New group developing standards to make solar more bankable

TruSolar designing standards to make solar more bankableWhile the solar industry is growing at a rapid rate and projects are going up, industry experts say the growth would be explosive if they could solve one nagging issue – finance.

Fewer than 5 percent of major lending institutions dare to venture into solar project financing, according to a release from TruSolar – a new consortium of solar market companies working to develop a set of financing standards for commercial-scale solar projects.

The group is beginning with a concentration on commercial-scale projects because they are the hardest to finance, said Jeanne Schwartz, vice president of new venture commercialization for Assurant, which just started insuring and providing warranty backing for commercial-scale solar projects.

“One thing we don’t have in the industry now is standardization,” said David Schroeder, vice president of operations and industry relations for Assurant. “That means there’s no access to secondary financial markets because there’s no way to bundle the loans.”

If TruSolar can develop an industry-accepted standard, it could bring more lenders into the market and open secondary markets to solar projects, which would drastically reduce the cost of capital, said Constantino Nicolau, CEO of PanelClaw North America.

“Right now, thousands of parties develop projects that never get financed or built,” Nicolau said. “The solar market is grossly underexploited in America.”

The consortium is led by Distributed Sun, DuPont. Other members include representatives from Assurant and PanelClaw along with ABB, Mosaic, SMA America, Standard & Poor’s, Booz Allen Hamilton, PwC, Rocky Mountain Institute, National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Sandia.

“We’re developing codes and standards that will become a playbook everyone can follow,” Nicolau said.

The group has started with interviews and input sessions.

“We want to make sure we solve the right problem,” Schwartz said.

Once the group identifies priorities it will collect the data needed to develop quantifiable standards.

“We would like to get something out quickly and then continue to refine it as we go forward,” Schwartz said.

Starting with something should help to loosen the financial markets.

“But if we do this right,” Nicolau said, “it will be an iterative process that will never end.”

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