Meet Project Sunlight: A new model aimed at scaling multifamily solar

modern multifamily building

The International Center for Appropriate and Sustainable Technology (ICAST) was awarded $1 million from the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) to develop and coordinate a new approach that partners with local utilities, multifamily affordable housing property owners, investors and other stakeholders, to create a shared solar model that can aggregate multiple properties into one project.

The proposed model will overcome the challenges of scaling solar PV technologies to multifamily affordable housing communities by improving volume efficiency of solar projects while reducing costs and risks. The goals of this project include; the creation of a cost-effective and sustainable financing model, the deployment of an aggregation database for multifamily affordable housing projects, the standardization of the financing process and contracts and the launch of a pilot program.

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“We are very excited to have been selected for this SETO program. Project SunLight will help demonstrate that affordable housing residents CAN access solar energy in a cost-effective manner that is scalable,” said Ravi Malhotra, ICAST’s founder and President.

Models for aggregating demand of small solar end users have been successfully executed. Similarly, the various models of solar financing have demonstrated small scale success. The innovation of Project SunLight lies in combining these approaches and catering them to the specific details of multifamily affordable housing, while appropriately assessing project risk and hurdles in order to scale the program. ICAST has a deep understanding of these market segments, including affordable housing, clean energy, and community development. The innovative nature of this proposal focuses on recruiting entire multifamily affordable housing properties, i.e. all the low-income tenants, under one contract. Through its expertise, ICAST can help multifamily affordable housing owners understand the benefits to their bottom line if low-income tenants receive low-cost solar.

Founded in 2002, ICAST is a social enterprise that provides economic, environmental, and social benefits to under-served communities in a manner that builds local capacity. Through its market-based solutions, ICAST promotes a triple bottom-line approach to community development.

— Solar Builder magazine

Sunrun commits to 100 MW of solar on affordable multi-family housing

Sunrun logo

Sunrun Inc. is expanding its low- and moderate-income solar offering plans to develop a minimum of 100 MW of solar on affordable multi-family housing — in which 80 percent of tenants fall below 60 percent of the area median income — over the next decade in California. Sunrun’s commitment, when fully deployed, will directly benefit at least 50,000 moderate and low-income households.

The installations will be done through building owners at no cost to the tenants.

“Sunrun is built on the foundation that solar energy should be accessible to everyone,” said Lynn Jurich, Sunrun co-founder and Chief Executive Officer. “In offering affordable home solar to residents in low and moderate-income housing, we’re able to support the communities that often experience the most harmful effects of pollution and climate change. This expansion further illustrates the essential role of home solar in improving people’s livelihoods, supporting a healthier environment, and building a more resilient energy system, for everyone.”

As we’ve noted, the lack of plans for solar in the the LMI and multifamily housing sector is holding back massive potential. Smart legislation in the California, such as the affordable housing solar roofs program, has empowered companies like Sunrun to expand access to solar. To date, 39 MW of solar have been installed on affordable multi-family dwellings through the California Public Utilities Commission’s Multifamily Affordable Solar Housing (MASH) program, and will continue through its successor program, Solar on Multifamily Affordable Housing (SOMAH). Sunrun’s commitment aims to satisfy one-third of the SOMAH program’s goal of 300 MW of solar on affordable housing by 2030.”

In addition to its commitment in California, Sunrun is also introducing a discounted electricity rate to low-income residents in Nevada, supported by the state’s RenewableGenerations program, which comes shortly after Sunrun joined the Connecticut Green Bank Program. The company also will continue its six-year partnership with GRID Alternatives. Sunrun has helped install 2.5 MW of solar for 260 families, and generated significant job opportunities for GRID trainees. Sunrun employees have also volunteered over 4,500 hours with GRID.

— Solar Builder magazine

Holland to Get Its Own Vertical Forest

Stefano Boeri’s Bosco Verticale idea has really taken off. Now the city of Eindhoven, the Netherlands will get it’s own vertical forest tower.  Similar buildings have already been built in Paris, France and Lausanne, Switzerland. The tower in Holland will provide affordable inner-city social housing.

The so-called Trudo Vertical Forest will be 246 ft (75 m) tall and have 19 floors. The façade will feature 125 trees, 5,200 shrubs and more than 70 species of plants. These will help cleanse the air, improving its quality, as well as provide a pleasant environment to live in.

The basic design of this tower is different than the previous versions of Bosco Verticale.  The exterior is covered in concrete planters and terraces, which jut out from the sides.

The tower will feature 125 apartment units, intended for young people looking for an affordable place to live. Each apartment will have a balcony with one tree and 20 shrubs. The Stefano Boeri Architetti intends to prefabricate the sections needed to build this tower and then assemble them on site.

The project appears to still be in the planning stage at this time, and there is no information about when construction is set to begin, nor by when it will be finished. Although given the fact that this is a prefab building, it should be erected quickly.

Here’s how a new program will fund more multifamily solar projects in California

california multifamily solar program

Multifamily housing is one of the most complicated segments for the solar industry given the competing interests of tenants and owners. California, usually the first state to do everything in solar, is trying to make this easier with a new program.

