Project Merit: Solar Power

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SunRun (San Francisco) for some 7,000 residential systems installed-a huge customer base considering the start-up had fewer than 100 customers in early 2008 when CCBJ first covered SunRun. The company was just starting to deploy the solar-as-a-service model-in which a homeowner buys PV-generated electricity through a power purchase agreement while SunRun retains ownership-that had been so successful for commercial PV integrators such as Sun Edison. SunRun had made deals with three California PV installers; now it has 30 in seven states and recently firmed a $100 million tax-equity financing deal PG&E subsidiary Pacific Energy Capital to install more than 3,500 new rooftop residential solar systems in Arizona, California, Colorado, Massachusetts and New Jersey.

A key to SunRun's business model is effectively monetizing the 30% investment tax credit, renewable energy credits and other income streams flowing from its PV systems. According to a December 2010 story on Xconomy.com by Wade Roush, SunRun succeeded in doing its first tax credit deal- $20 million with U.S. Bancorp-in the early days of the Great Recession because of "the innovative way the company sliced and diced the tax credits, depreciation, local subsidies, and 20-year power contracts."

SunRun also assures performance by monitoring its PV systems remotely and dispatching maintenance contractors when needed to clean or repair units. To ease the sales cycle, it created an online pricing engine "that takes into account everything from local tax laws to the pitch of the homeowner's roof and spits out a price quote on the fly," wrote Roush, noting that consumers have a range of options for how much to pay down versus monthly. "Between January and October [2010], the pricing engine generated 168,000 proposals." SunRun has raised $85 million in venture funding from Foundation Capital, Accel Partners and Sequoia Capital. Along with the rest of the solar industry, SunRun rejoiced when Congress extended the grant-in-lieu-of investment tax credit in December. "The program's continuation will enable it to build 36,000 more residential solar installations than it could have otherwise," wrote Roush.

AECOM (Los Angeles) and its client Solar Millennium (Erlangen, Germany) for obtaining in Q3 2010 final approvals from the U.S. Department of the Interior and California Energy Commission to construct about 1,500 of concentrating solar power (CSP) capacity in the California and Nevada deserts. The larger of the two, the nearly 1,000 MW Blythe Solar Power Plant, will be the largest CSP project in the world. Using parabolic trough technology, the plant will consist of four 242 MW solar-thermal power units plants, the first two units of which broke ground in early 2011. Investor-owned utility Southern California Edison has signed a power purchase agreement with Solar Millennium for this first phase of Blythe.

The nearby Palen Solar Power Project will produce an additional 500 MW. AECOM supported Solar Millennium throughout the two-year federal and state regulatory approval process for both projects, performing baseline environmental, biological, cultural resources and impact assessments; groundwater surveys; conceptual engineering; civil design; and drainage analysis; and assisting with evidentiary hearings and stakeholder workshops, according to information submitted by AECOM.

CSP plants convert solar radiation into heat energy. In a parabolic trough plant like the ones being developed by Solar Millennium, trough-shaped mirrors concentrate the radiation onto a pipe "in the focal line of the collector," explained the company in a news release. "Its absorption heats a fluid heat medium in the pipe, generating steam in the power block through a heat exchanger. As in conventional power plants, the steam powers a turbine to generate electricity. By integrating thermal storage, electricity can be supplied on demand, even after sunset." Solar Millennium LLC is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Solar Trust of America LLC, the American joint venture between Solar Millennium (70 percent) and Ferrostaal (30 percent).

Kaiser Permanente (Oakland) for launching a solar PV initiative that will see PV arrays at 15 Kaiser Permanente buildings in 2011. The total program with Recurrent Energy will include 15 MW of PV capacity, which Kaiser believes will qualify as "one of the largest sustainable energy programs in U.S. health care." Panels will go up at medical centers in Vallejo, Santa Clara, Fontana, San Diego and other cities, producing an average of 10 percent of site power demand, according to Kaiser. The firm has set an ambitious goal of generating 25 percent of energy on site by 2020, and last year invested $2.4 million to install window film and new lights that alone should save more than $1.2 million annually in energy costs. The not-for-profit healthcare provider serves 8.6 million members and had operating revenue of $42.1 billion in 2009, according to company data.

Nexamp (North Andover, Mass.) for winning the competition to build what the company described as Massachusetts' largest ever public solar contract: $20 million to build 4.1 MW of PV capacity at 12 water and wastewater treatment plants in the state. Funded with federal stimulus dollars, the project is on schedule to be completed by mid-2011. Also in 2010, Nexamp and the Merrimack Valley Chamber of Commerce were awarded a first-of-its-kind contract to provide renewable energy and energy efficiency advisory services to 26 member businesses. Because of these and other projects, including the state's largest roof-mounted solar project (1 MW for National Grid) and a 100 kW installation at Wire Belt in Londonderry, NH, Nexamp added 28 employees in 2010.