Lots of people know that New Jersey is the 2nd largest solar market in the U.S. and that the market’s strength is largely credited to a robust solar renewable energy credit (“SREC“) market (SRECs traded on the spot market at approximately $650/SREC in early 2011), but there are three things that most people don’t know about the New Jersey SREC market…

1. When does SREC creation begin?
2. What are New Jersey’s solar meter requirements?
3. When will NJ SREC prices fall?

When does SREC creation begin?
SREC creation does not begin as soon as the system is installed or when the system is capable of producing solar electricity. Rather, SRECs are awarded after New Jersey has awarded the system a certification number and the utility has signed off on the interconnection agreement. Thereafter, one SREC is awarded for every megawatt hour of solar energy that is generated.

The SRECs can be sold after the system has been listed on PJM’s Generation Attributes Tracking System (GATS). PJM GATS is responsible for tracking SREC production for systems located in New Jersey and throughout the PJM region (so that SRECs aren’t double-counted).

When it comes to selling SRECs and collecting money for SRECs, system owners have a variety of options. They can sell on the spot market through an aggregator or broker, they can sell through a fixed price contract with a utility or aggregator, or they can pre-sell their SRECs through an upfront agreement. In all of these arrangements, there will be a slight delay in when the system owner actually receives a payment for their SRECs. One reason for the delay is that GATs does not award a credit for an SREC until one month after the SREC is generated.

What are New Jersey’s solar meter requirements?
The most recent rules from the New Jersey Clean Energy Program require systems to have an ANSI certified solar meter with a 5% accuracy rating for systems 10 KW or less and a 1% accuracy rating for systems larger than 10 KW. (Systems that have received REIP funds and that are 10 KW or smaller in size do not need to meet this requirement.)

A solar meter (often called a “utility-grade meter”) is different than the utility meter, the solar meter is installed with the solar energy system and it is ultimately what measures SREC production. To get credit for each SREC that is generated, system owners who have systems larger than 10 KW must provide a monthly meter reading. This reading can be taken manually, or through a remote monitoring system.

When will SREC prices fall?
Unlike some other SREC markets, New Jersey has historically enjoyed high and stable SREC prices. In fact, SREC spot prices actually rose from September 2008 to March 2009, which led some people to regard SRECs as an appreciating asset. The history of high and stable prices has led many system owners and solar developers to believe that spot market SREC prices are guaranteed to remain stable in New Jersey, but unfortunately, this is not true.

To understand why SREC prices will fall eventually, one must understand why NJ SREC prices are currently high. In today’s world, New Jersey energy suppliers have the choice to:
a. Develop their own solar energy facilities
b. Purchase SRECs from solar energy system owners via the spot market or through long-term fixed price contracts
c. Pay an “Alternative Compliance Penalty” (ACP)

Thus far, most energy suppliers have elected to (b) purchase SRECs from solar energy system owners through the spot market and long term contracts. They have done so because they do not currently have enough of their own solar capacity to meet their obligations and they would rather purchase SRECs (at an amount slightly less than the ACP) than they would pay a penalty fee for non-compliance. However, energy suppliers have plans to develop their own plants, and they know that the ACP declines slightly every year (by approximately $15 every year) which means that, no matter what happens, they will be paying less for SRECs in the future.

In addition, the supply of SRECs in New Jersey is increasing as more solar farms, residential and commercial solar energy systems are built (“SREC supply”). Luckily, New Jersey’s RPS legislation calls for an increasing number of SRECs to be bought and/or created by energy suppliers (“SREC demand”). In fact the SREC demand will increase in June 2011, but the supply of SRECs is edging closer and closer to SREC demand.

As of March 2011, there was an SREC undersupply of approximately 10,000 SRECs (equivalent to what 8 MW generates annually). This gap is smaller than it has ever been – but the gap is what helps keep New Jersey’s solar REC prices high. Moreover, new projects are coming online every day (11 MW were installed in February 2011), and there is a pipeline of small residential projects and more than 200 megawatts of large-scale projects that have already been announced. (Here at Sol Systems, it seems we talk to at least one developer each day who is planning a 1+ MW project in New Jersey.)

If just a portion of this pipeline comes to fruition, there may be an oversupply of SRECs which will flood the SREC market and cause SREC spot market prices to fall. On the other hand, history has shown that multi-megawatt solar projects are often delayed or never come to pass – so it’s hard to know exactly when supply will catch up with demand. If an oversupply occurs, SREC spot market prices will begin to fall, and system owners who do not have a fixed-price, multi-year contract like Sol Annuity with an SREC aggregator or an energy supplier could see decreases in their SREC income and their solar energy system ROI.

Alas, even the SREC experts can’t tell you if or when spot market SREC prices will fall in New Jersey. The truth is that SRECs are commodities and system owners need to evaluate their own tolerance for risk when determining their strategy for selling them.

About Sol Systems
Sol Systems is a solar energy finance and development firm that was built on the principle that solar energy should be an economically viable energy solution. With thousands of customers and hundreds of partners throughout the United States, Sol Systems is the largest and oldest SREC aggregator. We provide homeowners, businesses, solar installers, and developers with sophisticated financing solutions that help make solar energy more affordable. Sol Systems also helps energy suppliers and utilities manage and meet their solar RPS requirements efficiently by providing them with access to diverse portfolios of SRECs. For more information, please visit www.solsystemscompany.com.