SEIA updates Solar Tax Manual for first time since 2016

SEIA

Known throughout the industry as the must-have guide for solar tax and finance issues, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) is now releasing Version 9.0, the first comprehensive update of the SEIA Solar Tax Manual since 2016. Among several updates, the new guide incorporates the commence construction guidance issued by the IRS earlier this year and includes the effects of the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” enacted at the end of 2017.

“Given all of the recent changes, the demand for this resource has never been greater,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, SEIA’s president and CEO. “This comprehensive document provides SEIA members a leg up, as it explains and fully outlines the potential tax benefits and deal structures for solar projects.”

sb-econference-web-post

Developed with the help of Keith Martin at Norton Rose Fullbright US LLP, the SEIA Solar Tax Manual covers tax credits for both commercial and residential solar projects, tax credit bonds, loan guarantees, low-interest loans and grants, state tax considerations, and more.

“The SEIA Tax Manual is a valuable SEIA member benefit,” said Lee Peterson, Senior Tax Manager for CohnReznick’s National Renewable Energy Practice. “It is incredibly valuable because it collects in one place the primary federal tax rules and concepts that drive the industry, while being easy for non-tax specialists to read and use.”

The SEIA Solar Tax Manual is a SEIA members-only benefit.

— Solar Builder magazine

Six solar industry storylines to watch from Solar Power International 2018

Q Cells

Photo of a cool booth setup.

Your Solar Builder editor entered the whirlwind of news, numbers and handshaking that is Solar Power International and emerged with a notepad filled with gibberish. What language is this? What secrets does it hold? We sent it to a forensics lab, the archaeological department at Oxford and the guy with wild hair on Ancient Aliens for their interpretations. After this thorough analysis, we believe these are the top solar story lines in a post-SPI world …

1. Focus shifts from federal politics to local action

You get the sense that the solar industry has finally punted on trying to waste much more time inching the message boulder up the current administration’s hill and is now putting those resources into local efforts. This is likely the better route to go anyway, and the initiatives announced at SPI could do the trick if developed.

Just before SPI kicked off, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and The Solar Foundation unveiled the Solar Automated Permit Processing (SolarAPP) initiative, which is the latest collective effort of the industry to streamline permitting. Reforms include: A safety and skills training and certification program that allows residential and small commercial solar and battery storage installers to attest that their projects are compliant with applicable codes, to eliminate traditional multi-step permitting processes; a standardized online platform provided to local governments at no cost, a list of established equipment standards and/or certified equipment for solar and storage projects installed through the proposed process and more.

There have been several attempts at this over the years, all of which fell short, but this one might have a shot because of the timing. The economic case for solar has never been better, and the technology and techniques are proven with copious examples to highlight.

Also, what local government would turn down the promise of a ton more jobs? To grow that base of skilled solar workers around the country, the Solar Training Network introduced AmericanSolarWorkforce.org, an online platform to help solar companies recruit qualified candidates; allow solar job seekers to find career and training opportunities; and help the entire industry build a strong and diverse solar workforce. Using this platform, which is free of charge, employers can post opportunities on a solar job board and connect with thousands of candidates looking for solar career opportunities. Employers can also create company profiles, review candidate applications, and communicate with potential hires.

2. Solar pros see the short-comings of the industry and are actively trying to address them.

Two key examples here. First is in grid services. Features for grid services are mentioned all of the time now, from inverter and optimizer products to the need for storage and other ancillary services. I take it as a sign that the relationship between utilities and solar companies is now evolving past an adversarial stage because there’s nothing left to prove about solar as viable generating asset. Now, solar has to prove how it will best integrate and play nice on a wide scale over the long-term. This was always the case, but it feels everyone is getting on the same page about pursuing solutions.

For example, of all the things bouncing around the mind of CJ Colavito, VP of Engineering at Standard Solar, these days, he most wants to find a way to sync third-party radar forecasts with smart inverters for advanced ramp rate control — to ramp down voltage slowly prior to cloud cover that will cause voltage flicker.

