster support, assess economic feasibility, identify financing options, generate proposals, and select installers for solar energy systems.

“Many school districts need champions to help make stakeholders aware of the opportunities for going solar,” said Tish Tablan, National Organizer for Generation 180. “Our Solar Schools Campaign is designed to equip these champions with the information and tools they need. Once they see the financial, educational, and environmental benefits, we are confident that many schools will make the transition for a brighter future.”

Case studies on different approaches

• In Bozeman, Montana at Sacajawea Middle school, an eighth grader led a successful campaign to raise $115,000 to install solar. The funds are expected to be paid back through electricity bill savings within nine years.
• In Reno, Nevada, Washoe County School District meets 12 percent of its energy consumption from 4.2 MW of solar installations at 35 schools, which will help the district meet its 20 percent renewable energy goal by 2020.
• In New York State, Broadalbin-Perth Central School District is developing an 8,000-panel, 2 MW offsite solar array to help offset the costs of a capital improvement campaign. The installation is expected to save $5.3 million on electricity bills over 25 years.
• In Arlington, Virginia, Discovery Elementary School uses solar as part of its net-zero design that is a large part of the school’s interactive energy curriculum, saving $100,000 annually on electricity bills.
• In Bakersfield, California, Kern High School District is installing 22 MW on 27 sites, saving an estimated $80 million over 25 years.
• In Illinois, Grayslake Community High School District is meeting 36 percent of its energy consumption through rooftop solar on two high schools and a third, ground-mounted system, saving an estimated $10 million over 25 years.

You can read the full report here.

— Solar Builder magazine

Vermont’s World Learning School adds 196-kW solar system via Sunwealth financing

Sunwealth

Sunwealth helped finance a solar project for the World Learning School for International Training (SIT) campus in Vermont, which originally wasn’t financially feasible.

“We have always been interested in renewables, but they can be cost prohibitive for organizations like ours,” said Kote Lomidze, Chief Financial Officer at World Learning. “Partnering with Sunwealth has given us access to an energy source that has been out of reach until now.”

Commercial solar development has traditionally been overlooked by banks and other financial institutions in favor of residential and utility-scale projects for two primary reasons: the lack of a credit rating system and the size of the projects.

Sunwealth’s proprietary underwriting process, however, ensures the credit worthiness of its commercial clients. In addition, Sunwealth’s approach minimizes transaction costs and provides investors with an attractive return potential and the opportunity to make a positive impact. The 196.5 kW World Learning project will help the national non-governmental organization achieve $10,000 in energy savings per year.

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“The World Learning project represents what we envisioned when launching Sunwealth,” said Jonathan Abe, Chief Executive Officer at Sunwealth. “It’s incredible to see how World Learning is putting its energy savings to work furthering the organization’s mission.”

Solar Design Associates, Inc. an Ayer, Massachusetts engineering firm, and Dynamic Organics, LLC a renewable energy developer located in Putney, Vermont, designed and constructed the World Learning solar project.

“As a local developer, we understand how every installation affects our community,” said Morgan Casella, Managing Partner at Dynamic Organics. “We’re proud to be part of a project team that helps create a more resilient economy right in our backyard.”

 

— Solar Builder magazine

Why sale leasebacks? How this PPA solution gets commercial solar projects financed

solar panels and money

An increasing number of solar developers are realizing they can use sale-leaseback financing to take advantage of tax incentives for solar installations, and in turn, reduce costs, conserve cash, increase profitability and enhance their brands.

Reducing energy costs is a major consideration for many businesses and government entities because they know that lower energy costs translate into improved profitability and cash flow, and investments in sustainability can add significant value to assets.

Developers such as Community Energy and Monolith Solar are using sale leasebacks to finance projects that include a power purchase agreement (PPA), allowing monetization of the tax benefits, inclusive of the investment tax credit and depreciation. In this structure, solar developers own and operate the system and sell the power to a third party.

The features of a smart sale-leaseback project include:

  • Strong credit all around (developers, PPA offtakers, installers)
  • Positive project cash flow
  • Experienced engineering, procurement and construction management teams
  • Tier 1 components
  • Strong site control
  • Solid PPA
  • Strong incentives
  • Quality operations and management plan/partner

Smart sale-leaseback programs allow developers to finance distributed solar projects that otherwise may not be financeable, as this financing structure scales down nicely, following industry trends of lower costs per watt.

