by George Ashton

As a residential solar installer, you have without question been challenged by prospective customers regarding the high price tag of solar; a typical residential system (3kW in size) can cost between $18,000 and $24,000. Luckily, there are a number of incentives available at the federal, state, and local levels that you can present to your customers to help them realize that solar can be more affordable than often perceived. Federal and state incentives are relatively easy and straightforward to explain. The concept of selling SRECs, however, is more allusive and harder for customers to grasp.

Because SREC income can significantly improve a project’s economics (reducing costs by 20-40% depending on location) and can increase a customer’s return on investment, ensuring that customers understand their SREC options and take advantage of the sale options available will assist your business with closing more sales. This article provides an overview of SRECs and explains the pros and cons of different SREC sale options.

What Are SRECs?
An SREC is a tradable credit that represents the clean energy benefits of electricity generated from a solar energy system. Each time a solar system generates 1000 kWh (1 MWh) of electricity, an SREC is issued which can be sold or traded separately from the power. SRECs have high value in some states where there is legislation called a Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS). An RPS requires energy suppliers to either produce solar energy from their own projects or purchase credits from individuals or businesses that own solar energy systems.

How Are SREC Prices Determined?
RPS Compliance fee schedules dictate how much energy suppliers must pay for each SREC they fail to produce or acquire. As a result, SREC prices usually trade at or below the dollar amount of these compliance fees. In some states, the fee remains the same dollar amount year over year while in other states, like New Jersey and Ohio, the fee decreases over time which will result in a decrease of the price for SRECs over time.

SREC Supply
SREC supply will increase in the coming years. As solar panel prices fall, solar will become more affordable and more popular. As more solar systems are installed, more SRECs will be available on the market. Additionally, as credit markets continue to improve, more large projects will become financeable and built, resulting in more SRECs. Both of these trends will put downward pressure on SREC prices.

SREC Demand
SREC demand will also increase in the coming years. The demand for SRECs in a given state is set by RPS legislation that determines the overall number of SRECs energy suppliers are required to acquire each year, and this number quickly increases year over year in every state with an RPS. Because SRECs are a compliance commodity, if there are more SRECs supplied than demanded in a given state market, the pricing for excess SRECs will likely be equivalent to pricing seen on voluntary SREC markets, which today trade at $15-$30 per credit.

What are the Options for Selling SRECs and the Risks of Each Option?
Selling SRECs on the open market is analogous to day trading in the stock market. Your customers may make good money, but there is no certainty with regards to their long-term profitability. If SREC prices fall for any of the reasons mentioned above, they will receive a lot less for their SRECs. This option is best recommended for SREC sellers who do not rely on SREC proceeds to pay for the cost of a solar energy system and have a little extra time on their hands to monitor the market.

Selling SRECs into a long-term contract can be a strategy that provides adequate returns, but with less risk than selling on the open market. A typical long-term contract offers a fixed price per SREC for a 3-5 year term. By choosing this option, your customers will know exactly how much income they will receive over the contract term. However, the true value of a long-term SREC offer depends heavily on what supports that offer.

The most secure offers come directly from energy suppliers as they are the ultimate purchasers of all compliance eligible SRECs. However, very few energy suppliers offer contracts directly to non-commercial system owners. The next best offer is a contract from a select few SREC companies that back up their promises to purchase SRECs with their own long-term contracts to sell those SRECs to energy suppliers. These SREC companies have negotiated to sell your SRECs to energy suppliers at a specific price for 3-10 years at a time and can pass that guarantee on to you. Beware of SREC companies offering long-term contracts that have not negotiated fixed price long-term contracts to sell SRECs. If they have nothing to support their promises, and the market price falls, it will be difficult for them to honor your customer’s contracts.

Selling your SRECs for an upfront, lump sum payment is the SREC market’s version of a risk free investment; the return is a noticeably lower than the other options, but there is absolutely no risk. With this option, you will sell the rights to your future SRECs in exchange for a discounted one-time payment received close to the date of installation. You keep that money regardless of what happens to SREC markets. This option is recommended for solar energy system owners that are risk averse or having trouble with accessing financing through banks.

Educating your customers on all three SREC sale options and helping them evaluate their risk tolerance and financial needs will be a key strategy to selling more solar energy systems. The metrics presented in this article should help you identify the best route for your customers. Regardless of which option a customer chooses, monetizing their SRECs will play a critical role in financing their solar energy system.

George Ashton is Vice President and CFO of Sol Systems, a solar energy finance company located in Washington DC.