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U.S. Solar Jobs Have Grown 86% In Four Years

The U.S. solar industry added more than 31,000 new jobs in 2014, bringing the country’s total to more than 173,800, according to The Solar Foundation’s (TSF) fifth annual National Solar Jobs Census.

This figure represents 21.8% growth in solar industry employment since November 2013. Solar employment grew nearly 20 times faster than the national average employment growth rate of 1.1% in the same period, says TSF.

“The solar industry has once again proven to be a powerful engine of economic growth and job creation,” says Andrea Luecke, president and executive director of TSF. “The solar sector has grown an extraordinary 86 percent in the last four years, adding approximately 81,000 jobs. Our census findings show that one out of every 78 new jobs created in the U.S. over the past 12 months was created by the solar industry - nearly 1.3 percent of all jobs.”

TSF expects another 36,000 jobs to be added over the coming year.

The solar installation sector added nearly 50% more jobs in 2014 than the total created by both the oil and gas pipeline construction industry (10,529) and the crude petroleum and natural gas extraction industry (8,688).

The National Solar Jobs Census 2014 was conducted by TSF and BW Research Partnership with support from The George Washington University. The report, derived from data collected from more than 7,600 U.S. businesses, measured employment growth in the solar industry between November 2013 and November 2014. The margin of error of this dataset is +/-2.03%.

 

SunEdison Raises Funds To Acquire First Wind

SunEdison Inc. has raised $590 million to fund the acquisition of First Wind.

SunEdison raised $190 million through the secondary offering of SunEdison Semiconductor shares. In addition, SunEdison has secured a $400 million credit commitment from several SunEdison relationship financial institutions for a 24-month loan secured with a portion of shares in TerraForm Power.

The $590 million in proceeds from these transactions will be used to fund the cash portion of the upfront consideration to purchase First Wind.

On Nov. 17, 2014, SunEdison and TerraForm Power announced that they had signed a definitive agreement to acquire First Wind for $2.4 billion.

 

Nautilus Secures $39M For DG Portfolio

New Jersey-based Nautilus Solar Energy LLC has closed a $39 million financing deal with California-based Rabobank to support the construction of a solar photovoltaic portfolio of distributed generation (DG) projects in Ontario.

The portfolio consists of projects in the Ontario Power Authority’s feed-in tariff program developed by Nautilus Solar Energy through its Canadian subsidiary, Nautilus Solar Energy Canada Inc., in a co-
development partnership with Moose Power Inc.

The community investment partners include Green Energy Cooperative of Ontario Inc. and Eagle Lake First Nation. North Sky CleanTech Alliance Fund LP and NewWorld Environmental Infrastructure LP will provide equity funding for the portfolio.

In addition to arranging the transaction, Nautilus will also provide physical and financial asset management for the projects.

 

Mass. Launches $30M Solar Loan Program

At the tail-end of its term, the solar-friendly Patrick administration has finalized a $30 million Mass Solar Loan program that is intended to make it easier for homeowners to finance solar electric projects on their homes.

Mass Solar Loan will be launched in partnership with the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC), which will serve as the program’s central administrator. Beginning early this year, local lenders will be able to sign up to participate in the program, which is scheduled to begin providing loans this spring.

The loans will be available for solar installations on single-family homes and on residential buildings up to three units, as well as for participants with an ownership stake in community solar projects. It will provide greater credit enhancement for moderate-income customers and those with lower credit scores, encouraging lenders to serve these customers.

The funding committed to the program comes from alternative compliance payments paid by electric retail suppliers if they have insufficient renewable or alternative energy certificates to meet their compliance obligations under the commonwealth’s renewable and alternative portfolio standard programs.

The launch of Mass Solar Loan coincides with the planned sunset of MassCEC’s Commonwealth Solar II rebate program, which has provided rebates for more than 10,500 small-scale solar electric projects for homes and businesses across Massachusetts since 2010.

“With the price of residential solar dropping steadily over the past few years, there has never been a better time to adopt solar energy,” says Alicia Barton, CEO of MassCEC. “The launch of Mass Solar Loan will make it even easier for more residents to tap into the economic and environmental benefits of solar electricity, while creating more local jobs.”

 

ARPA-E Granting $125M For Advanced Energy

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy (ARPA-E) is issuing a $125 million open funding opportunity solicitation to support energy research and development projects.

Previous ARPA-E open solicitations in 2009 and 2012 resulted in several funded solar projects. Desired areas of research for the so-called OPEN 2015 solicitation include - but are not limited to - electricity generation by both renewable and non-renewable means; electricity transmission, storage and distribution; energy efficiency for buildings, manufacturing, commerce and personal use; and all aspects of transportation.

The goals of open solicitations are intentionally ill-defined so as to encourage out-of-the-box approaches to stationary and transportation energy applications. ARPA-E asks applicants to address the potential impact of proposed technologies on the agency’s mission areas: reducing imported energy, reducing energy-related emissions and improving energy efficiency.

 

Gas, Wind And Solar Rule In 2014

Virginia-based market analysis firm SNL Financial reports wind and solar combined almost equaled natural gas in its total addition to the U.S. generating capacity.

New generating capacity added 15,450 MW to the U.S. generating fleet in 2014, the report says, which was slightly more than the 15,028 MW added the year previous.

Looking at 2014’s new capacity by fuel type, slightly more than half - 7,902 MW - was gas-fired. A number of new gas plants were built as replacements to older, usually coal-fired units that were retired.

