It's once again time to take a look at the other side of solar.
Wall Street generally gives more attention to global companies providing cells and modules, but mounting policy advantages in certain states are making regional installers increasingly attractive.
At the federal level, everyone is entitled to a 30% investment tax credit for which the $2,000 cap has been removed. And the "10 Million Solar Roofs and 10 Million Gallons of Solar Water Heating Act of 2010" bill introduced by Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont would offer a direct rebate of $1.75/watt for PV systems, potentially offsetting another 25% of the cost.
Combined with the solar incentives offered in 19 other states, a homeowner could only be responsible for 25% of the total cost of a photovoltaic system.
My colleague Chris Nelder recently reported on new financing schemes that are also allowing easier access to rooftop solar systems for homeowners:
A different approach uses private third-party financing to front the cost of a solar PV system to end-users, who then pay it off over 15-20 years or more.
In the commercial sector, companies like Solar Power Partners (SPP) and SunRun of California assume the initial installation cost and own and operate the systems in exchange for a power purchase agreement (PPA) with the customer.
Power generated by the system is sold back to the customer, typically at or below grid rates. At the end of the PPA term, the customer can buy the system at fair market value or renew their PPA.
These types of special financing are increasing demand by allowing homeowners to install PV who otherwise wouldn't have all the capital to do so.
And there are a few publicly traded solar installers poised to take advantage of this coming demand.
A Solar Installer With a Plan
SunRun (the company mentioned in the blurb above) has emerged as the nation's leading home solar service company, thanks to its revolutionary financing model. Here's how their website describes it:
With SunRun you purchase solar electricity instead of solar panels, which means that you don't have to burn through your savings to go solar. Most people can get started for as low as $1,000 down. It also means that you'll never have to worry if — or even how — your system is making power. We'll take care of your solar system. You go think about something else.
The man who found that company is named Nat Kreamer, though you won't readily find him on the website any longer...
And that's where it gets interesting for investors.
In April of last year, Kreamer was appointed to the Board of Directors of Lonestar Capital, which is now doing business as Acro Energy Technologies (TSX: ART.V).
He was named President of the company by June with CEO Harry Fleming saying, "Nat's experience in the solar industry will be invaluable to the Company. His expertise will help strengthen our operations in California and his strategic insights will help us grow across the country this year."
I bet it will.
Remember, SunRun's customer database is probably chock-full of homeowners who have applied for financing... just waiting to have solar installed on their roofs.
So they tapped that asset. A strategic alliance was signed under which "Acro Energy and SunRun will offer solar electricity service agreements to residential customers and Acro Energy will sell solar electricity facilities to SunRun as a preferred solar systems integrator."
It's a match made in heaven. Here's what the new couple had to say...
Nat Kreamer, Interim President of Acro Energy (founder of SunRun):
The ability of homeowners to finance solar electricity systems is the single biggest hurdle for the solar integration market. Offering SunRun to our customers is a competitive advantage for Acro Energy. It should help us convert a significant number of currently contracted customers, who want an affordable solar financing option, into revenue.
Lynn Jurich, SunRun President:
Our relationship with Acro Energy will allow SunRun to bring affordable solar to even more homeowners in California. Together, we look forward to growing the number of homeowners who are getting clean energy and saving money.
Acro was the fifth largest solar integrator in California within a month. They're now the fourth largest by sales volume.
Here's how the stock has done against Akeena Solar (NASDAQ: AKNS), the largest integrator in California, since the alliance:
And conditions are right for continued good performance from this installer. Panels are cheap (below $2.00 for Chinese brand), demand is high, and there are good subsidies and financing mechanisms.
In fact, Acro's January year-over-year sales grew 118% according to a release on CNBC, which attributed the growth to recent acquisitions:
In 2009, Acro Energy acquired Acro Electric, Inc, Energy Efficiency Solar, Inc, and the assets of Light Energy Systems. The combined sales of Acro Electric Inc, Energy Efficiency Solar, Inc, and Light Energy Systems grew by 118% in January 2010 compared to their sales in January 2009, based on the number of kilowatts sold.
"We have successfully integrated our California businesses and leveraged them, via organic growth, to catapult Acro to the top tier of market," said Nat Kreamer, president of Acro Energy.
"We plan to capitalize on this success and expertise by expanding into other US solar markets in the first half of 2010," added Harry Fleming, chief executive officer of Acro Energy.
As a residential solar boom gets underway, you may want to consider adding an integrator to your to solar holdings. The action isn't always in cells and modules.
Call it like you see it,