Today at High Performance Building Magazine

Your Invitation –> NESEA Building Energy Trade Show Discount, Startup Alley, Building Energy Masters Series Meetup

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Next week is the Building Energy Conference. I’m going to be there, and there’s going to be a lot of fun things happening. I’ve gone to the NESEA show ever year since I was 16, and my buddy Gilbert from Maine will be driving down. It will be fun to hang out with a bunch of industry friends and make some new ones.

If you want to connect at the show, feel free to send me a note at cwilliams@heatspring.com or come to the Building Energy Masters Series meetup.

I’m hosting a Building Energy Masters Series meetup, a few friends of mine will be manning their booths in “startup” alley (you can RSVP a time to meet with them below), and I have a trade show discount for you as a beloved HeatSpring reader.

NESEA Trade Show Floor Discount for HeatSpring Readers

  1. Here’s the discount code to get 50% off the trade show: HEATSPRINGBE14
  2. Click here, then click on register, then click on Trade Show Only Wed/Thursday at the bottom.

If you want to register for a full day session, you can do that here. If you are interested in high performance building from a design, construction, HVAC, or clean energy perspective and you’re based in New England these sessions are worth 10X their cost.

The tracks will be useful if:

  • You’re an experienced building professionals but want to get into high performance building.
  • You’re experienced in high performance building but and want to keep up to date on the newest trends and technologies.

Here are a few highlights. The BE sessions are amazing because it’s a member driven organization, so all of the tracks and sessions are based on what the members want to learn. This creates amazing quality.

Tuesday, March 4

Wednesday, March 5th and Thursday, March 6th

  • Residential Homes Track
  • In particular, Wednesday 2:oo to 3:30 p.m. – Energy Positive Homes in Devens (session by Carter Scott)
  • High Performance Mechanicals Track
  • Marc Rosenbaum is doing a session on heat pumps on Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
  • What the Pros Wanna Know Track Terry Brennan is doing a session on ventilation in commercial buildings that will be amazing, Wednesday 11:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
  • Fundamentals for Advanced Construction will be great for experienced professionals who are new to high performance building.
  • Wednesday from 4:00 to 5:00 p.m. - There’s a session on transforming your business to a high performance business.
  • Thursday 10:30 a.m. to noon – Session on high performance HVAC taught by Andy Shapiro.
  • Renewable Thermal Policy Pipeline -Wednesday, March 5th from 2:00 to 3:30 p.m. I’ll be there.

Building Energy Master Series Meetup = Beers on Us!

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What is it and who is it for: The Building Energy Masters Series meetup is for all BEMS alumni to get together and chat with each other and their instructors. It’s also open to any professionals who want to learn more. You can connect with the BEMS instructors, and we’ll also have some iPads out so you can see inside the course.

Date: Wednesday

Time: 5:30 to 6:30 p.m.

Location: Demo Stage 1

All alumni are invited and people that are interested in the subject. Beverages are on me. RSVP below so I know who you are.

RSVP BEMS Meetup

Just let me know you're coming so I know how many drink tickets to make.

Meet 7 Companies at Startup alley

There are a number of new companies that will be presenting their new technologies. Here’s a list of who they are, a brief explanation of what they offer, and who they’re trying to connect with. If you want to schedule a time to talk with them, RSVP in the form below.

Location – They’ll be located at booth #420

RSVP a Time to Connect with Startup Alley Companies

RSVP a time to meet with the startup companies
  • It will be easier to connect at the show with phone.

1. Faze1

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2. Ground Energy Support

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  • Real time monitoring for geothermal heat pumps systems that eliminates risk for homeowners. The GES system verifies that GSHPs systems are operating efficiently and lets homeowners know the minute they are not.
  • Who should visit with them? Architects, engineers, project developers, and contractors who want to reduce risk.