Solar Power International

SEIA CEO Abigail Ross Hopper and SEPA CEO Julia Hamm discuss diversity as an important goal for their respective industries.

The second short-coming is a short-coming for most industries: diversity. Judging by comments during the opening session and the upcoming Solar Jobs Census, solar thought leaders realize the industry is in position to not just remake the grid, but the makeup of the American workforce – not just to be PC and nice but because there is value inherent in a diversified workforce with growth opportunities. Also, check out this initiative from SEIA to work with Historically Black Colleges.

3. The full solar life cycle needs more attention.

One area in the U.S. solar industry still in need of attention is the full sustainability of a solar project. For example, panel recycling is a fairly big can that keeps getting kicked down the road. A DNV GL report released at SPI listed stranded assets as a key question in its market mechanics. At some point we will run out of road and kick that can straight into a million tons of PV that needs to be put somewhere. This isn’t a crisis (at least not yet) because there are solutions, at least according to First Solar, which has developed a standard for doing so and been put its system in place. Solar is recycled fairly easily — and for a profit — in Europe and that model could be replicated here.

The next can soon to be kicked is in storage. Storage is basically the key to solar taking over the world, but storage is dirtier than solar on the clean energy scale. Cobalt is a safety hazard. Lithium needs to be mined and poses its own potential for fire. Lead-acid battery companies claim to have the most recyclable solution, but does it perform as well as the future needs? And also, it is comprised of lead and acid. This is stuff that needs to be fully considered within the grand plans.

4. So many storage solutions…

LG energy storage

The new LG energy storage system.

Speaking of storage, every turn on the trade show floor seemed to present a new energy storage system or bundle of products to solve all sorts of solar + storage equations, from simpler backup capabilities to time of use to peak shaving and on and on. Panasonic has a full solution pairing Pika’s islanding inverter with its batteries and modules. LG debuted its complete solar + storage system for the home. SimpliPhi has varied its case sizes and voltage range. Sonnen has gone full tilt into energy management + home automation – a long fantasized idea that is now real-life – that is more load shaping than load shifting.

It’s all very cool. The issue from installers we chatted with at the show is there’s no one software that can deftly handle all of the storage mathematics they need (those that are great for peak shaving can’t be used for resiliency, etc.). There’s more to figure out here, just like on the battery side, but each SPI feels closer and closer to the goal line.

5. Some cool C&I rooftop innovations.

The reigning champion for the “biggest solar opportunity with the biggest issues to solve,” the commercial and industrial rooftop, saw several big-time debuts to ease some of these headaches.

A ton of solar deals are off the table because of the commercial rooftop life cycle and price tag. The deals that do go through on a different timeline than the roof itself are going to be a huge headaches come roof replacement time. Headaches meaning stuff will for sure be broken when the solar system is removed, stored and put back on. Standard Solar and Carlisle Roofing teaming up to solve this at the outset with a bundled package — a new C&I silicone coating spray applied to the existing roof membrane (with optional insulating foam) that installed with the PV system. The deal is financed through a PPA agreement with Standard Solar, so the building owner is essentially paying for the new roof (good for 50+ years) during the 25-year PPA.

ESDEC rooftop solar mounting system

The ESDEC Flat-Fix

On the system side, available in the first time in the U.S., Holland-based ESDEC debuted its slick Flat-Fix commercial rooftop mounting system. The same lightweight design can be laid out in south-facing or east-west configurations and is built with one tool, keeping the SKUs at a minimum. The feet are adhered with glue (or a bolt if needed) and an optional ballast tray. The system is already proven but the team needed to make a few tweaks to launch in the U.S., mostly relating to cable management, all of which were cleverly designed like the rest of the system.

