As PACE Financing Grows Up, the Industry Grapples With Lending Standards and Consumer Protections

By many measures, the financing programs referred to as PACE — or property-assessed clean energy — are among the most successful energy-efficiency financing tools in U.S. history.

The programs, which fund building efficiency upgrades and rooftop solar panels through loans paid off in tandem with property taxes, are closing in on $4 billion in transactions across 140,000 American homes, and have created 35,000 jobs.

But if you’ve read any number of headlines on the model in recent months, or if you count yourself among the seemingly small group of homeowners who have had a negative experience with this type of financing, you may be more circumspect about PACE’s prospects.

Critics contend that residential PACE programs have used questionable lending practices akin to those that led to the subprime crisis — and lack both consumer protections and accountability in terms of energy savings achieved.

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New Solar Policy Playbook Calls for Greater Cooperation, Not Competition, With China

The quest to make solar energy a major source of the world’s electricity will not succeed if national policies and industries compete as though it is a zero-sum game.

That is just one of many findings of The New Solar System, a sprawling report released earlier this week by Stanford University’s Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance, a joint research center that includes the university’s business and law schools. The result of two years of work — including interviews with dozens of government officials and industry executives in China and the U.S. — the report sketches out a future where the scale of solar depends on self-interested cooperation.

The New Solar System does not seek to enable any country to beat another in the global solar industry. It seeks instead to help all countries find their most effective places,” wrote the report’s authors, Jeffrey Ball, Dan Reicher, Xiaojing Sun and Caitlin Pollock.

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California bills propose ‘clean peak’ standard to boost renewables deployment

Dive Brief:

  • Lawmakers in the California Assembly and Senate have introduced legislation to encourage more clean energy resources in the state in order to address peak load, reliability and to avoid the need for new fossil fuel generation.
  • The bills would require utilities to deploy clean energy during peak demand in order to meet California’s aggressive greenhouse gas and renewable energy goals, while mandating the California Public Utilities Commission determine a percentage of kWh each peak-load time period to be served with clean energy.
  • The bills build upon a proposal in Arizona, where the state consumer advocate proposed tweaks to the state renewable portfolio standard (RPS) that could maximize the value of new capacity by adding a timing component.

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There’s Vast Untapped Potential for Solar Rooftops in the US, Says Google

When Google first launched a website two years ago that collects data on solar rooftops, called Project Sunroof, it only covered a few cities. But this week, the search engine giant announced the solar site is now crunching data for every single U.S. state, including 60 million rooftops across the country.

The expansion means that Google’s Project Sunroof is starting to get a much clearer picture of how much rooftop solar capacity there actually is in the U.S. Project Sunroof uses data from Google Maps and Google Earth, combined with 3-D modeling and machine learning to determine the solar electricity potential of individual roofs.

Potential solar customers — or just the solar-curious — can enter their addresses into the site and get information about how much a solar system on their roof might cost and how much money they might save over time by going solar.

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HERO program used by more than 3,000 Fresno homeowners

When the Fresno County Board of Supervisors voted to adopt the HERO program, the goal was to help local homeowners make energy and efficiency upgrades that could reduce utility bills and greenhouse gas emissions while creating local clean-energy jobs. Today, it’s clear that the program is working: through the HERO Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing program, more than 3,100 homeowners in Fresno County have made almost 6,300 energy efficiency, water efficiency or solar power improvements to their homes.

Since the financing option became available in Fresno County, the program has also had a positive impact on the local economy, generating almost $110 million in new economic activity. By stimulating home renovations, the HERO Program also increases demand for local contractor services. As a result, the HERO Program is now supporting an estimated 539 regional jobs through this boost to the local economy. Many of these jobs, like those in the local construction sector, cannot be automated or outsourced.

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US Solar Market Has Record-Breaking Year, Total Market Poised to Triple in Next 5 Years

The U.S. solar market had its biggest year ever in 2016, nearly doubling its previous record and adding more electric generating capacity than any other source of energy for the first time ever.

Over the next five years, the cumulative U.S. solar market is expected to nearly triple in size, despite a slight dip expected in 2017. GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) announced these historic figures today with the publication of the U.S. Solar Market Insight 2016 Year in Review report.

On average, U.S. solar photovoltaic (PV) system pricing fell by nearly 20 percent in 2016. This is the largest average year-over-year price decline since GTM Research began modeling pricing in this report series.

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U.S. Solar Market Insight

The U.S. installed 14,800 megawatts (MW) of solar PV in 2016 to reach 42.4 gigawatts (GW) of total installed capacity, enough to power 8.3 million American homes. With more than 1 million residential solar installations nationwide and record-breaking growth in the utility-scale sector, the industry is poised to nearly triple over the next five years, surpassing 100 GW nationwide.

View the full report here:

Solar reached 1.4% of U.S. electricity in 2016

While the U.S. solar market continues to grow rapidly, solar generation still represented a tiny share of overall U.S. electricity, according to the latest figures from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration (EIA).

The latest edition of EIA’s Electric Power Monthly shows that the portion of electricity that the nation gets from solar grew nearly 40% in 2016, from around 1% of total generation to 1.4%. Wind is likewise growing, with the share of electricity from wind rising from 4.7% in 2015 to 5.5% of all generation last year.

And while these are relatively low shares, solar and wind made up more than 60% of new generation put online last year by capacity.

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Picking Up PACE After Federal Guidance

A promising energy efficiency program could get closer to reaching its massive potential after a federal policy tweak that tempers lenders’ concerns to allow more homeowners to cash in.

Variations of the Property Assessed Clean Energy program, better known as PACE, already exist in more than 30 states. Until now, the program has skewed mainly toward commercial or municipal properties, bogged down by the mortgage industry’s notion that it would hurt lenders.

In general, the framework allows property owners to repay the costs of efficiency and renewable energy upgrades through city-sponsored property tax assessments.

Despite enthusiasm for its residential upside during PACE’s ramp-up in 2008, some mortgage lenders balked at its guidelines. They said payments on PACE assessments would be prioritized before mortgage obligations and limit refinancing options, a perceived threat to their business.

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