Solar EPCs Need to Focus Down-Market

Jerry Shinn, the president of M+W Energy Inc., based in Weston, Connecticut offered this view of the future of solar engineering, procurement and construction companies this week at the InterSolar North America show in San Francisco.

Another key to EPC survival during the continuing consolidation in the market is financial security that adds to the bankability of a given project, to achieve lower rates. “The private equity portfolio investors are no longer interested in the lower interest rate returns that the banks are now accepting,” Shinn says. M+W has no debt and can rely on its parent company’s $4 billion per year cash flow.

M+W Energy is one of the largest PV pure-play EPCs operating in the U.S. market, with projects completed in 16 states; in 2014, it was ranked the largest EPC in the commercial segment of the PV market. Overall, PV installations grew to 285 MW last year, compared to 110 the year before. The EPC is on the path toward its goal of growing to 750MW installed in three years. It is a subsidiary of the M+W Group, based in Stuttgart, which fused with Gehrlicher Solar.

Community solar projects will be key to the company’s U.S. expansion, Shinn notes, given the increasing difficulty to find sufficient land near grid interconnections for larger projects. “Minnesota’s regulations are a perfect example of what community solar projects can be, with up to 5 MW co-located,” Shinn notes. “We are in the process of doing a 125 MW community project in Minnesota,” he says. The developer of these projects is typically an Independent Power Producer (IPP) that is the deregulated side of a utility, he adds.

Among other states that have implemented regulations to foster community solar developments are Massachusetts, North Carolina, New York and Colorado, Shinn observers. “The greatest challenge we face in the U.S. market now is to forge key relationships with local partners in new markets,” he allows.

M+W installs both fixed tilt and single-axis tracker installations; three 25 Watt tracker projects are underway in California now, Shinn says.