What should you consider before having solar panels installed in San Diego ? How should you decide which installation company is right for you? What type of solar should you choose? photovoltaic or solar thermal? Are there upkeep or maintenance costs?
All of these are valid and common questions when considering solar panels. It’s a big investment and so it’s understandable that you will have questions and concerns. I’ve collated some basic knowledge, tips and advice on how to ensure you find a good company to install your solar panels and highlight some of the points you should consider when having photovoltaic panels installed at your property.
1. MCS Approved Installers
Firstly, and most importantly, ensure that your chosen installer is an “MCS approved installer”. MCS stands for Microgeneration Certification Scheme and it is an indication to consumers that the installer has been assessed and adheres to standards and regulations that are set by the MCS.
MCS Approved Installers are awarded certification as a result of a thorough assessment of the supply, design, installation, set-to-work and commissioning of renewable microgeneration technologies, solar panels.
2. MCS Approved Solar Panels
Alongside MCS Approved installers, make sure that your panels are also MCS approved. MCS Approved Solar Panels also undergo rigorous standards.
To receive certification, MCS Approved Solar Panels not only receive product testing, but the manufacturing processes, materials, procedures and staff training also undergo assessment. Certification is only awarded if every step and stage meets the criteria.
3. NIC EIC Certification
All electricians who provide services in the UK should be NIC EIC certified. Solar installers are no different and you should make sure the company you choose has received certification. You will then be safe in the knowledge that your system complies with national safety requirements as stipulated by the governing body responsible NIC EIC certification.
4. Solar Panel Quotes
Don’t rely on the first or cheapest company you find – ask for quotes from a number solar installation companies, and let the companies know that you plan to do this. This should help ensure that you receive competitive quotes and it also gives you a benchmark from which you can compare quotes against quotes. It might give you some leverage to “play” companies off against one another to get that quote figure knocked down a little. Companies only exist to make money, so they won’t want to lose a potential customer.
Talk to companies who visit your property to provide you with quotes and ask plenty of questions. This will give better understanding and knowledge of what to expect and what you are told. Consider all your quotes before committing to any one in particular.
5. Cheapest Doesn’t Mean Best
As with most things in life, the cheapest quote you can find won’t necessarily get you the best end result. That doesn’t mean you should opt for the most expensive solar panels either. Find a quote which you feel is fair and just as importantly, choose a company that you feel comfortable about dealing with, a company who answers your questions and takes time to explain the technical side of things in a manner that you understand.
This doesn’t just apply to the company’s bottom line figure, but also the individual materials and equipment the company quotes for. If you haven’t been provided with a detail or itemised quote, ask for one. This way, you will know what equipment and materials you are paying for, and you can compare this to your other quotes.
The technology is constantly evolving and in terms of energy generation for the masses, it is still quite new so there will always be improvements and enhancements being made. Ask your company what products they will be using for your install and take some time to do some background research on them: Are there any problems with the panels? Are there newer versions? Is the price about right? Are there any forums which advise for or against them? Learn about solar panel technology and the terminology used, this will help you avoid being “blinded” by jargon.
7. Calculate Potential Feed in Tariff Earnings
The Government’s Feed in Tariff has been extremely influential in the popularity of solar panels. You get paid for all electricity generated from your solar panels, even if you consume it personally. As a general overview, from 3rd March 2012, the rate is 21p/kWh and then from 1st July 2012 the rate of return will be between 16.5p/kWh – 13.6p/kWh. This rate will depend on the number of panel installations completed between March and April 2012. You can also use one of the many online calculators to see how much money you could be earning on your potential investment.
The Feed in Tariff means that whilst your initial investment may be a big outlay, not only will you save money on your energy bills, but you will also generate an income. This takes the investment in solar panels way beyond most returns from other “normal” monetary investments. If you have money invested in savings accounts, maybe consider solar panels.
8. Solar Thermal and Photovoltaic Panels
Take some time to decide whether solar thermal or photovoltaic systems would be more beneficial to your property. Solar thermal generates hot water, whilst photovoltaic panels will generate electricity.
If you are unsure as to the system you want, contact companies and ask which system they would recommend. There’s no reason why you cannot have both systems installed and if you decide that solar thermal panels are your best option, still consider photovoltaic panels, if for no other reason than it could in theory pay for itself and your solar thermal panel system.
9. RHI – The Renewable Heat Incentive
The Renewable Heat Incentive does not provide such a good return on your investment as the Feed in Tariff, but it is still a good incentive that deserves careful consideration. The scheme’s aim is to encourage property owners to reduce their heating energy consumption and carbon foot print by providing the following benefits:
0.085p per kWh return for 20 years
energy consumption reduction
A Government payment contribution
10. Maintenance Costs
You will undoubtedly be told that there are no upkeep or maintenance costs involved with solar, and throughout life expectancy of a solar panel installation, there should in fact be little maintenance or upkeep in regards to the panels themselves. However, the inverter, which converts direct current (DC) to alternating current (AC), will, at some point in the 25 years, need replacing. The cost to replace your inverter will be somewhere near 1000, and so this should form part of your calculation and consideration for solar panels.
Normally, solar systems will be installed on rooftops or high up above the ground in order to get the best exposure to direct sunlight especially in San Diego. The result of this is that less able-bodied people may require assistance to have the solar panels cleaned or to clear any fallen leaves or debris from on and around the panels to keep them working at their maximum capacity.