3. Enmojo

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  • Marketplace for homeowners to find the best deal on duct less air source heat pumps systems.
  • Who should come? Property owners who are looking to invest in air source heat pumps or contractors who are looking for leads.

4. Embue

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  • A “check engine” light for your HVAC system that allows contractors to maintain and increase the value of their relationships with clients by providing real time HVAC-related updates.
  • Who should connect with them? Any HVAC contractor who wants to provide services that will make their clients love them.

5. CrowdComfort

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  • CrowdComfort has a mobile application that allows people within a building to report on their comfort within that building. Facility managers can then use that data to increase the efficiency and comfort of the building for the people in it.
  • Who should connect with them? Any facility managers that are currently managing buildings and looking for a low-cost yet highly effective way to increase comfort in their buildings. Also, any engineers or other professionals who frequently work with facilities managers.  

6. 7AC

  • I believe that they have a new technology that makes existing HVAC systems more efficient, with a focus on commercial and industrial markets. 

 

Posted in Noteworthy News | Leave a comment

[Interview] How Faze1 Used Data to Acquire a 5kW Residential Solar Customer for $0.25/watt

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This is the story of how Faze1 learned how to acquire a 5kW residential solar customer in Massachusetts for $1,250 or $0.25/watt. This is  about 50% lower than the $0.49/watt that is typically referred to for average residential customer acquisition cost in 2014.

Faze1 used three strategies to achieve this goal, which we will describe in detail in this interview: mapping technology, predictive analytics, and software automation. They used mapping technology to pre-screen all 1.2 million single family detached homes in Massachusetts in order to narrow their search to the most attractive 25% of all roofs. They narrowed down the 300,000 homes with the best roofs by using predictive analytics to identify the homeowners that most closely matched the demographic characteristics of the existing 6,000 solar customers in Massachusetts. Lastly, they used software to automate the entire process.

What’s More Amazing?

Now any solar company operating in Massachusetts can use Faze1 software to quickly and easily grade your own leads to identify the best leads.

Faze1′s SunVIEW is faster, cheaper, and better than using Google Maps to screen potential solar customers.

With Faze1, you’ll be able to instantly get site suitability information (roof size, tilt, azimuth, usable solar sales, shading) and important demographic information (FICO score, house size in square feet, occupancy and ownership, expected yearly electric use in kWh, utility territory and bill, years in home, and more) so you can identify customers that are both willing and able to purchase solar. Click here to download Faze1′s complete data dictionary to see what you can learn about each of your solar leads.

Finding the best customers with the leads that you’re already generating will lower you customer acquisition costs because you’ll spend less time on bad leads.

Faze 1 vs. Google Maps = Faze1 Wins, Hands Down

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And What’s Super Amazing? 

Because you’re a HeatSpring reader, we’re giving away 30 free trials to residential solar companies that are located in Massachusetts. Insert your information below to sign up. These will go fast.

Faze1 + HeatSpring --> RSVP to get 1 of 30 Massachusetts Free Trials

Let’s Get into the Interview

This is an interview with the three members of the Faze1 team. Full disclosure: I’m a Faze1 advisor. The team members are Marc Guy, Elliot Goodwin, and Adam Hannah.

The interview tracks the story of Faze1 from the company’s beginning to where they are currently with SunVIEW. There are three significant stages to the history of the company that will be useful to anyone interested in product development and the solar industry and tell the story of an “okay” idea (sorry guys!) to an extremely valuable product.

Interview Highlights

  1. Marc and Elliot had early experiences doing statistical analysis with the Massachusetts Clean Energy on Solarize campaigns that showed them lead generation and project size doesn’t necessarily equal profits. You can see 2012 Solarize data here.
  2. How a used car salesman (yes, the stereotype is true) helped groSolar standardize and improve their sales process.
  3. How the team applied proven mapping technologies that were already being used in the other established industries to screen the 1.2 million single family homes to find the most attractive homes.
  4. Most solar companies focus on revenue instead of profits which mis-directs their marketing. They think they wanted more leads and site visits, but what they actually need is a more profitable way to process and screen their existing leads to find the most profitable ones.

