U.S. solar power installations are on track to post another year of record growth. Enough solar power capacity – 1.354 gigawatts – was installed in the U.S. in Q3 2014 to power some 3.5 million homes, according to the latest quarterly report from the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and GTM Research.
More affordable and as emissions- and pollution-free as ever, U.S. home and property owners are installing solar photovoltaic (PV) power systems at an unprecedented pace. An industry first, more than 300 megawatts of residential PV went into operation in Q3. More than half of that was installed in states that don't offer any incentives, SEIA and GTM highlighted.
That's encouraging news for players all along the U.S. solar industry value chain, particularly in light of ongoing international trade tensions and a scheduled scaling down of the federal investment tax credit (ITC) at year-end 2016.
Facing stiff competition for residential customers, downstream solar PV finance-and-installation companies are turning to home solar loans as opposed to the third-party leases that have galvanized growth in recent years. Upsolar America believes it has a winning lifelong solution with its zero-down, 20-year, 5.99 percent fixed rate home solar loan program.
For qualified home PV installation businesses, Upsolar America's Energy Freedom offers a complete, turnkey solution that includes attractive homeowner financing and a path to ownership. The primary objective in designing and assembling the program was to create a simple, more affordable and comprehensive solution that spans the entire process of having a home PV system installed, as well as providing operations and maintenance (O&M) over the entire lifecycle, Dufrenne told 3p.
As when entering into a residential solar lease agreement, homeowners participating in Energy Freedom can claim the federal solar investment tax credit (ITC) and any state rebates and incentives. In contrast to home PV leasing, Energy Freedom participants “put equity into their homes, because they own the systems ... In that way, leasing is more like an expense, while our loan program is more like an investment,” Dufrenne said.
While Upsolar designs, engineers and oversees the production, and assures the quality of its brand- name PV systems from silicon to panel and module, it does not own any manufacturing facilities. “We control the entire supply chain in accordance with strict manufacturing specs,” Dufrenne explained.
Covering its bases in light of international trade tensions and the imposition of punitive import duties, Upsolar has contracts with PV manufacturers in Mexico and Taiwan, as well as with its original contract manufacturer in China.
In addition, Upsolar maintains “a strong R&D lab for testing the quality and reliability for all components, and we procure those components ourselves, so we can take advantage of volume discounts ... It's a somewhat unique business model in PV; we're the only one to do that,” Dufrenne said.
Similarly, Upsolar has vetted and assembled a chain of suppliers for the inverters, racks, mounts and other components that make up home solar PV systems. On Oct. 29, Upsolar announced a partnership in which APS America will supply the “advanced microinverter technology” for Upsolar America's Energy Freedom program.
Given a lifespan of at least 20 years, assuring home PV systems performance over their entire lives is a key to taking the guesswork out of PV system purchasing and safeguarding homeowners' investments. Addressing this, the Energy Freedom package includes operations and maintenance (O&M), as well as Upsolar's own PV panel and component partners' warranties. Participating Energy Freedom installers perform O&M for the first two years. NextPhase steps in from year three to year 15.
Tightly focused on local markets, Upsolar America is initially rolling out its Energy Freedom program in U.S. Sunbelt states and those where state government incentives make installing a home PV energy system that much more attractive. In the process of building a network of qualified installers, the list includes Arizona, California, Colorado and Nevada. It's also doing business south of the border in Mexico.
Installing around 250 MW per year of solar power capacity, Upsolar is operating at a much smaller scale than market-leading competitors such as SolarCity, which has rapidly grown into the U.S. residential PV market's 800-pound gorilla. That suits Upsolar just fine, Dufrenne told us.
“We're not operating at the scale of a SolarCity or Vivint, but we're recruiting a decent corps of installers. And we're helping them get up to speed – developing a credit, sales and order management platform that's completely paperless and verified by DocuSign. It's all very seamless.”
Images courtesy of Upsolar America
An experienced, independent journalist, editor and researcher, Andrew has crisscrossed the globe while reporting on sustainability, corporate social responsibility, social and environmental entrepreneurship, renewable energy, energy efficiency and clean technology. He studied geology at CU, Boulder, has an MBA in finance from Pace University, and completed a certificate program in international governance for biodiversity at UN University in Japan.