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Recent Macro News
Source: Wallstreetdaily, SCMP, CNN Money
The last 2 quarters have seen influential countries such as china, India and Saudi Arabia announce heavy commitments to investing in solar infrastructure. The news isn't particularly surprising if you are aware of the hazardous pollution levels in China and India. China, the most populated country in the world, claimed that it will spend over $361 billion on renewable energy development by 2020. According to China's National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), 40% of that spending will go towards solar and that will result in more than 1000 major solar plants, boosting china's solar capacity by 5 times.
Khalid Al-Falih, the energy minister of Saudi Arabia, announced that the oil capital of the world plans to spend as much as $50 billion on renewable energy. The short-term goal is to generate 10 GW of electricity through solar and wind by 2023. Al-Falih remarks that the long-term goal is to have renewable energy account for 30% of the country's total energy consumption by 2030.
Forbes states that India has installed 5.4 GW in 2016, and the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy estimates 15 GW (estimates to around 22% of global demand in 2017) and 16 GW of solar installation for the next two years. The Indian Government aims to accumulate 100 GW of solar by 2022, a feat which will require around $90 billion in total.
The combined future solar spending by these three countries, as well as the rest of the world, is an enormous pie to split between the big players in industry. In this article, I will use fundamental data to compare First Solar (NASDAQ:FSLR), Canadian Solar (NASDAQ:CSIQ) and JinkoSolar (NYSE:JKS), 3 heavily undervalued solar leaders which are well positioned to meet increasing global demand. All financial figures are expressed in USD via Bloomberg.
First Solar's $3.94 billion market cap is by far the largest in this group. First Solar is the only company on this list headquartered in the US and has an American management team. Canadian Solar's $855 million market cap is the next highest. Canadian Solar is based in Guelph, Canada, but the management team and production is predominantly Chinese. JinkoSolar's $542 million market is the lowest of the bunch. The company is entirely Chinese from its headquarters to production.
Revenue & Gross Profit & Net income
Please note that analyst consensus Q4 revenue and net income are used to estimate full-year 2016 revenue for Canadian Solar and JinkoSolar. On a GAAP basis, First Solar reported $2.951 billion in revenue and $704 million in gross profit for 2016. Net income came out to be -$382 million due to a $729 million unusual expense which we believe to be asset write-offs. Canadian Solar is expected to earn $2.871 billion in revenue, $459 million in gross profit and $89 million in net income. JinkoSolar is projected to pull in $3.331 billion in revenue, $647 million gross profit and $125 million in net income. JinkoSolar leads the pack in revenue and net income due to the tremendous demand for solar in China, where JinkoSolar conducts a majority of its business. First Solar boasts the highest gross margin at 24% while Canadian Solar and JinkoSolar have gross margins of 16% and 19%, respectively.
Cash & Debt
Looking at the balance sheets of these 3 companies, it's clear why First Solar is trading at a higher earnings multiple compared to its peers. First Solar currently has more than 10x cash on hand than total debt and actually received $5 million in interest income in 2016. Canadian Solar has $481 million cash on hand and a heavy debt load of $2.344 billion. The company is paying an estimated $52 million in interest expense (first 3 quarters annualized). JinkoSolar has $2.663 billion in debt, the highest of the three and dwarfs First Solar's debt of $188 million. JinkoSolar is estimated to pay a substantial $95 million interest payment in 2016 (first 3 quarters annualized). Although Canadian Solar and JinkoSolar are carrying high levels of debt, one must note that Canadian Solar and JinkoSolar have historically financed their projects with debt rather than equity.
Current Price vs. Book Value
All three solar leaders are currently undervalued relative to their book value. First Solar, with over $2.4 billion in retained earnings, is trading 22% below book value. JinkoSolar has been GAAP profitable for the past 10 quarters and accumulated $339 million in retained earnings during the same period. JinkoSolar is currently trading 28% below book value. Canadian Solar at its current price of $15 is trading just $1 below its book value of $16, but the company has been steadily growing its retained earnings from $47 million in Q4 2014 to $294 million as of Q3 2016.
First Solar, with 22 covering analysts, has 5 buy ratings, 4 sell ratings and 13 hold ratings. First Solar is currently trading right around the analyst target of $35.9. Canadian Solar, with 2 buy ratings, 2 sell ratings and 7 hold ratings, is trading slightly below its price target of $15.2. JinkoSolar, with only 7 covering analysts, has 3 buy ratings and 4 hold ratings. The analyst target of $23.2 represents a 36% upside from the stock's current price.
Although we believe all three stocks have bright futures, we currently hold Canadian Solar only. Although Canadian Solar's P/E is not as low as JinkoSolar's and the company's book value is below both of its peers, we remain enticed by Canadian Solar's diverse project portfolio. Since its inception, 100% of JinkoSolar's revenue came from the People's Republic of China. In 2016, 83% of First Solar's revenue came from the US, 5.4% came from India and 11.7% from various other countries. For the 12 months ending 9/30/2016, Canadian Solar derived 41.7% of its revenue from Asia, 46.8% from America (a good portion of which is from Canada) and 11.5% from Europe + other foreign countries. We believe Canadian Solar's diversified global presence positions the company tremendously to meet the increasing global demand for solar. We will continue to buy on dips and may initiate a position in JinkoSolar in the near future.
Disclosure: I am/we are long CSIQ.
I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.
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