3 Stages of Faze1 Product Development

Roughly speaking, Faze1 developed their Sunview product in three steps:

  • Stage 1. Faze1′s initial goal was to use data to find the best customers and in Massachusetts and sell the list to EPCs.  They found 30,000 of the best solar leads in the state, based on the characteristics of the existing 6,000 solar customers in Massachusetts, and the goal was to sell these leads to companies. This didn’t work. Why? The value of these leads is directly proportional to the ability of a company to process them. This ability was very low.
  • Stage 2. The second step was create a direct mail campaign and market directly to those leads and sell site visits to EPCs. Faze1 was able to generate leads extremely effectively and found out that their site screening predictive model was effective. This allowed them to find customers very cheaply. They didn’t have the cash to sustain long direct mail campaigns, but they learned that their process and software worked very well.
  • Stage 3. Faze1 decided to sell access to their model through a software product that EPCs can use to quickly, easily, and cheaply identify the best leads from the leads that they’re already generating.

Continue reading

Posted in Solar and Geothermal Sales and Marketing Tips, Solar Photovoltaics | 1 Comment

Interview with Jason Riback, Co-founder of Vulume

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I don’t build buildings, but a lot of my colleagues and customers do. So I spend a lot of time at building conferences, reading about buildings, and listening to the most knowledgeable people in the industry teach the skills and concepts for buildng better. When my friend Jason Riback sent me an email about the launch of his new business, I thought it was interesting to see a tool for building professionals coming from a group of techies. I was curious why they picked this opportunity and how it might represent something new and interesting for the architects, builders and contractors I work with every day. Below is the transcript of an interview I did with Jason.

First, you need context on the company and what they do:

Can you tell me a real story that illustrates the pain you saw that inspired you to build the Vulume platform?  

The inspiration for Vulume came during the design and construction of a Colorado residence. Tracking the design concepts, redesigns, all discussions, the day to day construction progress and updating all team members was cumbersome and unorganized. Emails would get lost and project site visits were difficult from far away. In addition, sourcing, proposing, and approving the right eco friendly materials and unique products proved to be extremely time consuming. With Vulume everything is centralized. Vulume provides the ability to keep everyone involved during the planning, design and construction of any small or large project with a simple, visually friendly interface. Vulume helps you design smarter while tracking the life of your projects.

Can you describe, in detail, just one most important thing that Vulume does?

Vulume keeps you connected to your work and gives you quick access to social knowledge and inspiration. It keeps you informed and up to date on real projects with in line feedback, which means discussions and decisions are not lost in emails helping you save time and money. Throughout each project you have an archive of all the work that was done and a very visual way to share it with colleagues and clients. This is great for managing ongoing relationships with clients and sharing selected projects publicly helps you get noticed amongst the growing community.

Building software requires balancing simplicity with features – can you talk about a really hard decision you had to make about whether to build a feature into the platform or leave it out? Why did you decide to include it or leave it out?

When it comes to software you never finish building. The decision to add the ‘Capture’ feature was very tough because it needed to touch so many parts of the site. When we took a hard look at the design, planning and execution process from end to end it was necessary to include a feature that really streamlines the research and discovery aspect of construction throughout a project. Today users can start the idea generation and design process quickly by capturing content from all over the web and from other projects they discover on Vulume, moving them away from tearing out magazines, pasting links into emails, and wasting valuable time on research that may have already been done and shared by other members of the community.

If you look at the building industry in five years, what evidence will you look for to prove that Vulume has had the impact you hoped for?

We want to see our users leverage more sustainable materials and smarter design. We want to reduce the time and cost for each project and improve connections between forward thinking designers, developers, clients and other building professionals. By tapping into the human desire to contribute to a common goal, we aim to radically accelerate the process of creative and sustainable development in relation to the built environment.