Remote C&I system design has never been easier thanks to Nearmap’s updates. Its digital surface and line of sight analysis produces a jaw-droppingly clear picture for 71 percent of the U.S. population that is updated 3 times per year. You can really tell the difference between obstruction or dirt, as well as accurately measure the pitch and dimensions of any surface. When combined with the newest version Aurora Solar’s software, Aurora estimates 10x performance upgrades for multi-megawatt, commercial-scale solar projects added with the ability to simulate the solar energy production of a PV system while designing, allowing real-time assessment of design choices and elimination of change orders. An enhanced “fill zone” functionality is also available to automatically optimize solar panel locations to maximize the number that fit within an available space.

6. The next big trend will emerge from the California solar mandate (and maybe it’s an old one?).

Consider a company like CertainTeed – been around for a long time, and didn’t have a lot new at its booth to discuss. Its solar products are focused mostly on roof-integrated options that are not as popular as traditional mounting + solar panels on an existing roof sold and installed by solar installers. But when all new homes in California are going to need to come with solar already on the roof, will builders and roofers favor something like this they can handle themselves? Or, consider SunFlare, a company with a flexible CIGs technology. In 2018 it seems like a niche product – can be installed on top of existing carports and other nontraditional areas, but it’s close to working with a high-end national homebuilder that liked its solar shingle because “it’s a roofing product, not a solar product,” thus allowing them to install new solar on a new house without contracting out. The president of ESDEC also mentioned that in Holland their mounting system is seen as so simple to install that HVAC companies are a big customer segment for them because they could easily add it to their service offering.

Will the mainstreaming of solar earlier in the building process end up cutting out companies and products that rule the day today? Maybe a wild thought, just remember to keep your hands and arms inside the solarcoaster at all times.

— Solar Builder magazine

Six solar industry storylines to watch from Solar Power International 2018

Q Cells

Photo of a cool booth setup.

Your Solar Builder editor entered the whirlwind of news, numbers and handshaking that is Solar Power International and emerged with a notepad filled with gibberish. What language is this? What secrets does it hold? We sent it to a forensics lab, the archaeological department at Oxford and the guy with wild hair on Ancient Aliens for their interpretations. After this thorough analysis, we believe these are the top solar story lines in a post-SPI world …

1. Focus shifts from federal politics to local action

You get the sense that the solar industry has finally punted on trying to waste much more time inching the message boulder up the current administration’s hill and is now putting those resources into local efforts. This is likely the better route to go anyway, and the initiatives announced at SPI could do the trick if developed.

Just before SPI kicked off, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and The Solar Foundation unveiled the Solar Automated Permit Processing (SolarAPP) initiative, which is the latest collective effort of the industry to streamline permitting. Reforms include: A safety and skills training and certification program that allows residential and small commercial solar and battery storage installers to attest that their projects are compliant with applicable codes, to eliminate traditional multi-step permitting processes; a standardized online platform provided to local governments at no cost, a list of established equipment standards and/or certified equipment for solar and storage projects installed through the proposed process and more.

There have been several attempts at this over the years, all of which fell short, but this one might have a shot because of the timing. The economic case for solar has never been better, and the technology and techniques are proven with copious examples to highlight.

Also, what local government would turn down the promise of a ton more jobs? To grow that base of skilled solar workers around the country, the Solar Training Network introduced AmericanSolarWorkforce.org, an online platform to help solar companies recruit qualified candidates; allow solar job seekers to find career and training opportunities; and help the entire industry build a strong and diverse solar workforce. Using this platform, which is free of charge, employers can post opportunities on a solar job board and connect with thousands of candidates looking for solar career opportunities. Employers can also create company profiles, review candidate applications, and communicate with potential hires.

