What Will Drive SREC Prices in 2011?

Most market participants are familiar with the three basic drivers of solar renewable energy credit (SREC) prices – SREC supply, SREC demand, and state solar compliance penalties. Most of this information can be found on RTO and state commission websites and analyzing this data yields an adequate view of the current state of the SREC market. However, to fully understand the 2011 SREC markets, a better understanding of the drivers of supply and demand is required.

SREC Supply Forecast:

The price of panels and installation will be an important input in determining the future supply of SRECs. Panel prices and installation margins have decreased considerably over the last year, especially on the East Coast. Cheaper panels and installation margins mean more development and increased SREC supply. However, 2011 will also see the disappearance of many state solar rebate programs. States like Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and the District of Columbia are finding their coffers running low for state money to support solar projects. This means that new projects in 2011 will have to rely more heavily on the value of SRECs, which should slow development and SREC supply considerably. We have also seen new interest from traditional banks, particularly in large scale solar projects, which should bring down the cost of financing for large scale developers. Private high yield investors have now moved into the commercial and light commercial space, which means more money for these projects but at a pricey cost. Together these market effects will work to determine SREC supply in 2011. For example, will panel prices and installation costs fall enough to compensate for the termination of many state solar rebate programs? These questions will be important to answer before estimating additional SREC supply in 2011.

SREC Demand Forecast:

SREC demand is legislated by the renewable portfolio standards in each state. Consequently, demand would appear to be easy to determine. However, an increasing number of long term SREC contracts and energy suppliers with their own projects will mean that the demand that appears to be in a market could already be “spoken for”. Furthermore, with compliance entities in some states filing for force majeure, demand that should be in the market may in fact be pardoned. Even with all of these moving parts, demand is remains far easier to predict than supply.

Comparing Supply and Demand:

The standard interstate analysis of supply and demand will become more complicated in 2011 as SREC sellers in states with crumbling SREC markets look to cross state lines to sell their SRECs into other states. Determining the pace of those cross-registrations and the flexibility of the market to move those SRECs from one state to another, keeping in mind that some portion of those SRECs are locked into long term contract, will be important to determining the supply and demand balances in each state. Brokers have also added some complication to the market, as offers and bids are multiplied across the market and often give the appearance of significance amounts of demand or supply. Neither of which is healthy for a developing market.

Legislative Changes:

Increased reliance by projects on SREC prices and increased scrutiny brought upon compliance entities to meet the RPS standards will both cause market participants to look more closely at RPS statutes to determine exactly what will and will not qualify in-state. Additionally, where SREC markets can no longer support solar development, the solar community will apply pressure to politicians to increase demand to support job growth in one of today’s few industries reporting job growth: solar.

In the end, the three primary market drivers will remain the same. But what is more important than today’s supply and demand are tomorrow’s. To get a clearer picture of those dynamics, one will have to combine a historic view of growth with the changing landscape ahead to arrive at any number of varied outcomes. After all, that is what makes a market.