Here’s the official Vulume pitch

Vulume helps designers, architects, builders, and clients collaborate more efficiently. It is an online community for smarter design and keeps everyone involved in a project on one platform by connecting all project data, discussions, and people in one place.

  • Store images, documents, and discussions on all your projects
  • Share learnings and product information
  • Collaborate privately or showcase your work for the entire community to see and follow.
  • Improve team engagement
  • Save time and money

You can sign up for a free public account by clicking here

Posted in Noteworthy News, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

5+ Trends that will Drive the Growth of the Hydronic Industry in the Next 3 Years: A 30-Minute Conversion with John Siegenthaler

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There are a variety of forces changing the dynamics of the hydronic heating and renewable thermal industries that were not happening five years ago. While hydronic distribution is still attractive for similar technical reasons that it was five years ago—comfort, air quality, etc.— there are a host of new trends that can have the ability to increase the adoption of hydronics if we can utilize them correctly.

Here’s a quick list of some new trends

  1. We’re lobbying for production based renewable thermal incentives in Massachusetts. Similar actions are being looked at in New York, Maine, and Connecticut. Read about the Massachusetts Clean Heat Bill here. Note, we got this bill out of committee two weeks ago. If you’re in Massachusetts and would like to help with this, email me at cwilliams@heatspring.com. If we pass it, this will increase the demand for renewable thermal heat sources and hydronics can be an amazing way to distribute these low temperature heat sources.
  2. Biomass pellets are increasing in adoption because the MMBTU cost is half that of oil. Read more on the BTEC report here. 
  3. Heat pump technology continues to advance with impressive gains on the air source side (both air to air and air to water). Read more about ASHPs + Zero Net Energy Homes here. While hydronic professionals don’t care much about air to air heat pumps, the ability of air to water heat pumps to provide cool water opens up radiant cooling possibilities in the residential market.
  4. GSHPs have not seen a substantial increase in adoption due in large part to the fact that there’s no way of actually verifying in-field performance over a long period of time. This substantially increases perceived risk to property owners that might want to invest in the technology. Real time monitoring for GSHPs is now very cheap and effective, reducing the risk for homeowners to invest in the technology by making it possible to verify that the system is operating as promised, all the time. Read more about Lessons Learned from 100,000+ Hours of Real Time Geo Monitoring Data here. 
  5. ASTM is in the process of finalizing a standard on BTU metering that will help with policy (see bullet 1) of production-based incentives for renewable thermal technologies and much more that we’ll get into during the interview.

When you look at these trends, it’s clear that the hydronic industry has a lot to look forward to. All of these major industry shifts have the ability to increase demand for hydronic distribution systems in residential and commercial applications, for both new construction and retrofits.

In this 30-minute discussion, I talk with John Siegenthaler to see what he sees driving growth in the hydronics industry over the next 3 years. John is a hydronic expert. He teaches Mastering Hydronic System Design and wrote the industry textbook on the subject as well.

If you’re looking to grow the hydronic side of your business or enter the market in the next year or two, you need to listen to this interview. It will provide a special understanding of the industry developments that are on the horizon. Understanding these trends will allow you to take advantage of them. And by take advantage, I mean increase sales.

Here are the key points that we talked about. See below for a full list of items that you’ll learn when listening to the whole interview.

