Yann Brandt, solar entrepreneur and proprietor of SolarWakeup.com analyzed the results of the most-clicked stories of 2013, courtesy of the web results from his daily roundup. He noticed 10 trends that shaped this year’s news. Here’s what he found.
Solar trends are driven by content generated by the solar energy professionals and news coverage about the solar industry. The top 10 trends that shaped solar news in 2013 affect everyone in the solar industry. The news trends improved in 2013 with more positive solar data being covered by publications and content being created by solar companies. Shaping the solar message is a work in progress for our industry. Write a post and shape your message in 2014.
10. Tariffs and Duties
In a several year process, both the United States and European Union (EU) entered into trade tariffs and import duties against some parts of “Made in China” solar modules. A deal of sorts was struck in the EU to create a floor for pricing. As yet, it hasn’t been market tested — but at least provided some clarity. In the United States, much of the cost impact seems to have been averted by innovative procurement by the manufacturers. The resulting trade war created some blowback with a look into French wine imports and U.S. silicon imports by the Chinese government, and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) has made some overtures to broker a truce.
9. Solar Manufacturing Consolidation
As expected in previous years, 2013 included consolidation topics throughout the year. Many companies changed hands, were acquired in default and some closed. Taken in a positive light, most of the companies going through default were able to come through in the workout, and many of the employees stayed on board. With new market emergin, some manufacturers have even discussed plans to increase capacity and increase pricing to meet the demand, a positive sign that resulted in venture capital doing some deals in the manufacturing sector once again, with focus also driven into the downstream channels.
8. Solar Stocks and Investments
With interest rates for savings accounts as close to zero as possible and certificates of deposit (CD) not far behind, some have taken then money out of the bank and put it on their rooftops. Solar investments have long been a great tax shield for businesses and now has become a favorite for retirees across the country to capture some yield. Stock investors have also done quite well with two solar ETFs returning above market returns (TAN up 122% and KWT up 96% year to date).
7. Women in Solar
Solar started the year with a booth-babe publicity stunt at an early trade show that went horribly wrong and justifiably created backlash for the participating companies. But the solar industry learned from the mistakes of a few and ended the year on a high note. The popular #SolarChat team unveiled the initial results of the #Women4Solar survey at SPI in Chicago. Women represent the largest block of residential solar purchasing decision makers, and the industry is finally taking notice.
6. Soft Costs
Non-hardware costs continue to push up installation costs in the U.S. solar market. NREL recently reported that soft costs make up the largest piece of solar installation. Costs including customer acquisition ($0.48/watt) and indirect corporate costs ($0.47/watt) are far higher than in the German market. Projects that include third-party ownership increased these costs further for residential ($0.78/watt) and commercial
($0.67). Hopefully in 2014, standardized contracts for third-party ownership being published by NREL and further enabled by PACE will drive this price down and allow contractors to sell a uniform product more efficiently.
5. Financial Products
A big topic across solar this year was the innovation around financial products. The year began with talk of MLP and REITs for solar but ended with securitization and yield companies SolarCity released the $54 million, BBB+, and 4.8% yield securitized pool of assets, while NRG spun out a portfolio of assets in a yield company, aptly named NRG Yield Inc (NYLD). The latter has increased in value by 45% since the initial offering. Yield companies will be a word quite common in 2014 as more assets look for capitalization in the public markets.
4. Fires in Buildings with Solar
Much ado about nothing? Or a trigger for new regulations? A fire at a New Jersey warehouse not caused by solar may have triggered a broader conversation about fighting fires in buildings with solar on the roof. While a typical fire includes firefighter activity on the roof, the commanding officer on this fire called for an outside attack only. This caused plenty of news coverage about how fires should be fought when solar is on the roof, giving some notice to potential new regulations in 2014.
3. Solar With Energy Storage
The adoption of energy storage for solar installations may have seemed far-fetched a few years ago, but 2013 marked the early adoption of storage behind the meter as well as on a grid scale. Even the IRS offered guidance on how storage costs in solar projects affect the project ITC. Solar startups raised capital successfully, and solar with storage has become a standard talking point at every solar trade show and conference. Solar financing techniques even migrated to the storage arena. 2014 will surely bring integrated solar with storage solutions to leading solar markets with more solutions to offset energy and demand charges for utility customers.
2. Support from the White House
By putting solar on top of the White House, the Administration’s leadership made it to number 2 on our list. The White House installed solar panels on the roof facing the ellipse and the Washington Monument. The White House also pushed solar policies through executive orders to bring at least 20% renewable energy to Federal Buildings by 2020 and continuing the use of solar energy for the military.
1. Net Metering
At the top of the list for 2013 trends that shaped solar news is net metering. With net metering providing the backbone of solar regulations, utilities and associations serving as fronts for anti-solar groups such as ALEC, attacked net metering policies around the country. No attack was more front and center than in Arizona, where the solar industry was outspent by more than 1000% by utilities and their allies. At the end, solar prevailed by parrying the death blow that APS had attempted to land but the fight will continue in 2014.
2013 was a positive year for solar, and 2014 presents many additional opportunities. As a solar professional, drive your message into the market by creating original non-commercial content through posts and articles because your story could drive a trend that shapes solar news in 2014. Solar is the most sustainable form of energy that works at the North and South Pole and everywhere in between and continues to provide the cleanest form of electricity for all types of users — some of whom are accessing electricity for the very first time. You should be proud of what you do.
I wish you a Happy New Year and prosperity for your solar work in 2014.