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SolarCity Business Model for renewable solar panel energy

2013 September 1
by stefann

This is an excerpt from the Business section of the SCTY 2013 10-K SEC filing available at

Our Approach

We have developed an integrated approach that allows our customers to lower their energy costs in a simple and efficient manner. We have disrupted the industry status quo by providing renewable energy directly to customers for less than they are currently paying for utility-generated energy. Unlike utilities, we sell energy with a predictable cost structure that does not rely on limited fossil fuels and is insulated from rising retail electricity prices. We also guarantee the electricity production of our solar energy systems to our customers. Our strategy is to focus on that portion of the solar energy value chain with the most potential: the energy consumer and the customer relationship. We believe we are the only distributed energy company that offers integrated sales, financing, engineering, installation, monitoring, maintenance and efficiency services without involving the services of multiple third-party participants.

The key elements of our integrated approach are illustrated below:

Sales . We market and sell our products and services through a national sales organization that includes a direct outside sales force, a call center, a channel partner network and a robust customer referral program. We have structured our sales organization to efficiently engage prospective customers, from initial interest through customized proposals and, ultimately, signed contracts.

Financing . Financing makes it possible to install our solar energy systems for little or no upfront cost. Through a streamlined process, we provide multiple pricing options to our customers to help make renewable, distributed energy accessible and affordable, either on a fixed monthly fee basis or a fee based on the amount of energy produced.

Engineering . Our in-house engineering team custom designs a solar energy system for each of our customers. We have developed software that simplifies and expedites the design process and optimizes the design to maximize the energy production of each system. Our engineers complete a structural analysis of each building and produce a full set of structural design and electrical blueprints that contain the specifications for all system components.

Installation . Once we complete the design, we obtain all necessary building permits. Our customer care representatives coordinate the SolarCity team and keep our customers apprised of the project status every step of the way. We are a licensed contractor in every community we service, and we are responsible for every customer installation. For substantially all of our residential projects, we are the general contractor, construction manager and installer. For our commercial projects, we are the general contractor and construction manager. Once we complete installing the system, we schedule inspections with the local building department and arrange for interconnection to the power grid with the utility. By handling these logistics, we make the installation process simple for our customers.

Monitoring and Maintenance . Our proprietary monitoring software provides our customers with a real-time view of their energy generation and consumption. Through an easy-to-read graphical display available on smartphones and any device with a web browser, our monitoring systems collect, monitor and display critical performance data from our solar energy systems, including production levels, local weather, electricity usage and environmental impacts. These monitoring systems allow us to confirm the continuing proper operation of our solar energy systems, identify maintenance issues and provide our customers with a better understanding of their energy usage, allowing them the opportunity to modify their usage accordingly.

Complementary Products and Services . Through our comprehensive energy efficiency evaluations, we analyze our customers’ energy usage and identify opportunities for energy efficiency improvements. Using our proprietary software, our home energy evaluation consists of a detailed in-home diagnosis that identifies energy use and loss. After the evaluation is completed, we review the results with the customer and recommend current and future opportunities to improve energy efficiency and home comfort. We then offer to perform these upgrades.


Our Innovative Products, Services and Technology

We deliver Better Energy to our customers through a portfolio of complementary products and services that enable more cost effective generation and reduced energy consumption. We have developed enabling technologies that allow us to simplify our customers’ experience and enhance our ability to deliver our products and services.

Solar Energy Product

  • Solar Energy Systems . The major components of our solar energy systems include solar panels that convert sunlight into electrical current, inverters that convert the electrical output from the panels to a usable current compatible with the electric grid, racking that attaches the solar panels to the roof or ground and electrical hardware that connects the solar energy system to the electric grid and our monitoring device. We purchase our components from vendors, maintaining multiple sources for each major component to ensure competitive pricing and an adequate supply of materials. Though we typically install poly-crystalline silicon panels and string inverters, we have installed a wide variety of other technologies, including thin film panels and panel-level power optimizers.
  • SolarLease and Power Purchase Agreement Finance Products . Most of our solar energy customers choose to purchase energy from us pursuant to one of two payment structures: a SolarLease or a power purchase agreement. In both structures, we charge customers a monthly fee for the power produced by our solar energy systems. In the lease structure, this monthly payment is pre-determined and includes a production guarantee. In the power purchase agreement structure, we charge customers a fee per kilowatt hour, or kWh, based on the amount of electricity actually produced by the solar energy system. Under both the SolarLease and power purchase agreement, our customers also have the option to pay little or no upfront costs or to reduce the aggregate amount of their future payments by pre-paying a portion of their future payments. Over the term of the agreement, we own and operate the system and guarantee its performance. Our current standard SolarLeases and power purchase agreements have 20-year terms. Prior to 2010, our standard lease term was 15 years. In a limited number of utility districts, we continue to offer lease terms of less than 20 years to comply with applicable incentive programs. In addition, a limited number of our commercial customers have entered into power purchase agreements with terms of between 10 and 20 years.

