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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SolarCity Stock Should Continue to Rise As Solar Becomes More Affordable
Energy is one of the world's largest sectors in the market; therefore energy stocks comprise a large amount of the portfolios of institutional and individual investors. Oil, of course, is the largest in the energy sector at roughly 36%, followed by natural gas at 24%. Interestingly one of the most talked about sources of energy, solar energy, still only comprises one quarter of one percent of today's energy supply. However those numbers should shift upward over the next decade as witnessed by last year's 86% growth in the solar industry. In the U.S, solar energy consumption grew by nearly 34% reaching 0.212 quadrillion Btu. Bloomberg New Energy Finance predicts that solar will gain 24%, second largest share of new power capacity behind wind power, added in terms of GW by 2030.
Though the "green" movement does play a role to some extent, what may actually be driving the shift toward solar energy in residential and commercial buildings may be simple economics. People want to use cleaner energy to run their houses or businesses, but most are not willing to spend the extra money, or simply do not have the financial means to pay the extra costs to convert to solar. In 2005, solar panels typically cost $3.50 per watt of power, however, by 2012 prices had tumbled to 75 cents a watt, and some experts predict the prices will continue to fall, making it more cost effective for the consumer to have installed on their home or business.
But buying and installing solar panels is still costly, and could take upwards of twenty, for solar to pay for it. That's why the biggest shift in solar has come from companies leasing the panels to the customer and selling them the electricity at a reduced price compared to what the utility companies charge. It appears to be a win - win situation; as the industry has appeared to overcome a major obstacle eliminating the large upfront costs, and the solar company that leased and installed the panels makes money selling back the energy to the customer. For that reason, I believe the money to be made by the investors might be better placed in companies that buy the panels and install them, then have the customers lease them, thus making it affordable to the consumer.
That is what SolarCity (SCTY), a San Mateo CA company does. SolarCity designs, installs and sells or leases solar energy systems to residential and commercial customers, then sells the electricity generated by the solar energy systems back to customer at 10% to 20% less than the utility companies. And its business model appears to have attracted plenty of investors, as witnessed by the stocks run-up of over 250% since its December 2012 public offering.
In June, SolarCity announced the launch of a Zero-Down solar financing program for the home building industry, giving builders the opportunity to offer solar in new residential communities without the builder or the new homeowner incurring any upfront costs. In the first five months of 2013, the total kilowatts [KW] of SolarCity's installations for new home builder construction grew by more than 300% compared to the same period the previous year. Through its Homebuilder Partner Program, SolarCity has formed partnerships with over 30 national and regional home builders in 125 communities across the U.S.
According to Walter Cuculic, SolarCity's national manager of Builder Programs:
Home builders today are investing heavily in adopting green construction practices and solar is a linchpin in the success of a modern, energy efficient home. SolarCity's full-service offering and our new Zero-Down financing option helps home builders meet their aggressive construction timelines and stay within their budgets, and solar will save money for the homebuyer on their energy bills for years to come.
The company's initiative, where it plans to build more than $1 billion in solar projects to provide power to up to 120,000 military homes in the United States, continues to show success. On July 23rd SolarCity announced plans to add 12.8 megawatts of new solar generation capacity for up to 7,500 military homes at Lend Lease-managed Island Palm Communities throughout the island of Oahu. SolarStrong projects are already underway at nine other military bases throughout the U.S.
SolarCity was chosen by Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (NYSE:WMT) to install solar panels in 60 stores in California. SolarCity will own and maintain the solar power systems, and has added more than 500 new full-time employees since it initiated its first Wal-Mart solar project, and expects to hire hundreds more employees before year's end. Wal-Mart's solar power initiative will total more than 130 stores by the close of 2013.
Mack Wyckoff, senior manager of renewable energy at Wal-Mart, commented on the solar project:
Our solar efforts in California have proven to be a great way for Wal-Mart to build our renewable energy program. We are confident that we will continue to grow our solar energy program in the U.S. and around the world because of the initial success we have had in California.
While the business model and growth all sound positive, and SolarCity, which has a $3.12 billion market capitalization, has seen its customer base rise 106% year-over-year to over 57,400 and though the company increased its long-term contracted cash flow to $1.22 billion, it has yet to turn a profit. The reason is that though leasing the solar panels has shown to be the most successful method to attract clients, the long term leasing model requires upfront costs for the panels and the instillation, thus the company does not see any profits until the customer base expands enough to produce offsetting lease income. However, with panel prices continuing to drop, the company's upfront costs will drop as well. According to Kevin Landis, manager of the Firsthand Alternative Energy fund, in reference to SolarCity's business model:
When the price of panels goes down, their business gets better. The sweet spot is buying the panels and owning the output.
SolarCity stock closed on Wed. July 31 at $41.35 per share. For the first quarter of 2013, core operating lease revenue rose 85% to $15.1 million compared to $8.1 million in the first quarter of 2012. Total revenue grew 21% year-over-year to $30.0 million. Gross Profit rose 25% to $12.7 million, up from $10.1 million in the first quarter of 2012. Total operating expenses, however, rose $34.5 million in the first quarter compared to $24.7 million in the first quarter of 2012, due in part to the continued investments in development capabilities. For the second quarter 2013, SolarCity expects operating lease revenue to come in be between $16 million - $18 million, with solar energy systems sale revenue between $5 million - $10 million, and an operating expenses to be between $38 million - $42 million.
SolarCity does have its competitors like the larger SunPower (NASDAQ:SPWR), a high quality solar panel producer based in San Jose, CA, that designs, manufactures and delivers solar panels and systems to residential, business, government and utility customers. SunPower has also built its leasing business to be the largest U.S. both residential and commercial, and globally the company has installed over 100,000 residential systems. Shares of SunPower have had an amazing run year to date, up 391%. After hours on July 31st, the company reported net income for the second quarter of $19.6 million or $0.15 per share, compared to a net loss of $84.2 million or $$0.71 per share for the same quarter last year. SunPower forecasts for the third quarter adjusted revenue of $550 million to $600 million and adjusted earnings of $0.15 to $0.35 per share. For fiscal 2013 the company expects adjusted revenue of $2.5 billion to $2.6 billion and raised its adjusted earnings from $0.60 to $0.80 per share to $1.00 to $1.30 per share. On August 1st, shares of SunPower dropped 10% on high volume to $25.20 in mid-day trading.
Solar power in residential and commercial is clearly on the rise with plenty of room to grow. Interestingly, what might accelerate the growth is that instructional investors have not gobbled up solar company shares; roughly 20% of SunPower shares are held by institutional investors, and only 17% of SolarCity is owned by institutional investors.
While I think both SolarCity and SunPower have the potential to continue to see their stocks rise significantly in the next few years, what I like about SolarCity is that it does not manufacture the solar panels, so it does not have to compete with the Chinese manufacturers. SolarCity focuses primarily on the design, installation, the finance and the management of the system. Though with the high run up on both companies, I would like to see the stocks dip on some profit taking for a better entry price.
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it. I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.
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