  1. Low temperature heat sources and renewable sources
  2. Single thermal mass systems
  3. Radiant cooling
  4. BTU metering
  5. How technology is changing design best practices

Listen to the Entire Interview 

In this interview, you will learn: 

  • Why John sees low temperature heat sources and renewables driving the adoption of hydronics as the distribution system.
  • Why worldwide low temperature hydronics has moved to 120 degree water temperature as a maximum water temperature under full load.
  • Why low temperature keeps the distribution system compatible with renewable sources.
  • Why you need to learn about hydronic technology if you’re interested in renewable heat sources like solar thermal, heat pumps, and biomass.
  • The difference between the design advice that John is providing today versus 8 years ago and why technology is driving that change.
  • How advances in technology are tangibly impacting the day-to-day operations of professionals in the field.
  • How radiant walls and ceiling can be used with low-temperature applications and  still get great performance.
  • How to use fin-tube baseboards in low water temperature design.
  • Why a large majority of contractors aren’t even aware of what an air to water heat pump is.
  • The key things that John thinks every engineer and contractor needs to understand about heat pumps, including why they’re a renewable source of heat.
  • How heat pumps open up the hydronic industry to cooling, which has been an issue for industry growth for a long time.
  • Why the decreasing costs of solar PV and zero net energy design is driving the adoption of heat pump technology in the hydronic industry.
  • Why smaller duct size, small fans, shorter builders, and lower installation and operating costs is driving the adoption of commercial radiant cooling.
  • Why not being able to easily and cheaply monitor dew point is slowing the adoption of radiant cooling in the residential market.
  • John’s advice for hydronic contractors who want to start doing radiant cooling, working with heat pumps and low mass radiant ceilings.
  •  Why radiant ceilings might start growing FASTER than radiant floors in the coming years.
  • Why John sees single thermal mass system growing in the residential market by reducing installation costs and simplifying system design.
  • The impact of technology on hydronic best practice design and installation.
  • How ECM pumps are substantially reducing operating cost at least 50%.
  • The impact that the new ASTM ANSI BTU metering standard will have on the design and installation of systems in the hydronics market by removing risk for engineering teams.
  • How BTU metering will encourage conservation.
  • Why BTU metering will make district heating more common.
  • How John sees Zero Net Energy and passive house impacting the hydronic industry and the potential role for hydronics
  • The best applications for hydronics within highly efficient buildings.

Questions? What did I get right or miss?

  • If you have any questions or comment about the interview, please leave them in the comment section
  • What trends did I get right?
  • For the contractors, engineers, and architects working with clients every day, what are you seeing in the market?
  • What trend did we miss that you’re seeing?

Want to Learn More?

Posted in Building Efficiency | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

[30 Minute Interview] Why SREC Markets Will Grow in a Post-ITC Solar World + Other Trends in Commercial Solar Finance

Chris Lord of CapIron, Commercial Solar Finance Expert

All eyes are on the reduction or expiration of the 30 percent federal solar tax credit (ITC). While it’s the prime goal of SEIA (Solar Energy Industries Association) to maintain the federal ITC, some have argued explicitly that it’s time to dismiss solar tax credits on the local level, while others have argued the federal tax credit SHOULD be reduced or eliminated to help the solar industry.

In this 30-minute interview posted below, I talk with Chris Lord, of CapIron Inc, a solar finance expert. Chris works with property owners, developers and financiers to develop mid-market solar projects. Chris has extensive experience financing solar projects and because he deals with stakeholders on all sides of a project, I’ve found his perspective to be extremely valuable. We’ll discuss investor trends in the commercial solar market, the possible impact of the expiration of the ITC, non-recourse bank lending trends, how EPCs should find investors in their local market, and the impact of crowdfunding.

My takeaway: The impact of the possible ITC expiration will depend on the local market. In markets that have flexible programs, namely SREC markets, it could actually increase the adoption of solar PV by increasing the value of SRECs — after a short drop in supply — which would then open up an entire markets for both properties and investors that could not use the ITC before. While in markets with more rigid structures, like feed-in-tariffs, cash rebates, or tax credits, it might have a more long term negative impact.

