Q4 is always the most intense part of the year for the solar industry, as developers and EPCs rush to complete year-end deadlines. This Q4 was no different. In fact, it was even more so. Financiers all rushed to close 2015 deals. Developers rushed to lock in 2016 pipeline. MUSH hosts were rushing to issue RFPs for projects that could be built by the December 31, 2016 ITC placed in service deadline. Rush, rush, rush.
But then, everything changed.
Since the ITC extension passed, developers and host customers alike have stopped to ponder: “Why the rush?” End users that issued RFPs are asking: “Maybe I should put this project on hold and see if costs come down over the next couple years.” More often than not, we’re seeing these potential solar customers as the ones putting the brakes on a deal to retool it, or even re-shop it.
As for developers, some are noticing that in the mad rush to lock in 2016 pipeline by year-end, key diligence items were overlooked. If you have a contract for a 2016 project and missed a key item in diligence (“Shoot, how am I interconnecting this thing again?”), by all means, use this short reprieve to take a step back and get your ducks in a row before shopping your project to a financier. But, don’t wait too long. Contracts expire, SREC values decline, and pricing may change as a result. With much delay, lenders may reallocate funds.
Similarly, if the end user is asking for more time to see where the market goes, tell them there is no time like the present. Since 2010, the cost of a solar electric system has gone down by 70% according to Sunshot. Moving forward, the most potential for dramatic costs declines will come from soft cost reductions (permitting, financing, O&M, customer acquisition, etc.) that are challenging to predict. Moreover, who knows if the cost of capital will continue to drop or begin to climb as interest rates rise and YieldCos pause many of their actions in the market.
Solar has some great momentum right now, but remember: there are many unknowns. As the saying goes, a bird in the hand is better than two in the bush. Rush hour is over, but don’t get left behind.
This is an excerpt from our January edition of SOURCE: the Sol Project Finance Journal, a monthly electronic newsletter analyzing the solar industry’s latest trends based on our unique position in the solar financing space. To view the full Journal or subscribe, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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