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) approved of a new Solar on Multifamily Affordable Housing (SOMAH) program for low-income apartment tenants in December. The goal is provide direct benefit to the tenants from the solar systems on their apartment’s roofs.

“Usually, affordable housing apartment owners pay for the electricity used in the complex’s common areas, not the individual units. Solar PV systems installed on these properties are typically only used to offset electricity in these areas. The property owners receive the savings directly, not the ten-ants. The SOMAH program will now also offset the tenants’ individual utility bills,” says Luciana Da Silva, Adroit Energy’s Director of Marketing and Corporate Development.

This $1 billion program will provide up to $100 million annually for up to 10 years, between 2016 and 2026.  The overall target is to install at least 300 megawatts (MW) of generating capacity on qualified properties by 2030. The program is set to begin August 2018.

Although the AB 693 (Eggman, 2015) Program Administrator and bill verbiage still need to be ironed out, Adroit identified these as the major key points for owners and tenants:

How Will Tenants Directly Save from Solar?

Low-income tenants will receive credits on utility bills through tariffs, namely virtual net metering (VNEM) tariffs. VNEM tariffs provide a mechanism for allocating bill credits from system generation among the property occupants, including both common area electric accounts and the accounts of tenants.

Under SOMAH, tenants receive at least 51% of the VNEM credits from any solar project.

What’s in it for the Property Owners?

SOMAH does not exclusively help the tenants. The bill will allow 49% of VNEM tariffs to flow to common areas. This split will provide the maximum flexibility to property owners to tailor their pro-jects to their particular circumstances.

Additionally, AB 693 authors emphasize the significant value to retaining common area Time of Use (TOU) rate requirements in order “…to encourage property owners to participate in additional ener-gy efficiency, demand response, and other energy management activities.”
Solar systems owners will still be eligible to receive the 30% Federal Incentive Tax Credit will be available when owner’s purchase the system.

Which Affordable Housing Properties Qualify for SOMAH?

• The property must be located in a designated disadvantaged community as identified by the California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA)… Or at least 80 percent of the house-holds in the building must have household incomes at or below 60 percent of the area medi-an income
• Units must be separately metered and eligible for a virtual VNEM tariff.
• It must be an existing building
• The installed solar system must produce at least 1 kW of electricity, and not more than 5 MW, alternating current rated peak electricity.
• Your utility providers must be Pacific Gas and Electric Company, San Diego Gas & Electric Company, Southern California Edison Company, Liberty Utilities Company, and PacifiCorp Company.
• There must be at least 10 years remaining on the term of the property’s affordability restrictions.

Property Owners Cannot Hike Up the Rent

Property owners are required to sign a contract to ensure no additional costs for the system will be passed on to low-income tenants at the properties. This includes increased rents, adjustments to utility allowances, or other mechanisms. Owners must demonstrate 100% of the economic benefits of the system’s generation will be reserved for tenants through the life of the system.

The rule also applies to third-party system owners, whom must also “…provide ongoing operations and maintenance of the system, monitor energy production, and kWh production levels projected for the system are achieved.”

Ensures Job Training and Local Hiring

The commission will develop local hiring plans to promote economic development in disadvantaged communities and job training requirements similar to those currently in place for the MASH program. In addition, program service providers must produce economic benefits by providing job opportunities to residents of disadvantaged communities.


— Solar Builder magazine

Sunvalley Solar acquires Rayco Energy to expand into residential, multifamily

solar business acquisition

Actual footage of deal being made.

Sunvalley Solar just acquired of Rayco Energy Inc., an established northern California company that specializes in providing cost-saving and efficient energy solutions, including LED lighting, Solar Thermal and Solar Electricity, to local communities and business units.

Rayco Energy combines energy efficiency measures with renewable energy sources and services the multifamily sector (apartments, Homeowner Associations (HOA)) and small-sized commercial projects. These two sectors are currently underserved and have high growth patterns predicted over the next 10 years as land becomes more expensive and urban density increases in Northern and Southern California. Rayco is an established market leader in the multi-family sector and positioned for steady growth over the next 5 years. Energy savings projects (solar, lighting, controls) are all market ready and have been adopted by mainstream clients.

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Dr. James Zhang, CEO/President of SSOL, notes that, “The acquisition will not only expand our existing solar business footprint from mainly Southern California to Northern California, it will also expand our business coverage from commercial solar systems to the residential and multi-family sectors The acquisition will accelerate Sunvalley’s revenue growth and business expansion. We are very excited about adding additional experienced management and EPCM professionals to our Sunvalley team.” This EPCM group specializes in development, engineering and management of residential and multi-family sector projects, while subcontracting much of the construction. The Rayco energy business is expected to contribute significantly to Sunvalley’s revenues in 2016.

The acquisition will be funded through the issuance of restricted shares of SSOL Series B Preferred stock and $350K in cash. The cash portion is conditional upon the 2016 net operating profit of Rayco Energy, Inc, as a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Buyer.

Sunvalley Solar, Inc. offers comprehensive solar energy technology, system design, installation, equipments, and technical support for electrical contractors, builders, homeowners, businesses/commercial buildings, and government entities that assist them in lowering of utility bills, reducing environmental impacts, and increasing energy reliability and independence through solar energy.

— Solar Builder magazine