Energy Efficiency Products and Services

Our energy efficiency products and services enable our customers to save money on their energy bills by reducing their energy consumption. To date, we have completed over 16,000 home energy evaluations and performed more than 2,500 energy efficiency upgrades.

  • Home Energy Evaluation . Our home energy evaluation is the threshold to the broad set of energy efficiency products and services we offer. We sell home energy efficiency evaluations to new solar energy system customers, existing customers, prospective solar energy system customers who are unable to adopt solar energy because of site conditions or credit, and to customers who want to start with energy efficiency improvements. Using our proprietary software, our home energy evaluation consists of a detailed in-home diagnosis that identifies energy use and loss. During the evaluation, we record details of the home’s construction and energy use, measurements of every major building surface, model numbers of appliances and other energy consuming equipment, and measure combustion efficiency and air leakage in the ducts and building envelope. We create a database of this information and review a report of the results with the customer outlining current and future opportunities to improve energy efficiency and home comfort. We then offer to perform these upgrades.
  • Energy Efficiency Upgrades . Based on the detailed analysis from the home energy evaluation, we work with customers to identify their priorities to improve the cost effectiveness, efficiency, health and comfort of their home by implementing appropriate upgrades. We generally handle every aspect of an energy efficiency improvement project for our customers including sales, engineering, permitting, procurement, installation, inspections and any supporting rebate or utility documentation. Our core energy efficiency upgrade products and services address heating and cooling, air sealing, duct sealing, water heating, insulation, high efficiency furnaces, weatherization, pool pumps and lighting.

Other Energy Products and Services

  • Electric Vehicle Charging . We believe there is a strong overlap between customer demand for electric vehicles, or EVs, and solar energy. As consumers switch to EVs, their electricity bills increase substantially, driving demand for lower cost electricity. We install EV charging equipment that we source from third parties. We market EV equipment to residential and commercial customers through retail partnerships with companies such as The Home Depot, and through EV manufacturers and dealerships, such as our preferred partnership with Tesla Motors, Inc. To date, we have sold over 1,950 charging stations.
  • Energy Storage . We are developing a proprietary battery management system built on our solar energy monitoring communications backbone. The battery management system is designed to enable remote, fully bidirectional control of distributed energy storage that can potentially provide significant benefits to our customers, utilities and grid operators. The benefits of energy storage coupled with a solar energy system to our customers may include back-up power, time-of-use energy arbitrage, rate arbitrage, peak demand shaving and demand response. We believe that advances in battery storage technology, steep reductions in pricing and burgeoning policy changes that support energy storage hold significant promise for enabling deployments of grid-connected energy storage systems. We currently have over 395 energy storage pilot projects under contract.

Enabling Technologies

  • SolarBid Sales Management Platform . SolarBid is our proprietary sales management platform that incorporates a database of rate information by utility, sun exposure, roof orientation and a variety of other factors to enable a detailed analysis and customized graphical presentation of each customer’s savings. SolarBid simplifies the sales process and automates pricing, system configuration and proposal generation. It also automatically prepares the customer agreements, incentive forms and utility paperwork required to complete a project. SolarBid is designed for maximum flexibility, allowing us to quickly add new products, services and geographies.
  • SolarWorks Customer Management Software . SolarWorks is the proprietary software platform we use to track and manage every project. SolarWorks’ embedded database and custom architecture enables reduced costs, improved quality and improved customer experience by supporting scheduling, budgeting and other project management functions as well as customer communications, inventory management and detailed project data.
  • Energy Designer . Energy Designer is a proprietary software application our field engineering auditors use to rapidly collect all pertinent site-specific design details on a tablet computer. This information then syncs with our design automation software, reducing design time and accelerating the permitting process.
  • Home Performance Pro . Home Performance Pro is our proprietary energy efficiency evaluation platform that incorporates the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Plus simulation engine. Home Performance Pro collects and stores details of a building’s construction and energy use and accurately simulates the reduction in energy use from energy efficiency upgrades. We use Home Performance Pro to identify opportunities to improve our customers’ energy efficiency.
  • SolarGuard and PowerGuide Proactive Monitoring Solutions . SolarGuard and PowerGuide provide our customers a real-time view of their home’s or business’s energy generation and consumption. Through easy-to-read graphical displays available on smartphones and any device with a web browser, our monitoring systems collect, monitor and display critical performance data from our solar energy systems, including production levels, local weather, electricity usage and environmental impacts such as carbon offset and pollution reduction. Our customer service team reviews system performance data using this proprietary monitoring software to confirm continuing efficient operation.