In this interview, you will learn:

  • Why there are a lot of banks and funds investing in 2-MW+ and residential solar projects, but few focusing on commercial. I’ll will share why I do not see a trend of more and more project investors focusing on smaller and smaller commercial projects even though there is a huge opportunity. (Note, there are some funds focusing on mid-market projects, click here to listen to an interview with a $20MM solar tax equity investor that only finances mid-market commercial projects.)
  • Why mid-market commercial projects are the hardest part of the market for investors to deal with. Hint: It’s because of the high transaction cost relative to the size of the deal and the inability to aggregate deals.
  • Even though commercial financing is difficult, Chris will share how he sees projects are still being built.
  • The four characteristics of the right investors for mid-market commercial projects.
  • What are the three steps a developer must take to find project investors for their projects.
  • How an EPC’s development plan for a project and the tax appetite of an investors are intimately linked.
  • How the tax appetite of an investor will be the limiting factor to an EPC’s development plan and how you can quickly reverse engineer the tax appetite required from an investor to fund your development pipeline.
  • Why the standardization of documents (note: you can see the results of NRELs working group here and Tioga’s open source PPA here) will only have a minimal impact on reducing the transaction costs for mid-market deals.
  • Why developers should work on creating a specific formula with their investor partners with a specific jurisdiction that can be replicated as much as possible.
  • How tax benefits are a double edged sword and how the expiration of the ITC could greatly simply financing and increase adoption of commercial solar.
  • The maximum transaction cost-to-project deal ratio that I see in the market.
  • The impact that the expiration of the federal ITC could have on local solar markets and how it will be different based on the rigidity of state incentive programs.
  • How low gas prices could shut down coal plants and increase electric rates, increasing solar adoption.
  • Why non-recourse debt is not getting substantially involved in the commercial solar market.
  • Why the expiration of the 2016 ITC could switch the market to using a hosts debt and their own balance sheet to finance projects, eliminating the need for a PPA because tax credit monetization is no longer needed.
  • Three advantages of crowd-funding over borrowing from banks for developers.
  • Two reasons why crowdfunding is attractive to investors.

If you’re interested in more information about the post federal solar tax credit era, check these out

Do you have feedback or questions about this interview?  

Please leave them in the comment section or send me a note on twitter.

This article was originally posted in Renewable Energy World

Posted in Financing, Solar Photovoltaics | Leave a comment

50 Minutes of Video Answering 5 Questions on Finding, Pitching, Managing Solar Tax Equity Investors

Photo credit: www.LendingMemo.com

Photo credit: www.LendingMemo.com

This event has already happened. Please scroll down to see the recording and read the answers to the questions. 

This week our focus has turned to a question that everyone wants answered. Investors, investor, investors! Everyone needs more capital for projects, so they can build even more projects. Everyone thinks that lack of investors that can provide capital for projects is holding their business back, which may or may not be true.

We reached out to a few HeatSpring friends that are doing commercial solar work and asked them what issues they were facing with project investors. There are 5 questions below that we’re going to answer on Tuesday.

Interested in more information on the financing commercial solar projects?

We have a lot of awesome information on the subject for you to sink your teeth into.

The 5 Questions

Question 1 – Where do investors come in in the development process of a project? I have 8 acres of land and it has the potential of building a 2MW facilities. I’m in EPC with a strong relationship with the landowner, when should an investor be brought in on the project?

Investors should always been in your orbit and you should develop a prospectus template for your projects. You should first have site control for any project you consider developing. A letter of intent is critical to have executed and if it can be binding for a period of time- 3-6 months as you perform your due diligence, the better. Explaining this to the landowner first is essential and once explained “why” they usually understand that the process is detailed and often one item could kill a deal. Creating a development plan, which consists of specific activities and events that need to happen in order to see a project go from idea to interconnection can be the difference in not only completing a project, but providing potential investors with the confidence in you. Investors have alot of places to park their money today and they need to know that you’re a strong EPC and also that you have a solidified relationship with the land owner. This helps everyone be efficient with their time and reduces the potential for the “cry wolf” types of projects that invariably never get built.