Conserve cash, gain flexibility

Solar developers benefit from financing solar equipment acquisitions by preserving cash and credit lines for other uses. Here are some of the other benefits of financing solar capital expenditures:

  • Potential tax benefits. Equipment financing may provide tax advantages by monetizing the Investment Tax Credit, utilizing Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System (MACRS) and bonus depreciation benefits.
  • Stimulus benefits. Additional savings opportunities may be available through solar renewable energy credits and grants.
  • Flexibility. Whether it’s a tax or non-tax lease, payments can be structured to match budget requirements, with terms aligned with the solar equipment’s useful life.
  • Reduced capital outlay. By bundling solar equipment with other costs, including design, engineering, development and installation, businesses can acquire what they need with no money down and one fixed monthly payment. In most cases, 100 percent financing can be provided.
  • Be known as a green leader. A solar system is not only a wise financial investment but also supports environmental values. Financing allows organizations to demonstrate commitments to promoting clean energy and reducing their carbon footprint.

10 questions to ask

In the acquisition of solar equipment, it’s important to weigh all available options. Here are 10 questions to consider:

Before
1. Do I need construction financing?
2. Does the installer have the experience, financial strength, qualified staff and bonding capacity to complete a successful project?
3. Does the project use Tier 1 components?
4. Is the PPA financeable?
5. Does the energy offtaker meet a finance company’s credit requirements, i.e. investment grade credit rating?
6. Do I have good site control?

During
7. What are the lease terms, including tenor, monthly lease payment and end-of-term options?
8. What are my other financial obligations for the equipment (such as insurance, taxes and maintenance) during the financing period?
9. Can I purchase the system during the lease term?

After
10. Can I return the equipment or renew the lease?

With answers to these questions, solar developers can effectively utilize solar equipment financing to conserve cash and build their balance sheets by leveraging PPA revenues and retaining the entire revenue stream, as opposed to selling off the PPA.

Choosing a Finance Partner

Seek out a financing partner who can accommodate businesses with customized payments to match budgetary requirements. Make sure the financing company has solar lease financing experience, understands solar project needs, takes the time to ask questions and listens to your responses.

Above all, look for a financing company with a track record in renewable energy and a willingness to customize leasing solutions to help solar developers finance their projects.

Doug Beebe and Luis Gutierrez are VPs of energy finance for the eastern and western United States, respectively, for Key Equipment Finance.

— Solar Builder magazine

Solar Site Design sees success after completing Tennessee’s Energy Mentor Network program

Solar site design

The Energy Mentor Network, a mentorship program that supports energy entrepreneurs and startups in Tennessee, announced its first graduate, Solar Site Design. The Energy Mentor Network is run by the Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council in partnership with Launch Tennessee.

The goal of the Energy Mentor Network is to foster the growth of Tennessee advanced energy technologies and startups by connecting entrepreneurs with mentors and industry specific expertise. The Network pairs mentors with promising new companies through a structured program involving panel presentations and mentoring sessions.

Headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee, Solar Site Design is a collaborative, cloud-based marketplace platform that connects sales-ready commercial and industrial solar projects to top solar construction companies to drive down customer acquisition costs. In 2015, Solar Site Design won the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot Catalyst award for its innovation on driving down the cost of solar through its software platform. The company was also invited to participate in Launch Tennessee’s annual pitch competition at 36|86, the Southeast’s premier entrepreneurship and technology conference in 2017.

Solar Site Design achieved significant traction while enrolled in the Energy Mentor Network Program. More than 85 construction companies from 27 states have subscribed since the marketplace launched last year. Solar Site Design was among the first pool of applicants to be accepted in November 2016, and the company received strategic business, marketing, and financial guidance by completing a series of panels and discussions with its mentors.

“Solar Site Design is on track to double Commercial Marketplace memberships by the end of 2017 and standardize ‘behind the meter’ commercial solar origination nationwide,” said Jason Loyet, Founder of Solar Site Design.
The company is partnering with leading solar panel manufacturers that will help to attract more construction companies to subscribe to its Commercial Marketplace platform.

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The mentor team for Solar Site Design included Entrepreneur-in-Residence Harvey Abouelata, Vice President of Commercial Solar at Solar Alliance; Coleman Adams, Managing Director of Crescendo Power; and John Hopkins, interim CEO of the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation.

“Tennessee is in a unique position to become the center of success for energy entrepreneurs and businesses,” said Matt Kisber, President of TAEBC and President & CEO of Silicon Ranch Corporation. “The Energy Mentor Network is yet another tool Tennessee can leverage to become the #1 state in the Southeast for high-quality jobs.”
Tennessee has emerged as a leader in the $1.4 trillion global advanced energy market. TAEBC’s Advanced Energy Economic Impact Report found that advanced energy contributes $33.4 billion to the State’s GDP, employs nearly 325,000 and includes 17,000 businesses. Mentorship to energy entrepreneurs is critical to growing advanced energy’s economic impact in Tennessee.

 

— Solar Builder magazine