Category: "LADWP"


  10:40:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 857 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Solar Economics, SCE/CSI Rebates, PWP, SCE, LADWP, Commercial Solar, Residential Solar, 2011

The State of Solar California - What Does the CSI Data Reveal?

The California Solar Initiative (CSI) is responsible for overseeing solar rebates for California’s three Investor Owned Utilities (IOUs): PG&E, SCE and SDG&E, and in that role the CSI program collects some very interesting dataAs we have in the past, we decided to dip into the data from the first half of this year to gain some insights into the State of Solar in California.  Over the next several days we will be reporting on what we have learned - and there are some very surprising things in here to be sure!

Overview & Methodology

A word first about how we processed the CSI data.  We downloaded the most recent active data set as of this writing (the August 24, 2011 data set to be precise) and parsed it into Excel.  Since we were only concerned about systems in our service area, we excerpted out just the data from SCE.  To narrow our focus more, we wanted to only look at applications that had significant status during the first half of this year.  The CSI data has a host of date fields - we took the latest of the fields ranging from First Reservation Date to First Completed Date as our Status Date and excerpted those that fell between 1/1/2011 and 6/30/2011 - a total of 6,306 data points.

That’s a fair amount of data but it necessarily omits any data at all from the municipal utilities such as Pasadena Water & Power (where we do much of our work) or LADWP.  Unfortunately, none of the munis make their program data generally available - which is particularly odd given that the local residents actually own those utilities (and thus, their data) - but that is a topic for another day.

Finally, for the purpose of these posts, all system sizes are reported in CSI Rating AC Watts (to account for differences in equipment choice and system design) as opposed to DC (or nameplate) Watts.

What can we say about those 6,306 projects?  Collectively they account for 164.7 MW of new solar power at a total installed cost of just over $1 billion - with incentive amounts totaling $219 million - roughly 21% of the installed cost.  Unfortunately, not all of those are built - or even ever will be.  Fully 11% (698) of those projects have the status ‘Delisted’ - meaning that they have been cancelled for one reason or another.  Those delisted projects account for 37.8 MW of potential solar power that presumably will never see the sun.  (Do some installation companies have a significantly higher rate of “delisted” systems?  We will answer that question in a subsequent post - stay tuned!)

The remaining 5,608 are split between “Installed” and “Pending” with 55.8% (3,131) installed and 44.2% (2,477) pending.  Breaking that down a little more, the installed projects account for  33.8 MW worth $240.1 million with incentive amounts totaling $57.1 million.  In contrast, the pending projects account for almost three times as much capacity at 93 MW worth $575.8 million with incentive amounts totaling $120.6 million.  (That is, nearly three times the to-be-installed solar cpacity for roughly twice the rebate dollars.)  On average, installed projects cost $7.09/Watt whereas pending projects cost $6.19/Watt - a positive trend for consumers since it shows the cost of solar power systems declining over time.

Does Bigger = Lower Cost?

Finally, for today, let’s examine whether the data supports the notion of solar economy of scale - that is, as system size increases does the installed cost/Watt decline?  To get a handle on that, we took two different cuts through our data set - “small” installed or pending systems <10 kW, and “large” systems ranging between 10 kW and 1MW.

System cost as a function of system size - small systems <10 kWFirst, here’s the graph for the “small” systems (consisting of 4,992 installed or pending systems - click on the graph to view full size).  As the trend line makes clear, larger systems really do drive down costs - decreasing from over $10/Watt at the small end of the range to just above $6/Watt for systems around 10 kW.

Another interesting observation from this graph are the outliers - with some data points below $3.00/Watt (mostly from self-installed system) all the way up to nearly $18/Watt!!! (We will have way more to say about those data points - and who is responsible for them - later in this series.)

Large system costs

If we now look at larger systems - those between 10 kW and 1MW - our data set has 587 such systems and again, the trend line shows the decline in system costs as system size increases.  (Note, because there is such a huge range in system sizes on this graph, we plotted the system size on a log scale.)  Some of these outliers are also pretty curious - a 200 kW system coming in at over $14/Watt?

Of course, this data is showing what happens when an individual project gets larger and there the trend is clear.  One might well ask, does the same trend apply to larger installation companies?  In other words, as a company has more and more installs, does that economy of scale translate into lower costs for the end consumer?  That’s a very interesting question and the answer - coming in our next post - just might surprise, or maybe even disturb you.

If there are some other cuts of this data that you would like to see, just let us know in the comments.  Trust me, we are just getting started!



What You Need to Know About Commercial Solar Power in Three Easy Lessons - Part 2: Understanding Rebates and Tax Incentives

(Editor’s Note: Part 1 of this series - Understanding Your Bill can be found here.)

Commercial solar power systems are economical now - and in the first part of our series we explained how understanding your bill is the key to understanding what is currently driving your costs and how much you will be able to save.

Now we turn to the next step in preparing to install a commercial solar power system - understanding the applicable rebates and tax incentives.  We have written at great length before about these topics, including a blog post summarizing the year-end state of all solar power rebates in the Run on Sun service area and our solar tax incentives page provides great detail into this topic for all types of system owners - commercial, residential and non-profit.  In this post we will analyze just those rebates and incentives that are applicable to commercial solar power installations.

