Emerging Opportunities and Challenges in Financing Solar
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Financial innovations—independent of technology-cost improvements—could cut the cost of solar energy to customers and businesses by 30%–60% (see Feldman and Bolinger 2016). Financing is critical to solar deployment, because the costs of solar technologies are paid up front, while their benefits are realized over decades. Solar financing has been shaped by the government incentives designed to accelerate solar deployment. This is particularly true for federal tax incentives, which have spawned complex tax-equity structures that monetize tax benefits for project sponsors who otherwise could not use them efficiently. Although these structures have helped expand solar deployment, they are relatively costly and inefficient. This has spurred solar stakeholders to develop lower-cost financing solutions such as securitization of solar project portfolios, solar-specific loan products, and methods for incorporating residential PV’s value into home values. To move solar further toward an unsubsidized SunShot future, additional financial innovation must occur. Development of a larger, more mature U.S. solar industry will likely increase financial transparency and investor confidence, which in turn will enable simpler, lower-cost financing methods. Utility-scale solar might be financed more like conventional generation assets are today, non-residential solar might be financed more like a new roof, and residential solar might be financed more like an expensive appliance. Assuming a constant, SunShot-level installed PV system price, such financing innovations could reduce PV’s LCOE by an estimated 30%–60% (depending on the sector) compared with historical financing approaches.