Crafting a timeline with specific milestones and assignment of responsibilities is essential, if you want to attract the most qualified investors. A development plan should also be included and be circulated to the investor pool to show them when you will hit the specified milestones. From a cash flow perspective, this is going to be also important as an EPC, so you’re not carrying the weight of the economics of the project throughout the development process.

Question 2 – What are the most important topics to include in the first page of an executive summary on a project when dealing with an investor for the first time? What will get them interested and afraid?

An executive summary can be as detailed as it needs to be to garnish the attention of an investor. Some things to highlight in the summary should be:

a. Project summary- tell them a story

b. Project financials- what is in it for them

c. Project team- who are you and why you are better than other providers

d. Project details- technology to process- (development plan)

e. Project risks- and how you will overcome them

Investors are being pitched by everyone and anyone and its not just in the solar sector. Returns balance risk- higher returns, higher risk and vice- versa.

What is your unique angle on your project that will get them interested? Are you appealing to their wallets, their altruism goals, more projects in the pipeline, simple project, low risk, high returns, etc.?

Ask them questions: what do they want? Listen and take notes as they will tell you what they’re looking for in a one off project or a portfolio of projects.

Question 3 – I’m an EPC in the northeast and I’m in the process of negotiating a deal with an investor on a 450kW rooftop project. The investor is a local real estate investor that has the passive income to invest in these projects, but he’s new to solar investing. What are my biggest risks and how to I avoid them?

Congratulations – you are well on the way to mastering two of the most challenging parts of a middle-market commercial solar transaction: finding a customer and an investor. As an EPC you probably have a lot of experience finding and landing the customer. The challenge is that financing is not normally in the job description of an EPC, and yet it is a critical component of the puzzle you are trying to put together. So, what are your risks? Where do you need to pay attention?

In a nutshell, your risks arise from your investor’s inexperience and ignorance. That means you must be sure they understand the economics and the structure you are using. Now let’s look at the detail behind that short answer.

The biggest risk you have comes from the fact that your investor is not experienced in the solar arena. Let’s assume though that he or she is a successful and confident real estate investor. We can extrapolate and say that – whether your investor verbalizes this or not – he or she will not want unexpected surprises in the structure or economics. Those are your two biggest risks – failure to understand economics and failure to understand the subtle complexity that comes from a tax equity structure.

In this scenario – ignorant and inexperienced solar investor – some people may take the strategy of give them as little information as they can – a “just get the deal done” strategy. But there are serious legal risks to you and your EPC business if the investor experiences unexpected and unpleasant surprises after the deal. There are business risks as well from this strategy, but they pale by comparison to the legal risks. Losing a million dollars could be pretty painful but nothing like prison. Violating legal rules regarding investment disclosures can carry not just civil but even criminal liability. Besides, your business reputation depends on a successful venture from start to finish, and you want to tap into this investor and his social/business circle for future deals, so there is a great deal of value in getting this right.

Your challenge lies in teaching solar investment as thoroughly as you can over the course of your negotiations, and the build out. But at the same time, you don’t want to confuse or discourage him or her.

Given that your biggest risks stem from a failure of the investor to understand the economics and the structure, you need to prepare a simple but effective model so that the investor or his/her specialists can thoroughly get there head around the economics and related risks. You also need to prepare effective material to explain the tax, legal and business ramifications of the solar investment structure you are selling to the investor. We will cover both in the course in greater detail, but that is the answer in a nutshell.

For our discussion here, I would also add that you must recognize that you cannot explain the structure and get an investor comfortable with an economic model in a single meeting. This will take at least a few weeks and you must be patient. Even once you have an agreement in principle, you must be sure to communicate regularly with your prospect about the deal and its progress.

So, cutting to the chase, don’t assume you can slip a fast deal past an investor. Business models and deals built around assuming the gullibility and shortsightedness of the investor are inherently flawed.

Question 4 – How do you manage an investor communications during the development and construction process?

