Developing the Right Choice (of Developer)

20 Oct 2016

The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) reports that 333 campuses in 46 states have now installed solar, and recent analysis from the Governance & Accountability Institute showed that 80 percent of S&P 500 companies now publish sustainability reports. Corporate and institutional procurement of renewable energy sources continue to rise, doubling each year since 2012. As a result, numerous industry conferences are popping up where renewable energy sellers outnumber corporate buyers in attendance, at least for now.

Yet, as the tens of thousands of energy buyers, sustainability officers, and facilities managers in the US begin to connect with these sellers, one key question arises. How is a buyer to choose the ideal partner to help them meet their energy procurement goals? To answer that question, we have identified some key factors that customers should consider when vetting partners to help them meet their sustainability goals and stabilize their electricity bills.

1. Customization

Because projects come in all shapes in sizes, and because each customer has its own unique needs, a developer’s ability to customize can be key. Larger and more experienced developers equipped with an in-house engineering team can be innovative with design. Complicated sites often need a developer with the resources to address unique challenges and offer a more customized project plan. These developers also have the capital to finance larger, multi-site projects that local developers cannot – or where local developers may offer less-aggressive pricing.

“Due to the substantial and low-cost capital available to the larger, national developers,” said Lauren Harris, Director, Customer Energy Services at Sol Systems, “they tend to offer the lowest price as well as the ability to fund portfolio or multi-site projects.”

On the other hand, while larger developers are often more competitive on price, local developers may offer customers more flexibility with transaction terms and may offer a different story to the customer.

2. Delivery

In our experience, professional local developers have a great record of delivering on time because of the efficiency that results from local connections used for many development tasks that larger developers will contract out. In addition, smaller and more regionally focused shops will likely be managing only a few projects at once, allowing the necessary resources to go through the permitting and interconnection processes, which have potential to consume a great deal of time. In either case, whether a customer is working with a national or local developer, they should ask their developer about development timeliness and execution in the past.

3. Communication

Maintaining effective communication is a critical element to any customer/developer relationship. With a local developer, customers tend to have a direct line to senior management, which can make an otherwise long and complicated process manageable.

National developers tend to possess more rigid communication barriers, and different parts of the development process have potential to get “snagged” in separate departments, slowing progress and often frustrating the customer.

Finding a Balance

Corporates and institutions wishing to procure solar energy should understand that the process is highly involved with many challenges. You should view the developer you select as a partner, and seek one that is flexible, considerably experienced, and committed to high standards of quality and service. We tend to work with local development partners, including engineering and construction firms, to deliver the projects effectively and on time, all the while remaining transparent and engaged with each stakeholder. If you’ve got questions about the process, we’re happy to get on the phone for a bit to chat and give you perspective on markets, partners, and pricing. Please contact us at

This is an excerpt from the October 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, please subscribe or e-mail


Sol Systems, a national solar finance and development firm, delivers sophisticated, customized services for institutional, corporate, and municipal customers. Sol is employee-owned, and has been profitable since inception in 2008. Sol is backed by Sempra Energy, a $25+ billion energy company.

Over the last eight years, Sol Systems has delivered more than 500 MW of solar projects for Fortune 100 companies, municipalities, universities, churches, and small businesses. Sol now manages over $650 million in solar energy assets for utilities, banks, and Fortune 500 companies.

Inc. 5000 recognized Sol Systems in its annual list of the nation’s fastest-growing private companies for four consecutive years. For more information, please visit

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William Patterson

William Patterson