Why Customers Choose SolarCity

The following examples illustrate the experiences of residential, commercial and government customers and the reasons they select us to provide solar energy systems and related energy products and services.


  • California Family . A California family contacted us to perform an evaluation of their home’s energy usage and costs. We recommended a combination of a solar energy system and energy efficiency products and services to reduce energy costs and consumption and to create a more comfortable home. The family decided to sign a 20-year lease with us for a solar energy system that saves them an average of more than $50 each month. Our energy efficiency evaluators also assessed that the home was losing 60% of its heating through leaks in ductwork and was using an inefficient air cooling system. We replaced the ductwork to reduce leakage and heating costs in the winter and installed a more efficient cooling system to reduce energy costs and increase comfort in the summer. The family now enjoys a more comfortable home and can expect to save thousands of dollars in future energy costs.
  • Maryland Homeowner . A Maryland homeowner sought a solar energy solution to reduce high summertime electricity bills and ultimately decided to lease a solar energy system from us. Over the 20-year term of the contract, he will pay us $29,746 and is projected to create a net savings of $8,305 compared to his projected utility bills. The solar energy system is expected to offset 240,024 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions over the contract term, the equivalent of planting approximately 130 trees. The solar energy system components, including panels, inverters and labor, cost approximately $18,276.


  • Walmart Stores, Inc . Walmart, the world’s largest retail business, is pursuing an array of sustainability goals, including a long-term goal to be supplied by 100% renewable energy. Walmart’s goal is to purchase renewable solar energy at prices equal to or less than utility energy rates while also providing price certainty for a percentage of these stores’ electricity requirements against the volatility of fossil-based energy prices. Walmart has contracted with us to purchase solar-generated electricity from 180 systems throughout Arizona, California, Colorado, Maryland, New York, Ohio and Oregon, and thus far 147 systems have been installed and interconnected at 141 sites across these seven states. We started our first Walmart project in July 2010, and completed 57 projects by the end of 2011. Our solar energy systems typically offset between 10% and 30% of each Walmart location’s total electricity usage.
  • Granite Regional Park . Granite Regional Park is a private-public partnership between Regional Park Limited Partnership and the City of Sacramento. Regional Park developed the Granite Regional Park with the goal of advancing the City of Sacramento’s sustainability goals and providing additional public greenspace. The park is located on an old mining site and includes office buildings and recreation area. Regional Park will pay $2.6 million over 20 years for the solar electricity generated by the 901 kilowatt, or kW, solar energy system and is projected to create a net savings of $0.4 million compared to the park’s projected utility bills over this period. The installation is expected to offset more than 27 million pounds of greenhouse gas emissions over the contract period, the equivalent of taking approximately 2,500 cars off the road for a year, or planting approximately 15,000 trees.


  • Soaring Heights Communities, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base . In mid-2009, we entered into a transaction with Soaring Heights Communities LLC, an affiliate of Lend Lease (US) Public Partnerships LLC, a leading developer of privatized military housing, to build what we believe to be the largest solar-powered community in the United States: Soaring Heights Communities at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona. The project includes approximately 6 MW of generation capacity, including approximately 3.28 MW of ground-mounted solar panel arrays and an additional 2.76 MW of roof-mounted systems, spread among 400 residential buildings. When construction began, the project was estimated to represent an increase of more than 15% over the state of Arizona’s grid-tied solar capacity. The solar electricity generated by the systems offsets the majority of the electricity used by the housing community’s over 900 single and multi-family residences.
  • Chico Unified School District . Chico Unified School District decided to explore solar power as a way to help meet the school district’s electricity needs, reduce its dependency on polluting power sources and reduce energy expenses. After a careful selection process, we were awarded the contract to build 1.6 MW of solar energy systems across five district sites. As a power purchase agreement customer, the school district avoided the upfront cost of installing solar and simply buys the power produced from our systems at a set rate. The school district’s solar electricity production is expected to offset 85% of the five sites’ collective, total electricity needs. The school district will pay $10.9 million for the solar electricity over a 20-year period, and the solar power is projected to create a net savings of $2.4 million compared to the school district’s projected utility bills over this period. The school district’s solar installations are expected to offset more than 57 million pounds of greenhouse gas emissions over the contract term, the equivalent of taking approximately 5,000 cars off the road for a year, or planting approximately 30,000 trees.


