Many definitions of solar renewable energy credits (“SRECs”) say that an SREC is equivalent to one megawatt-hour (1,000 kilowatt hours) of electricity generated by a solar facility. While this is mostly true, it’s not always the case that 1 MWh of solar = 1 SREC. In order for an SREC to be created (or “awarded”), the system must receive certification from the state where that SREC will ultimately be sold – and the system must be registered with the regional transmission organization, such as PJM GATS or NEPOOL GIS. These organizations are the entities that acknowledge solar electricity production of 1 MWH and award the system owner with 1 SREC.

In other words, if a solar energy system is not registered with at least one state and registered with PJM GATS or NEPOOL GIS, the system may produce solar electricity without producing any SRECs. This is important because if no SREC is created, no SREC can be sold.

To further complicate matters, each state has different rules about retroactive SRECs — or how far back SRECs can be awarded. In select situations, SRECs can be retroactively awarded years into the past, whereas other circumstances only allow SREC creation from the state’s certification date forward.

Most often, systems are registered with the state in which they are located, but in certain circumstances, SRECs from one state may be sold into another state which has an open SREC policy and a higher price for SRECs.  In cases where the SREC will be sold into a different state, the system must be registered in the state where the SREC will be sold.

In order to ensure that a solar energy system is producing SRECs, the system owner must complete various forms with one or more state agencies.  This paperwork can be submitted by system owners themselves, or it may be done through the installer, or an SREC aggregator, such as Sol Systems — the nation’s largest and oldest SREC aggregator.

Once a system is registered and producing SRECs, the SRECs can be sold to entities that are willing to buy them.

Why would anyone buy an SREC?

Some states in the U.S. have created Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) that require energy suppliers and utilities to produce a minimum amount of their energy from renewable energy sources.  These pieces of state legislation essentially create a marketplace for renewable energy at a premium price and thus stimulate the development of renewable energy markets. Some Renewable Portfolio Standards have specific provisions that require a portion of the electricity to come from solar (a “solar carveout”), and these states typically have strong solar energy markets and robust SREC markets.

When faced with an RPS with a solar carve-out, utilities have three options: build solar power facilities and produce the solar energy themselves, purchase Solar Renewable Energy Certificates (SRECs) or pay a Solar Alternative Compliance Payment (SACP) – a set price for each Megawatt-hour (MWh) of renewable energy they fail to acquire.

SREC Prices

The price at which SRECs are sold is dependent on 3 market factors: supply, demand, and the level of the alternative compliance payment (ACP). Demand is driven by state RPS requirements and supply is driven by the number and size of individual solar energy systems which are certified to produce SRECs in a given state.  In markets that are undersupplied, the ACP tends to set a ceiling price on the price of SRECs, so a state with a high ACP often leads to high SREC prices – at least until supply catches up to demand. Depending on the intersection of supply, demand, the level of the ACP, as well as the terms of the SREC contract – SREC prices can vary widely.

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