PBI vs EPBB Rebates for Commercial Solar Power Systems

Rebates for commercial solar power systems come in two flavors - Performance Based Incentives (PBI) and Expected Performance-Based Buydown (EPBB) - but PBI rebates are by far the more common for commercial systems above 30 kW.  EPBB rebates are lump-sum payments made based on the expected performance of the system.  The rebate rate is denoted in dollars per Watt based on the calculated AC Watts for the system.  EPBB rebates are nice for the consumer as the money is paid as soon as the system is approved, but for larger systems, they represent too much upfront risk for the utility.  Since there is usually no requirement to monitor the performance of the system, the utility ends up putting out its money with little guarantee of reaping the expected benefit.

PBI rebates, on the other hand, are paid out over five years based on the actual performance of the solar power system as verified by monitoring devices attached to the system inverter(s).  PBI rebates are denoted in cents per kilowatt hour generated.  Since the utility only pays for power actually provided, rebate dollars are guaranteed of providing the bargained for benefit. However, because of the need to provide the utility with verified performance data, PBI rebates increase the Operations & Maintenance expense of a commercial solar power system - at least for the five years of the rebate.  On the other hand, if your system is well maintained and conservatively designed, you may actually receive more in rebate payments than originally projected.

Each utility will have a threshold system size beyond which the system owner must take a PBI rebate.

Regional Rebate Amounts for Commercial Solar Power Systems

Of late there has been a great deal of turmoil among the local municipal utilities regarding their rebates.  This has lead to uncertainty and delays.  As of this writing, here is the landscape for commercial solar rebates in the Run on Sun service area:

Utility PBI Rate EPBB Rate PBI/EPBB Threshold
SCE 3¢/kWh $0.25/W 50 kW
PWP 21.2¢/kWh $1.40/W 30 kW
BWP Suspended until August 2013 $2.07/W 30 kW
GWP Suspended until 2015 ??? ???
LADWP Suspended until July 2011 ??? ???
Commercial Solar Rebates as of March 2011

This means that as of this writing, only SCE and PWP are paying rebates on commercial solar power systems greater than 30 kW. While LADWP is expected to come back online this summer, in what form remains to be seen.

We believe that these suspensions have come about because the lobby for commercial solar rebates is small and too often silent.  Of course, when no public discussion occurs before the decision is made to suspend rebates - as happened in both Glendale and Burbank - it is pretty hard to organize solar supporters.  Indeed, in Los Angeles, where the plans to severely limit solar rebates were publicly debated, the solar community came out in numbers to argue for those rebates - which resulted in LADWP only suspending their program for a comparatively short time.

The conclusion in inescapable - until there is a statewide feed-in tariff at a reasonable rate that offers predictability along with economic viability, the market for commercial solar in this state will continue to be subject to the caprice of unaccountable bureaucrats.

Tax Incentives for Commercial Solar Power Systems

While the news regarding rebates remains murky, the news on the tax front is - at least for this year - very good.

One caveat before we begin - while we believe this information to be accurate as of the date that it is written, you must always consult with your tax professional as to the applicability of these incentives to your tax situation.  Accountants shouldn’t design solar power systems and we don’t give tax advice.

Commercial solar power systems qualify for a federal Investment Tax Credit of a full 30% on the direct cost of the system.  (By “direct cost” we mean those costs directly associated with installing the solar power system.  The applicability of the Credit to indirect costs - such as deciding to re-roof your building before adding solar - must be decided on a case-by-case basis - see why that tax pro gets paid the big bucks?)  That Credit can be taken over two years and is a substantial incentive if you have the tax liability to offset.  Fortunately for systems that are put in service in 2011, commercial solar power system owners can elect to receive a Grant directly from the Treasury for the full 30%, regardless of their tax appetite.  Moreover, that Grant is paid out typically within 60 days of project completion, as opposed to being credited in the next tax payment cycle.  This provision in the tax code is subject to expiration at the end of this year, and there is no telling whether a more conservative Congress will renew it.  (The tax Credit, however, continues through 2016.)

Commercial solar power systems also qualify for accelerated depreciation.  For the past several years, that was a five year period with 50% in Year 1 and the remaining 50% divided evenly over the next four years.  (California offers a similar depreciation schedule.)  However, once again 2011 is special.  This year alone, that depreciation is 100% in Year 1, meaning that system owners may realize more of their savings sooner.

Collectively, rebates and tax incentives can reduce the cost of a commercial solar power system by 50% or more.  When combined with the savings from the energy generated, it is easy to see why a commercial solar power system is one of the best investments a building or business owner can make.

Up Next - Part 3 of Our Series: Understanding Your Bid for a Commercial Solar Power System


Jim Jenal is the Founder & CEO of Run on Sun, Pasadena's premier installer and integrator of top-of-the-line solar power installations.
Run on Sun also offers solar consulting services, working with consumers, utilities, and municipalities to help them make solar power affordable and reliable.

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