2. Solar pros see the short-comings of the industry and are actively trying to address them.

Two key examples here. First is in grid services. Features for grid services are mentioned all of the time now, from inverter and optimizer products to the need for storage and other ancillary services. I take it as a sign that the relationship between utilities and solar companies is now evolving past an adversarial stage because there’s nothing left to prove about solar as viable generating asset. Now, solar has to prove how it will best integrate and play nice on a wide scale over the long-term. This was always the case, but it feels everyone is getting on the same page about pursuing solutions.

For example, of all the things bouncing around the mind of CJ Colavito, VP of Engineering at Standard Solar, these days, he most wants to find a way to sync third-party radar forecasts with smart inverters for advanced ramp rate control — to ramp down voltage slowly prior to cloud cover that will cause voltage flicker.

Solar Power International

SEIA CEO Abigail Ross Hopper and SEPA CEO Julia Hamm discuss diversity as an important goal for their respective industries.

The second short-coming is a short-coming for most industries: diversity. Judging by comments during the opening session and the upcoming Solar Jobs Census, solar thought leaders realize the industry is in position to not just remake the grid, but the makeup of the American workforce – not just to be PC and nice but because there is value inherent in a diversified workforce with growth opportunities. Also, check out this initiative from SEIA to work with Historically Black Colleges.

3. The full solar life cycle needs more attention.

One area in the U.S. solar industry still in need of attention is the full sustainability of a solar project. For example, panel recycling is a fairly big can that keeps getting kicked down the road. A DNV GL report released at SPI listed stranded assets as a key question in its market mechanics. At some point we will run out of road and kick that can straight into a million tons of PV that needs to be put somewhere. This isn’t a crisis (at least not yet) because there are solutions, at least according to First Solar, which has developed a standard for doing so and been put its system in place. Solar is recycled fairly easily — and for a profit — in Europe and that model could be replicated here.

The next can soon to be kicked is in storage. Storage is basically the key to solar taking over the world, but storage is dirtier than solar on the clean energy scale. Cobalt is a safety hazard. Lithium needs to be mined and poses its own potential for fire. Lead-acid battery companies claim to have the most recyclable solution, but does it perform as well as the future needs? And also, it is comprised of lead and acid. This is stuff that needs to be fully considered within the grand plans.

4. So many storage solutions…

LG energy storage

The new LG energy storage system.

Speaking of storage, every turn on the trade show floor seemed to present a new energy storage system or bundle of products to solve all sorts of solar + storage equations, from simpler backup capabilities to time of use to peak shaving and on and on. Panasonic has a full solution pairing Pika’s islanding inverter with its batteries and modules. LG debuted its complete solar + storage system for the home. SimpliPhi has varied its case sizes and voltage range. Sonnen has gone full tilt into energy management + home automation – a long fantasized idea that is now real-life – that is more load shaping than load shifting.

It’s all very cool. The issue from installers we chatted with at the show is there’s no one software that can deftly handle all of the storage mathematics they need (those that are great for peak shaving can’t be used for resiliency, etc.). There’s more to figure out here, just like on the battery side, but each SPI feels closer and closer to the goal line.

5. Some cool C&I rooftop innovations.

The reigning champion for the “biggest solar opportunity with the biggest issues to solve,” the commercial and industrial rooftop, saw several big-time debuts to ease some of these headaches.

A ton of solar deals are off the table because of the commercial rooftop life cycle and price tag. The deals that do go through on a different timeline than the roof itself are going to be a huge headaches come roof replacement time. Headaches meaning stuff will for sure be broken when the solar system is removed, stored and put back on. Standard Solar and Carlisle Roofing teaming up to solve this at the outset with a bundled package — a new C&I silicone coating spray applied to the existing roof membrane (with optional insulating foam) that installed with the PV system. The deal is financed through a PPA agreement with Standard Solar, so the building owner is essentially paying for the new roof (good for 50+ years) during the 25-year PPA.

