Once you have refined your list of prioritized sites, you will need to conduct a high-level economic assessment to get the internal buy-in necessary to move ahead with the project – i.e., decide on an ownership structure and move to the solicitation process. You could get the benefit of such an economic assessment by running an RFI, but if you perform the assessment yourself, you will need to gather the following information for each site:
Evaluate the Project Economics
System size (MW)
You will have determined this in the previous section after prioritizing the sites.
Up-front cost ($/W)
This can be estimated using similar projects as reference points, NREL’s Solar PV Cost Benchmarks Report (page viii), or EnergySage Up-front Cost:
NREL’s Solar PV Cost Benchmarks Report (page viii) and the EnergySage website provide $/W figures that can be used as reference points in the initial economic analysis. .
Electric usage and rate structure
You will have gathered this in the previous section when requesting data from facility managers.
Applicable solar PV incentives can be found on the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency’s (DSIRE’s) website Policies and Regulations:
The Department of Energy (DOE)-funded North Carolina State University website Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (DSIRE) can identify your locally applicable incentives, policies, and regulations. .
After gathering the necessary economic assessment inputs, you can use free techno-economic tools like NREL’s System Advisor Model (SAM) to perform the economic analysis. This will output key metrics, such as the project’s up-front cost, net present value (NPV), and internal rate of return (IRR). Some important questions to ask include:
- Do you currently have the capacity to make this capital investment with a direct purchase?
- If you do, you may want to identify any additional hurdles, such as voter approval.
- If you do not, you may consider third-party ownership (TPO) for little to no up-front cost.
- Does the IRR meet your economic threshold for municipal projects?
- If it does, you can utilize that as a primary selling point in gathering internal buy-in.
- If it does not, you may want to consider whether utilizing the federal investment tax credit (ITC) through TPO will increase economic returns, or sell the project on other merits as outlined in Phase 3.
- If pursuing TPO, what price point will you need to hit?
- You can look at the levelized cost of electricity from the project to see how it compares to your marginal electricity rate.