Sales and Marketing

We market and sell our products and services through a national sales organization that includes a direct outside sales force, a call center, a channel partner network and a robust customer referral program.

Direct outside sales force . Our outside sales force typically resides and works within a market we serve. Our outside sales force allows us to sell to those customers who prefer a face-to-face interaction.

Call center . Our call center allows us to sell our energy products and services to customers without visiting their homes or businesses. Because every home or site is unique, we begin by talking with each prospective customer about their energy needs and savings goals. Then, using online satellite technology, our salesperson evaluates the suitability of the site for our products and services. If either a solar energy system or an energy efficiency evaluation is an appropriate solution, our salesperson briefs the customer on our full scope of products and services, collects preliminary utility usage data and site information, and ultimately, provides a preliminary estimate of costs, including rebate applicability. If the customer desires to work with us, contracts can then be executed with e-signatures.

Channel Partner Network

  • SolarCity Network . The SolarCity Network is a by-invitation business development program that pays referral fees to local professionals and businesses that refer customers to us. Typical network members include realtors, architects, contractors and insurance/financial services providers.
  • The Home Depot . Our products and services are available through The Home Depot stores located in Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon and the District of Columbia. We are the exclusive solar provider in the stores we serve. We sell through point-of-purchase displays in the stores, through a team of field energy advisors that canvass the stores and speak to prospective customers, and through other direct marketing strategies including in-store flyers, seminars, promotions, search engine marketing campaigns, email campaigns, retail signage and displays, and a co-branded website.
  • Homebuilder partners . Our products and services are available through several new home builders, including Shea Homes. These partners market solar energy systems through a variety of strategies, including advertising within their model homes, signage within their communities, realtor emails, newspaper inserts, online banners and co-branded flyers. Certain of these partners pre-pay for the electricity that will be produced by the solar energy system installed on the new home they sell, using the benefit of free solar energy as a selling point.
  • Other channel partners . Our products and services also are available through Paramount Energy Solutions, LLC, dba Paramount Solar. Paramount Solar engages residential photovoltaic solar system customers through its own sales and marketing strategies.

Customer Referral Program . We believe that customer referrals are the most effective way to market our products and services. Approximately 23% of our new residential projects in 2012 originated from existing customer referrals. We offer cash awards to incentivize our current customers to refer their friends, family and colleagues to install solar energy systems or enroll in an energy efficiency evaluation performed. We also encourage our customers to host solar energy parties with their friends, family and colleagues, where one of our in-house solar consultants make an informal presentation.

We also market our products and services through a variety of direct marketing strategies designed to reach qualified homeowners and businesses, including radio ads and public radio sponsorships, newspaper and magazine ads, online banner ads, search engine marketing, direct mail, participation in trade shows, events and home shows, email marketing, public relations, social media, sweepstakes and promotions, newsletters, community programs and field marketing techniques such as door-to-door canvassing. Our in-house marketing team manages and coordinates our media buying and customizes our content for each region.


Operations and Suppliers

We purchase major components such as solar panels and inverters directly from multiple manufacturers. We screen these suppliers and components based on expected cost, reliability, warranty coverage, ease of installation and other ancillary costs. As of December 31, 2012, our primary solar panel suppliers were BenQ Corporation, Suniva Inc., Trina Solar Limited and Yingli Green Energy Holding Company Limited, among others, and our primary inverter suppliers were Power-One, Inc., SMA Solar Technology, AG, Schneider Electric SA, Fronius International GmbH and SolarEdge Technologies, among others. We typically enter into master contractual arrangements with our major suppliers that define the general terms and conditions of our purchases, including warranties, product specifications, indemnities, delivery and other customary terms. We typically purchase solar panels and inverters on an as-needed basis from our suppliers at then-prevailing prices pursuant to purchase orders issued under our master contractual arrangements. We generally do not have any supplier arrangements that contain long-term pricing or volume commitments, although at times in the past we have made limited purchase commitments to ensure sufficient supply of components.