ESDEC rooftop solar mounting system

The ESDEC Flat-Fix

On the system side, available in the first time in the U.S., Holland-based ESDEC debuted its slick Flat-Fix commercial rooftop mounting system. The same lightweight design can be laid out in south-facing or east-west configurations and is built with one tool, keeping the SKUs at a minimum. The feet are adhered with glue (or a bolt if needed) and an optional ballast tray. The system is already proven but the team needed to make a few tweaks to launch in the U.S., mostly relating to cable management, all of which were cleverly designed like the rest of the system.

Remote C&I system design has never been easier thanks to Nearmap’s updates. Its digital surface and line of sight analysis produces a jaw-droppingly clear picture for 71 percent of the U.S. population that is updated 3 times per year. You can really tell the difference between obstruction or dirt, as well as accurately measure the pitch and dimensions of any surface. When combined with the newest version Aurora Solar’s software, Aurora estimates 10x performance upgrades for multi-megawatt, commercial-scale solar projects added with the ability to simulate the solar energy production of a PV system while designing, allowing real-time assessment of design choices and elimination of change orders. An enhanced “fill zone” functionality is also available to automatically optimize solar panel locations to maximize the number that fit within an available space.

6. The next big trend will emerge from the California solar mandate (and maybe it’s an old one?).

Consider a company like CertainTeed – been around for a long time, and didn’t have a lot new at its booth to discuss. Its solar products are focused mostly on roof-integrated options that are not as popular as traditional mounting + solar panels on an existing roof sold and installed by solar installers. But when all new homes in California are going to need to come with solar already on the roof, will builders and roofers favor something like this they can handle themselves? Or, consider SunFlare, a company with a flexible CIGs technology. In 2018 it seems like a niche product – can be installed on top of existing carports and other nontraditional areas, but it’s close to working with a high-end national homebuilder that liked its solar shingle because “it’s a roofing product, not a solar product,” thus allowing them to install new solar on a new house without contracting out. The president of ESDEC also mentioned that in Holland their mounting system is seen as so simple to install that HVAC companies are a big customer segment for them because they could easily add it to their service offering.

Will the mainstreaming of solar earlier in the building process end up cutting out companies and products that rule the day today? Maybe a wild thought, just remember to keep your hands and arms inside the solarcoaster at all times.

— Solar Builder magazine

Solar industry leaders launch new initiative to automate solar project permitting

solar permitting red tape

A big issue still holding back the U.S. solar industry in areas around the country is cumbersome and inconsistent permitting and inspection processes. This is an issue we covered in-depth in “Shadow Costs,” the cover feature of our Sept./Oct. issue. With the support of industry leaders, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and The Solar Foundation are kicking off Solar Power International week by unveiling the Solar Automated Permit Processing (SolarAPP) initiative, which they say will streamline permitting and slash the cost of solar installations.

Today, the permitting and inspection process adds about $7,000 in direct and indirect costs, approximately $1.00 per watt, to a typical residential solar energy system. In addition to reducing the expense of solar installations, SolarAPP improves the efficiency of going solar by creating a rules-based, automated permitting and inspection process.

“The goal is to make solar permitting more straightforward, and more routine, while at the same time maintaining the safety and reliability that U.S. solar projects are known for,” said SEIA’s president and CEO Abigail Ross Hopper. “SolarAPP will cut unnecessary red tape, while saving Americans thousands of dollars. By making the process of going solar more efficient, both our companies and their customers win.”

sb-econference-web-post

“Reforming the solar and battery permitting process is one of the most significant steps our country can take to making solar more affordable for all,” said Lynn Jurich, CEO of Sunrun. “There is a patchwork of inconsistent permitting procedures and standards across the U.S. and our customers pay the high costs of navigating this system. We have an opportunity to help the industry invest in a million more solar roofs over the next 5 years from the savings by making the permitting process faster, while ensuring safety and reliability for all.”