Wind accounted for the second-largest amount of capacity added - almost 3,815 MW - during the year. As wind developers rushed to capitalize on the brief extension of the production tax credit, the month of December saw almost one-third of all of 2014’s wind capacity additions.

New solar capacity in 2014 totaled 3,240 MW. Solar installations have benefited from decreasing system costs. Citing data from the Solar Energy Industries Association, SNL Financial says the national weighted-average system cost for residential and utility-scale solar facilities declined nearly 4% in 2014.

Berkshire Hathaway Inc. topped the list of largest amount of capacity additions by company in 2014, SNL Financial says. Through regulated utility subsidiaries MidAmerican Energy Co. and PacifiCorp, as well as competitive supply subsidiary MidAmerican Solar LLC, the company added 1,844 MW, of which 69% was wind and solar. New capacity included the gas-fired Lake Side 2 plant in Utah, serving PacifiCorp, and the Topaz and Solar Star solar facilities in California.

 

Corporate Funding For Solar Hits $26.5B In 2014

Mercom Capital Group LLC says total corporate funding into the solar sector - encompassing venture capital (VC), private equity, debt and public market financing - increased 175% in 2014 to $26.5 billion, compared to $9.6 billion in 2013.

Global VC investments more than doubled to $1.3 billion in 85 deals in 2014, compared to $612 million in 98 deals in 2013.

Solar downstream companies saw the largest amount of VC funding in 2014 with $1.1 billion in 44 deals, accounting for 85% of venture funding. Investments in photovoltaic technology companies reached $75 million in 12 deals, with balance of systems companies close behind with $73 million in seven deals. Concentrated solar power companies attracted $59 million in three deals, followed by thin-film companies with $52 million in nine deals.

Mercom Capital says the top five VC-funded solar companies in 2014 were the following:

Residential and commercial funds showed strong growth in 2014, with 34 announced funds totaling $4 billion. SolarCity, SunPower, Vivint Solar, SunEdison and Syncarpha Capital were top fundraisers.

Mercom Capital reports that mergers and acquisitions activity in solar totaled $4 billion in 116 transactions, compared to $12.7 billion in 81 transactions in 2013. Consolidation activity continued among solar downstream companies with 57 transactions, followed by manufacturers and equipment companies with 35 transactions.

 

New Markets Help
Utility-Scale Solar Surge

Utility-scale solar installations will surge for a fifth-consecutive record year in 2014, according to provisional analysis reported by Wiki-Solar.org.

New capacity for the year already exceeds 10 GW and is expected to climb further when official figures are available in March.

For the first time, Africa and South America show significant new capacity to join the traditional lead continents of North America, Asia and Europe. South Africa is leading the pack in Africa. The recent commissioning of the 94 MW Sishen solar facility ends the year on a high note. Chile is performing a similar service in South America, with 13 new utility solar plants connected so far this year, Wiki-Solar says.

A good year for Japan, combined with continuing growth in China and India, should enable Asia to top North America, the report says. Energy policies in Australia are holding back similar gains in the Oceania region.

The U.S. remains a dependable bastion of utility-scale solar. The world’s largest project - the 550 MW Topaz plant in California - was completed in November. Pressures to complete projects in the U.S. pipeline before the scheduled expiration of the investment tax credit at the end of 2016 should keep the “sector boom” alive next year.

Europe reversed a two-year decline in utility solar, mostly due to a surge in new projects in the U.K. along with some growth in France.

 

Report Reflects Evolving Roles Of Solar And Oil

The American Petroleum Institute (API), with input from the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), reports that solar power is now the fastest-growing source of renewable energy in the U.S.

According to the report, the U.S. has an estimated 20.2 GW of installed solar capacity, enough to effectively power nearly four million homes in the country - the equivalent of every home in a state the size of Massachusetts or New Jersey. In addition, there is another 20 GW in the pipeline through 2016.

The oil industry is increasingly seen as distinct from the electricity generation sector, where solar, wind and other renewable sources are supplanting coal. Analysts have sought to distinguish oil from other fossil fuels as essentially a source for transportation, particularly as oil prices have declined.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Agency, legacy oil represents about 4% of existing U.S. capacity and no new real growth is expected. At the same time, solar represented nearly 19% of all new U.S. capacity in the three quarters of 2014.

The collaboration between the API and SEIA represents an evolving dynamic in the U.S. energy landscape, where solar and other renewable sources join with natural gas generation to shape the nation’s electricity generation. Meanwhile, oil retains its place as the linchpin of U.S. transportation as electric, natural gas and other next-generation sources are developed and come online.

The collaboration also suggests a new tack for the solar sector, which now faces Republican majorities in both houses of the U.S. Congress.

As crafted, the proposed U.S. Environmental Protection Agency carbon emissions rules offer the states a relatively free hand in developing their approaches to meeting emissions targets. As a result, certain fossil fuels can be expected to co-exist with solar and other renewable sources for the near future at least.

The only real loser in the new energy landscape is likely to be coal, which many analysts foresee as occupying a diminishing percentage of the power generation market. Throughout the U.S., there are lots of older, smaller coal units of 200 MW or less that will not be able to justify the cost of adding the required emissions-reduction equipment. These will almost certainly be retired.

New & Noteworthy

U.S. Solar Jobs Have Grown 86% In Four Years

 

 

 

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