By Josh Garrett for Sol Systems

Ahead of MDV SEIA’s conference “Solar Energy Focus 2012: Developing and Financing Solar on the East Coast,” Sol Systems asked a sampling of conference speakers for previews of their thoughts and remarks. Among other topics, speakers discussed tax equity investment and the challenges it presents, the advantages of distributed generation, and solar energy moving out of the “alternative” category and into the mainstream energy mix. Below are highlights from conversations with two conference speakers.

The U.S. solar industry has made important advancements in recent years, entering new regional markets and vastly improving its competitiveness with conventional power. Richard Moore, the Head of Strategy and Business Development at Washington Gas, believes it’s time to make those advancements part of the industry’s public image. “The solar industry needs to avoid painting itself into a ‘green’ corner,” he explains. “Solar needs to be just ‘another’ energy source, not an ‘alternative’ energy source,” he says. The challenge, Moore states, is showing the public that solar can compete with other energy sources on production levels, durability, and maintenance costs. Moore believes that, in the end, it all comes down to price. In his view, a potential solar customer is simply “a person who wants reliable energy at a reasonable price.” Which is great news for the industry because, as Moore points out, “that describes most of the population.”

To help shift solar into the mainstream energy conversation, Moore thinks the industry needs to more quickly eliminate its reliance on government subsidies. In his view, there is no way to predict or hedge against the constantly changing political trends that could lead to sudden changes in policies that support the industry. That said, solar needs to be proactive in shaping energy legislation, says Moore. He speculates progress can be made on this front by stepping up direct lobbying efforts, but believes that grassroots endeavors would be the most effective. “In our world of electronic communication and social media,” he says, “there are so many ways for citizens to directly influence policy.”

When it comes to the nuts and bolts of expanding the solar industry in the U.S., Moore is a believer in distributed generation in the residential sector. He sees the location of energy generation close to points of consumption as ideal. “Residential distributed generation offers predictable, often lower pricing; enhanced reliability; more control over generation units; and environmental benefits,” he explains. “By bringing all of these benefits together, distributed generation meets the requirements of our consumers,” he continues. “And those requirements need to be met, first and foremost, in order to meet the needs of investors, installers or other participants in the market.”

Turning to the subject of financing for solar projects, Moore offers his take on tax equity investing, which has taken on enhanced significance in the solar industry following the expiration of the federal 1603 grant program. He suggests making it easier for investors outside the renewable energy space to put their tax equity into solar projects by allowing them to invest without learning all of the financial and technical details associated with solar deals. More importantly, Moore believes that the industry should be devoting resources to making tax equity investing a part of the equation rather than the driving force. “If you need to choose between spending time and effort on achieving grid parity and spending time on developing new ways to structure tax equity and incentive funding, it makes a lot of sense to focus on grid parity,” he argues. “Ultimately, this is where the future of the industry resides.”

In the estimation of Zach Axelrod, CEO of solar thermal company Skyline Innovations, tax equity investing is shaping the future of the industry. “There are only 15 to 20 tax equity players,” he says, “not nearly enough to match the number of solar developers in the U.S. Because of this supply/demand imbalance, the investors hold the power. I think this will lead to consolidation in the industry—the number of developers will shrink to get closer to the number of tax equity investors,” he predicts.

Like Mr. Moore, Axelrod sees promise for expansion of solar in the residential sector, though for different reasons. Axelrod enjoys the accessibility to decision-makers afforded by residential projects. “In commercial and utility projects, the decision-maker is known, but often difficult to reach, and competition for his or her time and interest tends to be stiff,” he explains. But Axelrod sees pros and cons of solar projects in all three sectors: residential, commercial, and utility, calling none of them the “perfect target” for solar developers.

Overall, Alexrod takes an optimistic view of today’s U.S. solar industry. He acknowledges that the industry must still overcome significant obstacles, most importantly achieving and/or maintaining profitability while it grows. In his view, solar is here to stay. “You couldn’t say that five or ten years ago,” he elaborates. “Right now, even if all solar incentives were to disappear tomorrow, projects would continue to be planned and built. Market participants will come and go, but solar will not disappear. This is a relatively new development, and one that’s good for the world.”

About the Solar Energy Focus 2012 Conference

Sol Systems is proud to be sponsoring the Solar Energy Focus 2012 conference which will host 50+ speakers, 12 breakout sessions, 350+ business leaders, investors, legal experts, developers and policy-makers. The conference will take place on November 28, 2012 at the Marriott at Metro Center in Washington, DC.  To register for the conference, please visit www.solarenergyfocusconference.com.

About Sol Systems

Sol Systems is a solar finance firm and a leader in financial innovation in the renewable energy industry. Since its inception in 2008, Sol Systems has partnered with 350 solar installers and developers to bring over 3,000 solar projects from conception to completion by offering innovative financing solutions for residential, commercial, and utility-scale projects.

Sol Systems’ financing programs catalyze investments for a broad set of solar projects by simplifying their origination, diligence, and financing processes. Developers seeking financing for solar projects can access over $2.5 billion in capital through the Sol Systems investor network.

In addition to providing financing, Sol Systems also offers project due diligence, deal structuring, and asset management services – all designed to reduce overhead and transaction costs and quicken project development timelines.

For more information, please visit www.solsystemscompany.com or www.solmarket.com