The following reforms are involved:

• A safety and skills training and certification program that allows residential and small commercial solar and battery storage installers to attest that their projects are compliant with applicable codes, laws, and industry practices, thus eliminating the need for a traditional multi-step permitting process;

• A simple, standardized online platform that will be provided to local governments at no cost, to “register” and automatically screen qualifying systems for local government authorities;

• A list of established equipment standards and/or certified equipment for solar and storage projects installed through the proposed process;

• The creation, or refinement, of system design standards for qualifying solar projects;

• A model instantaneous permitting regime for home and small-commercial solar and battery storage systems installed by certified installers and contractors;

• A program administrator to oversee and implement the plan, including providing technical assistance to state and local jurisdictions and utilities.

“An automated solar permitting process will reduce unnecessary costs and give Americans more freedom to choose how they meet their energy needs,” said Andrea Luecke, president and executive director at The Solar Foundation. “With this plan, we have a clear path forward to make solar installations even more affordable and widespread.”

The solar industry is working with stakeholders across the industry and government, seeking feedback on SolarAPP.

— Solar Builder magazine

SEIA, HBCU Coalition launch effort to increase diversity in solar industry

SEIA

With a goal of making the solar workforce and solar communities more diverse, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and the Historically Black Colleges and Universities Community Development Action Coalition (HBCU-CDAC) have begun a new effort to increase recruitment of African-American students into the industry.

SEIA and the HBCU-CDAC, have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to begin a comprehensive effort to help the solar industry recruit and employ more students from the nation’s 101 Historically Black Colleges and Universities. This will include hosting a national jobs fair, individual jobs fairs at the HBCU schools and bringing solar companies to campuses for recruitment.

“Diversity and inclusion is one of our highest priorities and, while we’ve made progress, we still have a long way to go to make the solar industry more accurately reflect the diversity of the communities we serve,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, SEIA’s president and CEO. “Those of us in solar joined this industry because we want to make the world better for all, which is why we’re excited to partner with CDAC, tap into the talent at HBCUs, and bring more of these students into our growing industry.”

RELATED: Study shows where solar industry diversity falls short

As an outcome of the partnership, SEIA and CDAC will work with participating HBCUs to create a database of students pursuing clean energy degrees, or those interested in working in solar, that will be accessible by SEIA companies. Both organizations will work with campus representatives to foster resume exchanges and coordinate interviews among participating companies.

sb-econference-web-post

“As a national community economic development intermediary offering programs and activities that target HBCUs and their host communities, we are delighted to partner with SEIA in exposing HBCU students as well as their faculty and staff to opportunities in solar and clean energy,” said Ron Butler, CDAC’s CEO. “With an ultimate goal of community empowerment and economic relevancy, we see diversity and inclusion in this growing industry from all aspects including workforce and enterprise development.”

CDAC’s COO Henry Golatt commented that “clean energy both now and in the foreseeable future is integral to our national economy and security. CDAC’s goal in this regard is to ensure HBCUs are not only at the table but adequately engaged.”

The new recruitment effort is one of SEIA’s many efforts to foster diversity and inclusion. This includes a best practices guide for promoting diversity in the solar workforce, as well as its Women’s Empowerment Initiative, which provides networking, training and other development opportunities. In November, SEIA is hosting its latest summit, in Chicago, to discuss how to increase women’s leadership in the industry.

In addition, Hopper recently joined a group of 450 chief executives committed to advancing diversity and inclusion in the workplace, signing the pledge for CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion. The pledge contains three commitments: making the organization’s workplace a trusting place to have complex conversations around diversity and inclusion, implementing unconscious bias education, and sharing best practices and challenges with others.

SEIA’s work on diversity will continue at the industry’s biggest event of the year, Solar Power International (Sept. 24-26). There, the organization is convening 10 separate workshops to encourage diversity, including conversations to bring more capital into underserved communities, how to make solar more accessible to low-income and low-credit Americans, along with sessions focusing on community outreach, multiple women’s networking events and a job fair. Head here for the complete schedule and register for the conference.

— Solar Builder magazine