The U.S. government has imposed tariffs on solar cells manufactured in China. Based on determinations by the U.S. government, the applicable anti-dumping tariff rates range from approximately 8%-239%. To the extent that U.S. market participants experience harm from Chinese pricing practices, an additional tariff of approximately 15%-16% will be applied. Because we currently purchase solar panels containing cells manufactured outside of China, we currently are not adversely impacted by the tariffs.

Our racking systems are manufactured by contract manufacturers in the United States using our design.

We generally source the hundreds of other products related to our solar energy systems and energy efficiency upgrades services, such as HVAC and water heating equipment, fasteners and electrical fittings, through a variety of distributors. In addition, we source our EV charging stations from Tesla Motors and others.

We currently operate in 14 states. We manage inventory through one of our six centralized storage and distribution facilities, and we distribute inventory to local warehouses weekly as needed. We maintain a fleet of over 700 trucks and other vehicles to support our installers and operations. This operational scale is fundamental to our business, as our field teams currently complete more than 1,000 residential installations solar energy system each month, while our project management teams simultaneously manage thousands of projects as they move through the stages of engineering, permitting, installation and monitoring.

We offer a range of warranties and performance guarantees for our solar energy systems. We generally provide warranties of between 10 to 20 years on the generating and nongenerating parts of the solar energy systems we sell, together with a pass-through of the inverter and module manufacturers’ warranties that generally range from 5 to 25 years. Where we sell the electricity generated by a solar energy system, we compensate customers if their system produces less energy than our guarantee in any given year by refunding overpayments. We also provide ongoing service and repair during the entire term of the customer relationship. Costs associated with such ongoing service and repair have not been material.


Securing Our Solar Energy Systems

Unless a customer fully prepays for its solar energy system, we file a uniform commercial code financing statement, or UCC-1, on the systems in the real property records where each system is located prior to or when the system is installed. We file the UCC-1 to put on notice anyone who might perform a title search on the address where the system is located that our property, the solar energy system, is installed on the building. This filing protects our rights as the system’s owner against any mortgage on the real property. If the lender that holds the mortgage on the real property forecloses on our customer’s home, the UCC-1 filing protects our interest in the solar energy system and prohibits the lender from taking ownership of our solar energy system. A UCC-1 fixture filing is not a lien against a customer’s home and does not entitle us to the proceeds of the sale of a home in foreclosure. Typically, when a foreclosed home is sold by the lender, we negotiate with the prospective buyer to assume the existing lease or power purchase agreement. We believe the prospective buyer is motivated to assume the existing agreement by the opportunity to purchase energy from us at a lower price than that available from the electric utility. To date, we have only had to repossess five systems. In every other case, we have successfully negotiated with the new buyer to assume the existing lease or power purchase agreement.



We believe that our primary competitors are the traditional utilities that supply energy to our potential customers. We compete with these traditional utilities primarily based on price, predictability of price, and the ease by which customers can switch to electricity generated by our solar energy systems. We believe that we compete favorably with traditional utilities based on these factors in the regions we service.

We also compete with companies that provide products and services in distinct segments of the downstream solar energy and energy efficiency value chain. For example, many solar companies only install solar energy systems, while others only provide financing for these installations. These distributed energy competitors typically work in contractual arrangements with third parties, leaving the customer in the position of having to deal with different companies for different aspects of their solar energy project. In the residential solar energy system installation market, our competitors include American Solar Electric, Inc., Astrum Solar, Inc., Petersen Dean, Inc., Real Goods Solar, Inc., REC Solar, Inc., Sungevity, Inc., Trinity Solar, Inc., Verengo, Inc. and many smaller local solar companies. In the commercial solar energy system installation market, our competitors include Chevron Corporation, SunPower Corporation and Team Solar, Inc. In the solar project financing market, our competitors include SunRun Inc. In the energy efficiency products and services market, our competitors include Ameresco, Inc.

