Is there urgency to go solar? The times they are a-changin'

dylan times changing image.jpg

Over the past few years, we have stressed — STRESSED — to property owners that there is NO urgency to go solar. Here’s a blog post elaborating our perspective on the lack of urgency, and the importance of doing your homework, when evaluating solar.

To quote Bobby Dylan, the times they are a-changin’.

Retrospective

We posited there was no urgency to go solar based on the three-to-four year windows (until expiration) of the 30% federal tax credit and PG&E’s Net-Metering program. Furthermore, solar panel prices eased a bit over the past few years, while PG&E’s rates continued to inflate (22% in 2016; another 8.5% increase this year). The tax credit is locked in, PG&E’s net-metering is galvanized, and the economics of going solar are improving. Take your time, we counseled.

Contemporary perspective

Regardless of your partisanship, solar is in the political cross hairs. Drill baby drill. Climate change is a hoax. Coal is our future. Political chestnuts and hyperbole voiced to rouse the base, but defying logic and economics: Solar is the fastest growing industry in the U.S. (adding jobs at 20x the rate of the economy), and solar has created more jobs than any industry in the country over the past 4-5 years. Furthermore, it’s quite libertarian to enable property owners to create their own energy, hence the bi-partisan extension of the federal tax credit at the end of 2015.

Over the past few months, domestic politics and the macro economy have defied logic and contemporary history:

1. Demand for Tier 1 (investment-grade) solar panels has exploded in China and India, thus constraining supply in the United States (and thereby slighting increasing solar panel prices for the first time).

2. On Friday, the US International Trade Agency (ITC) ruled in favor of two US-based, now insolvent solar panel manufacturers, Suniva and Solar World, agreeing their businesses were harmed due to the supply of lower cost, internationally-manufactured solar panels. The companies are seeking a 40-cent per watt tariff and a floor price of 78 cents per watt on imported solar modules. (In today’s market, such taxes would increase the cost of solar panels by 50-65%, with no viable US-made alternative.) President Trump is expected to issue a final ruling by year’s end. In the interim, large-scale solar project developers are hoarding supply of solar panels, thus increasing the cost (demand > supply) of solar modules for the entire industry.

3. Daily, there are rumblings that a Republican-inspired tax or budget bill will axe the clean energy tax credit, thus dis-incentivizing those who want to transition to clean energy. (Fact: The oil and gas industry receives more than 10X the tax credits/incentives as the clean energy industry. Another fact: Facts don’t matter.)

What to do? We cannot control the macro economy, the president’s actions, or congressional politicking. Instead, we are controlling what we can by securing as many high-quality solar panels as possible, in wake of what’s going on. Prices may increase, tax credits may perish, but solar in PG&E territory will continue to generate attractive, risk-adjusted investment returns. Property owners will continue to transition away from carbon while insulating themselves against future electricity rate increases, most likely with a greater urgency now.

Dylan, circa 1963:

The line it is drawn

The curse it is cast

The slow one now

Will later be fast

As the present now

Will later be past

The order is rapidly fadin’

And the first one now will later be last

For the times they are a-changin’