If your business is considering a solar PV system, chances are that you have looked at the advantages of the system in terms of the reduction of electricity acquired from the national grid and reduced carbon emissions, but the most important question will remain: how will a solar system save money for your business?
Although many companies will choose to purchase their solar PV system outright – meaning that after paying a once-off amount for the system, they’ll be able to use the system’s free energy over the next 25+ years – this is not the only option available to go solar. As opposed to purchasing a solar system outright, there are several solar finance options requiring little to no upfront costs, allowing more flexibility for a company.
For companies that don’t want to outlay capex to acquire an embedded solar system for their building, a financed solar solution is a great way to enjoy the benefits of solar – including reduced electricity costs and carbon emissions – without the upfront capital. Solar financing options generally allow businesses to pay only for the solar energy they use, depending on the type of agreement that is entered in to. The following blog explores the various solar finance options for commercial and industrial businesses in Southern Africa.
Introduction to solar finance
Simply stated, solar finance is a way to enjoy benefits of solar PV without the upfront capital costs. Instead of owning the solar system from day 1, businesses can “rent” a custom solar system through various solar finance options. Businesses can therefore still enjoy a diversification of energy sources and reductions on energy costs, without acquiring the solar system themselves.
Solar finance could be a particularly appealing option if:
- A business does not have capex budget for the cost of a solar PV system
- A business has a portfolio of buildings and does not want to buy separate PV systems for each; removing the “hassle factor”
- A business would like to achieve electricity cost savings without impacting the balance sheet
- A business wants to plan accurately for costs of electricity and wants greater stability with regards to tariff increases
A solar finance option will still entail a custom built embedded solar system being installed on the client’s building, but instead of ownership for the system being with the building owner, it will belong to the finance provider. In this way it differs from wheeling green energy or buying renewable energy certificates. With an embedded solar system that doesn’t belong directly to the business, there is little reason to get very involved in your building’s electricity supply – as long as the power is efficient, reliable and cost effective. Furthermore, dependent on exact structure of the agreement, the solar asset remains off balance sheet, allowing for a greater return on assets.
In contrast, owning one’s own solar system means that the building will have its own embedded power generation that belongs to the business. If the business has a good Operations and Maintenance contract in place and wishes to spend Capex upfront, this is a good option.
However, business owners may want to have even less involvement: as long as the cheapest and most reliable form of electricity is available. In this case, it pays to enter into a solar Power Purchase Agreement with a company specialising in solar PV, who will concentrate on all aspects of the system’s design, operation and maintenance over the lifetime of the system. The business can thus maintain its independence, only paying for the electricity that it uses.
Market overview of solar finance options
There are three types of solar finance agreements which are generally used for commercial and industrial business owners in Southern Africa. They differ slightly in scope and objectives, but the outcomes are similar.
The solar Power Purchase Agreement (PPA).
The first and most common solar financing option is the solar Power Purchase Agreement (PPA).
A business who enters into a PPA agreement will only pay for the electricity that the system generates on a monthly basis, similar to municipal or utility power. This tariff will increase gradually over the years, but dissimilar to utility tariffs, the increases are usually at a fixed escalation that is agreed upon upfront, shielding business from price volatility.
Often included in this agreement is an “early purchase option”, or an option to purchase the solar PV system anytime after an initial period. This enables flexibility for the business, should they decide at a later stage to purchase the system rather than continuing to pay for the solar electricity through the PPA.
At the end of a PPA term, the client is usually offered the option to purchase the system for it’s residual value or the system ownership automatically transfers to the client for no value. This is an important matter that can affect the starting tariff of a PPA and potential clients must make sure they know who the system belongs to at the end of PPA before entering into it.
A roof rental agreement
A roof rental agreement is the second type of solar finance commonly used. In this type of agreement, a business leases their rooftop to a solar provider who builds a solar system and enters into a PPA to sell the energy from the system. The company entering into the PPA does not necessarily need to be the same as the company leasing the rooftop, which allows for several possible arrangements.
For example, a building owner with tenants could earn rental income from having a solar system installed on their roof and then have their tenants enter into a PPA, who would benefit from cost savings of the PPA. Alternatively the building owner can be the lessor of the roof rental agreement as well as the offtaker of the PPA and decide how to pass on the PPA savings to his tenants.
This option provides commercial building owners a yield enhancement of their property, turning previously unused roof area into income-making asset.
An equipment rental/lease agreement
The third common form of solar finance is an equipment rental or solar lease agreement which is very similar to a PPA, in that a client pays a monthly fee towards the use of a solar PV system. The major difference with this type of solar lease agreement is that the fee is not linked to the output of the system but is rather fixed. In other words, the client would pay a similar amount, agreed in advance, every month, rather than paying for the energy that is generated in a specific month based on an agreed-upon tariff.
Fixed tariff escalations: risk or reward?
For conservative business owners, signing on to a fixed tariff escalation for energy costs might seem risky. After all, what happens if the costs of state power go down significantly in the coming years?
This is a fair question, and the best way of mitigating this risk is to ensure that the fixed escalation on a solar PPA will be significantly lower, on average, than the utility’s escalation. In general, tariff escalations for many Southern African state utilities are quite high and fluctuate significantly year on year. Generally PPA tariffs increases range between 5-10% per annum, whilst Eskom and NamPower have had 10-year average increases of 13.8% and 13.4% respectively.
The graph below demonstrates the average tariff increases for South Africa and Namibia’s utilities over the last 10 years. Whilst some years, the increase was lower than the 6% increase typical of a solar tariff, the average increase is much higher than 10% (the grey line demonstrates a typical PPA tariff increase of 6%).
Furthermore the discount offered by the PPA in year one offers further buffer from the PPA tariff ever crossing the utility tariff.
Solar financing readily makes clean, renewable energy available to a range of energy users in the commercial or industrial property environment. Offering both flexibility and stability, they are a very helpful way of promoting the accessibility of solar PV solutions to business owners across Southern Africa.
Do you have a business that could benefit from a solar finance solution? Contact us for more information.