We believe that we compete favorably with these companies because we take an integrated approach to Better Energy, including offering solar energy systems, energy efficiency offerings, electric vehicle charging stations and additional energy-related products and services, as well as in-house sales, financing, engineering, installation, monitoring, and operations and maintenance. Our competitors offer only a subset of the products and services we provide. Aside from simple cost efficiency, we offer distinct practical benefits as an all-in-one provider. We provide a single point of contact and accountability for our products and services during the relationship with our customers.


Government Regulation

We are not a “regulated utility” in the United States under applicable national, state or other local regulatory regimes where we conduct business. For our limited operations in Ontario, Canada, our subsidiary is subject to the regulations of the relevant energy regulatory agencies applicable to all producers of electricity under the relevant feed-in tariff, or FIT, regulations, including the FIT rates.

To operate our systems we obtain interconnection agreements from the applicable local primary electricity utility. Depending on the size of the solar energy system and local law requirements, interconnection agreements are between the local utility and either us or our customer. In almost all cases, interconnection agreements are standard form agreements that have been pre-approved by the local public utility commission or other regulatory body with jurisdiction over interconnection agreements. As such, no additional regulatory approvals are required once interconnection agreements are signed. We maintain a utility administration function, with primary responsibility for engaging with utilities and ensuring our compliance with interconnection rules.


Government Incentives

U.S. federal, state and local governments have established various incentives and financial mechanisms to reduce the cost of solar energy and to accelerate the adoption of solar energy. These incentives include tax credits, cash grants, tax abatements, rebates, and net energy metering, or net metering, programs. These incentives help catalyze private sector investments in solar energy and efficiency measures, including the installation and operation of residential and commercial solar energy systems.

The federal government provides an uncapped investment tax credit, or Federal ITC, that allows a taxpayer to claim a credit of 30% of qualified expenditures for a residential or commercial solar energy system that is placed in service on or before December 31, 2016. This credit is scheduled to reduce to 10% effective January 1, 2017. Solar energy systems that began construction prior to the end of 2011 are eligible to receive a 30% federal cash grant paid by the U.S. Treasury Department under section 1603 of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, or the U.S. Treasury grant, in lieu of the Federal ITC. The federal government also provides accelerated depreciation for eligible solar energy systems.

We have received U.S. Treasury grants with respect to the vast majority of the solar energy systems that we have installed, and we expect to receive U.S. Treasury grants with respect to many more solar energy systems that we will install in the near future. We have relied on, and will continue to rely in the near future on, U.S. Treasury grants to lower our cost of capital and to incent fund investors to invest in our funds. Also, the U.S. Treasury grants have enabled us to lower the price we charge customers for our solar energy systems.

Approximately half of the states offer a personal and/or corporate investment or production tax credit for solar, that is additive to the Federal ITC. Further, more than half of the states, and many local jurisdictions, have established property tax incentives for renewable energy systems, that include exemptions, exclusions, abatements and credits.

Many state governments, utilities, municipal utilities and co-operative utilities offer a rebate or other cash incentive for the installation and operation of a solar energy system or energy efficiency measures. Capital costs or “up-front” rebates provide funds to solar customers based on the cost, size or expected production of a customer’s solar energy system. Performance-based incentives provide cash payments to a system owner based on the energy generated by their solar energy system during a pre-determined period, and they are paid over that time period. Some states also have established FIT programs that are a type of performance-based incentive where the system owner-producer is paid a set rate for the electricity their system generates over a set period of time.

Forty-three states and Washington, D.C. have a regulatory policy known as net metering. Each of the states where we currently serve customers has adopted a net metering policy except for Texas, where certain individual utilities have adopted net metering or a policy similar to net metering. Net metering typically allows our customers to interconnect their on-site solar energy systems to the utility grid and offset their utility electricity purchases by receiving a bill credit at the utility’s retail rate for energy generated by their solar energy system that is exported to the grid and not consumed on-site. At the end of the billing period, the customer simply pays for the net energy used or receives a credit at the retail rate if more energy is produced than consumed. Some states require utilities to provide net metering to their customers until the total generating capacity of net metered systems exceeds a set percentage of the utilities’ aggregate customer peak demand.

Many states also have adopted procurement requirements for renewable energy production. Twenty-nine states and Washington, D.C. have adopted a renewable portfolio standard policy that requires regulated utilities to procure a specified percentage of total electricity delivered to customers in the state from eligible renewable energy sources, such as solar energy systems, by a specified date. To prove compliance with such mandates, utilities typically must surrender renewable energy certificates, or RECs. System owners often are able to sell RECs to utilities directly or in REC markets.

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