According to SolarBuzz.com, solar modules of 125 watts (peak) or higher are selling for about $4.80 per watt. To make a long story short, that price is still way too expensive to compete with regular utility-produced electricity. If you want to install a photovoltaic system on your home or business, expect a price tag, after labor and balance of plant is accounted for along with the modules, of at least $7.50 per watt.
|Making the complex process of evaluating
a photovoltaic system a little easier.
(Photo: Clean Power Finance)
At prices like this, consumers will not widely adopt photovoltaic solutions without tax incentives and rebates. And by the time you have finished calculating the after-tax, multi-year return on investment, you will have a pretty big spreadsheet, and watch out if you dropped a digit somewhere.
This is where Clean Power Finance comes into the picture. Serving both consumers as well as contractors, they offer tools to streamline the process of analysing an investment in photovoltaic energy. For a monthly fee, a photovoltaic contractor accesses a secure online platform to manage leads, make estimates, generate proposals, provide return on investment scenarios, and process financing applications.
“We quickly realized there was a lack of modern tools available on the dealer side,” said Joseph Brakohiapa, CEO of San Francisco based Clean Power Finance. “Most other contractor tools [in other sectors] are well established and aren’t necessarily as complex,” said Brakohiapa, “in the solar energy world there is still a tendency for the customer to really know the details.”
Small wonder. In California, for example, if a commercial customer buys a photovoltaic system, they will be entitled (at least this year) to a 30% federal and state tax credit, plus accelerated depreciation that can allow as much as 60% of the system to get written off in the first year – but watch out – the depreciation base is reduced by 50% of the tax credit. They will also get rebates from the local utility company – but the rebate amounts vary. They may be eligible for “renewable energy credits,” (read the law closely here) which they may be able to sell through brokers for a price that varies, depending on who you ask, between $10 and $50 per megawatt-hour. And of course to calculate utility bill savings they will need to determine how much energy the system will produce, and check that amount by hour of the day and time of year and compare that to the utility rates they expect will apply during all of those various times. Crucially, they will also have to estimate how fast utility rates will increase over the course of the system’s life. Have fun.
“We have built into our model all of the utility rates, and monitor the rate changes of all the major utilities across the US,” said Brakohiapa. “We have in our database all of the certified solar products and all of their output specifications.” Nearly all of the variables that might affect a financial return on a photovoltaic investment are taken into account by Clean Power Finance’s model, making the process far easier for a dealer who wants to efficiently produce several presentations to prospective customers, and normalizing the process for the customer who can perform analysis and do what-ifs on the same 3rd party platform.
Clean Power Finance also works with over 150 financial institutions around the US, offering various forms of financing including leasing and borrowing, and the more complex purchase power agreement financing that very large installations often negotiate. Eventually, Brakohiapa hopes Clean Power Finance can expand their services into other industry verticals such as rooftop solar thermal. When we spoke earlier today, we agreed that next generation rooftop solar thermal arrays – which have been around forever and are ubiquitous in more primitive incarnations all over the world – are just waiting for some new technologies and innovators to bring them back into the mainstream. Clean Power Finance was founded in 2006, they are privately funded, and they have approximately 15 employees.