The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) reports that 333 campuses in 46 states have now installed solar, and recent analysis from the Governance & Accountability Institute showed that 80 percent of S&P 500 companies now publish sustainability reports. Corporate and institutional procurement of renewable energy sources continues to rise, doubling each year since 2012.
As a result, numerous industry conferences are popping up where renewable energy sellers outnumber corporate buyers in attendance, at least for now.
Yet, as the tens of thousands of energy buyers, sustainability officers, and facilities managers in the US begin to connect with these sellers, one key question arises. How is a buyer to choose the ideal partner to help them meet their energy procurement goals? To answer that question, here are some key factors to consider when vetting partners to help them meet their sustainability goals and stabilize their electricity bills.
Because projects come in all shapes in sizes, and because each customer has its own unique needs, a developer’s ability to customize can be key. Larger and more experienced developers equipped with an in-house engineering team can be innovative with a design. Complicated sites often need a developer with the resources to address unique challenges and offer a more customized project plan. These developers also have the capital to finance larger, multi-site projects that local developers cannot – or where local developers may offer less aggressive pricing.
“Due to the substantial and low-cost capital available to the larger, national developers,” said Lauren Harris, Director, Customer Energy Services at Sol Systems, “they tend to offer the lowest price as well as the ability to fund portfolio or multi-site projects.”
On the other hand, while larger developers are often more competitive on price, local developers may offer customers more flexibility with transaction terms and may offer a different story to the customer.
In our experience, professional local developers have a great record of delivering on time because of the efficiency that results from local connections used for many development tasks that larger developers will contract out. In addition, smaller and more regionally focused shops will likely be managing only a few projects at once, allowing the necessary resources to go through the permitting and interconnection processes, which have a potential to consume a great deal of time. In either case, whether a customer is working with a national or local developer, they should ask their developer about development timeliness and execution in the past.
Maintaining effective communication is a critical element to any customer/developer relationship. With a local developer, customers tend to have a direct line to senior management, which can make an otherwise long and complicated process manageable.
National developers tend to possess more rigid communication barriers, and different parts of the development process have a potential to get “snagged” in separate departments, slowing progress and often frustrating the customer.
Finding a Balance
Corporates and institutions wishing to procure solar energy should understand that the process is highly involved with many challenges. You should view the developer you select as a partner, and seek one that is flexible, considerably experienced, and committed to high standards of quality and service.