The State of the Solar Industry: Page 3 of 9
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Amicus Solar Cooperative (amicussolar.com)
Stephen Irvin, president
Amicus Solar Cooperative, founded in 2011, is a jointly owned and democratically managed purchasing cooperative of PV installers, integrators, EPC firms and developers who benefit by collaborating to lower customer acquisition costs, streamline project financing and drastically improve operational efficiencies. Stephen Irvin moved from Namasté Solar, where he was CFO, to serve as president of Amicus. Irvin has a background in environmental economics.
Which developments or events in 2016 stand out as having had notably positive or negative impacts on the US solar industry?
Two major positive influences were the extension of the federal investment tax credit and the significant decrease in module pricing due to the overcapacity of module supply in the second half of 2016. These two developments sustained the growth and prosperity of our member companies. We also saw some impactful negative influences, such as some state-level policy changes regarding net-metering laws and community solar rules that represented challenges to the solar industry. Further, the SunEdison bankruptcy had a ripple effect resulting in lower investor confidence, which directly impacted sources of project financing. We saw more-stringent underwriting criteria that put downward pressure on EPC pricing and necessitated additional guarantees, such as system uptime and warranty wraps.
As we move into 2017, what initiatives is Amicus prioritizing?
Amicus plans to invest heavily in creating more opportunities to share best practices and learn from each other. We’ll also add new members to expand our coverage across the US.
For the last 2 years, several member companies have been working to charter a proposed Clean Energy Credit Union, which will be an independent entity, to provide financing for products and services such as residential solar, electric vehicles and energy-efficiency home improvements. Credit unions are financial cooperatives, backed by the federal government, and are thus very safe places to deposit funds. As we continue to see more customers seeking loans over leases, this is a timely entrant to the marketplace. Clean Energy Credit Union (cleanenergycreditunion.org) expects to receive its federal charter and begin operations in early 2017.
Lastly, Amicus received an award through the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) SunShot Initiative to form the Amicus O&M Cooperative, which will support the O&M needs of commercial and utility PV systems across the US by identifying co-op members who are located in close proximity to system sites for rapid response, with all members operating under standardized services, pricing and contract terms. We will require all member technicians to complete our certified training programs to ensure a standard quality of work.
Amicus Solar is a member-owned cooperative. Why did Amicus opt for this business structure? Are any of Amicus Solar’s individual members employee owned?
Three of our member companies, including one of the founding companies, are employee-owned cooperatives. What makes cooperatives unique is that the members are also the owners. Rather than rewarding outside investors with its profits, a cooperative returns its surplus earnings in proportion to how much members use the cooperative. This democratic approach to business results in a powerful economic force that benefits cooperative members and the communities they serve.
Amicus Solar and some of its members are Certified B Corporations. What is a B Corporation and what value does the certification offer?
B Corporations are certified by the nonprofit organization B Lab (bcorporation.net) that their business practices genuinely create social good for employees, customers, the community and the environment. The certification represents a rigorous, third-party assessment, and it is a powerful sales tool for customers who believe in voting with their dollars. It helps companies attract and retain talent. The B Corp brand is well known within the socially responsible investor community and helps attract funding. Additionally, it brings these companies into another community of forward-thinking business leaders, where people work together to bring about meaningful change. We are proud to say that 14 of our members (34%) are currently B Corps, including Amicus itself, with several other members now interested in the certification.
Many Amicus members point to the information exchange that the group facilitates as one of its most valuable aspects. How is this exchange facilitated, and why do members feel comfortable sharing business information that may be considered proprietary?
We provide several ways to facilitate information sharing among members: we hold two in-person retreats per year, we manage an online communication tool where people pose questions and the brain trust answers, and we have monthly conference calls on dedicated topics such as marketing practices and general business questions. We carefully manage individual member information to preserve confidentiality, and when we share it, we always present it in aggregate form.