Solar finance firm lifts industry

The growing domestic solar industry is spawning hundreds of innovative, entrepreneurial companies.

Whether it’s a solar installer’s truck parked in a neighborhood or a utility-scale solar array that’s transformed an empty field into a source of clean, renewable energy, many of these companies work in plain sight.

However, some of these new solar businesses are growing the industry in less conspicuous ways. One of these behind-the-scenes solar companies is Sol Systems, a solar finance firm that arranges financing for solar projects across the country.

Sol Systems was founded in 2008 by Yuri Horwitz and his longtime friend and former track teammate, George Ashton. Based in Washington, D.C., and involved in projects across the country, Sol Systems helps create a market for renewable energy credits generated by solar power, offers investment advisory services for investors interested in placing capital into renewable energy projects, and matches solar developers with financing options that fit their projects’ needs.

So far, Sol Systems has used Solar Renewable Energy Credits, or SRECs, to help finance more than 3,700 residential and commercial solar systems, generating 37 megawatts of electricity in 13 states. SRECs are a tradable commodity. One megawatt-hour of clean, renewable electricity generated by a solar system creates one renewable credit. Sol Systems monetizes these credits, helping solar system owners generate income based on their system’s output.

Priced from anywhere from about $15 to $400, these credits are often purchased by utilities seeking to meet renewable portfolio standards in various states. Renewable energy credits are essential for solar finance and have propelled solar project development on the East Coast.

Sol Systems has also expanded into project finance at the commercial- and utility-scale. It’s working with 20 investors and more than 300 developers to place capital into the solar asset class. The company works with investors who have a minimum of $10 million of investable capital allocated for renewable energy projects. Clients include foundations, endowments, family offices, high-net-worth individuals, and Fortune 100 companies.

“We’re at the center of the solar industry, building an investment bank for solar,” said Horwitz, Sol Systems’ CEO. “Through our financing services, we help the industry cut down on the soft costs associated with solar, providing the most efficient, effective conduit to deploy capital into qualified solar projects.”

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, solar power is now generating enough electricity to power 1.2 million homes. The industry is growing, and Sol Systems is growing right along with it. In the past three years, Sol Systems has expanded from six employees to about 20.

Horwitz said the solar industry is strong. He said states with markets currently showing a lot of momentum include North Carolina, Georgia, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Massachusetts, and New York. Of these six states, five have renewable portfolio standards, with Georgia being the lone exception.

“From our perspective, renewable portfolio standards are absolutely driving investments into the solar industry,” Horwitz said.

In the past six months, Sol Systems has arranged more than $50 million in investments in the solar asset class and it plans to place more than $150 million in investments in 2013.

— Environmental Entrepreneurs