Carefully and diligently!! The answer to this questions flows from the risks we identified in the preceding question: investor knowledge and understanding of the economics and structure of a deal.

For simplicity sake, we will assume an experienced investor and an inexperienced investor. In both cases, you have the same objective, but the detail and tools may vary.

For the experienced investor, a solid and detailed presentation on the deal, coupled with an online due diligence data room will probably be sufficient to get you most of the way there. You not only want to communicate the substantive aspects of the specific transaction to your investor, but you also want a good record of what you disclosed and when. Whether you are an EPC, customer or professional advisor/broker, you are legally responsible for disclosing the investment risks to the investor.

For an investors with three or four deals completed and a couple of years’ worth of payout under at least one deal, you don’t have to worry as much about global, big picture risks as you do specifics that are peculiar to your deal. Cover the most meaningful ones in your presentation. The due diligence data room should cover all aspects of the deal – from the customer through the EPC. Often an experienced investor will have their own due diligence checklist, and you want the structure of your online data room to mirror that checklist to make things easier for the investor. You probably don’t have to share an economic model in this scenario but you need a single document that contains all of the economics assumptions and data. For example, an investor does not want to have to hunt through your data room to get the PPA price and escalator, or the annual O&M Costs.

What that covers the substance and means of communicating with your investor, you must still figure out the pace and timing of your communications. You don’t want to be haphazard, elusive or an obsessive pain, but you do want to be regular, thorough and timely. Schedule each of your follow-up conversations at the end of your current meeting or call. Make sure your emails are timely and have all of the necessary data. Give a heads up if there are unexpected developments. Remember your investor is a human too, and he or she will be communicating internally with bosses, credit committees and other team members. Help them to look professional and competent, and you will be valued accordingly.

For the less experienced investor, you have a lot of work to do. As we noted earlier, you must combine not only the usual disclosure requirements and procedures, but you must also be educating your investor on the economics and structure. For example, you are going to probably have to share an economic model with the investor. You need to make sure it is a good one, and that it can grow with the sophistication of your investor. As hard as it will be to remember, you are trying to build a long-term relationship with a prospect. Even if they do not have the capacity to make multiple investments, they will have a circle of business and social colleagues who may well follow them. Remember – local investors know and watch one another and so your professionalize and performance will precede you in the local community.

Question 5 – There are only 15 or so large banks offering tax equity in huge funds to residential providers or 5MW+ facilities. I run a successful contracting business in the mid-atlantic but we’re new to solar, we have a great reputable and an existing book of business so I have a pipeline of 1MW of projects that I can install at around $2.35/watt  I can build over 4 sites and I see this growing by about 25% per year. What is the specific profile of an investor that I should be looking for for these size projects and how would I about finding them?

My first recommendation for all solar projects – residential, commercial or institutional – is, first and foremost, to find as many customers as possible who will do the projects without financing. Doing deals without the complexity of financing is far more profitable than doing deals with financing. Always.

Residential deals have the challenge of being smaller and so an investor can afford very little in the way of legal and due diligence costs. That is why residential went to aggregators first.

Now, in your hunt for financing, don’t overlook the fact that there are residential aggregators out there who will work with multiple EPC’s. They are essentially in the finance business and pull together a raft of deals that one of the larger institutional investors will then put money into. Of course, there is the middleman’s cut, so you need to be sure you have enough economics in the deal to pay them and still make your EPC/Developer margin. They will also require you to use their documentation or at least markup and approve your documentation, which means you must lock up with such an aggregator before you enter the deal with the residential owner. The aggregator will also want to be comfortable with you as an EPC and a credit risk. So have good data on your construction experience, and be ready to walk them through the details of your design for a specific solution. The aggregator will also want to see your pipeline because they only make real money – and recover their investment in you – over time.

And this brings us to your challenge if you are looking for locally, well-heeled investors looking for a few smaller deals. The economics are challenging when you throw in legal fees, appraisals and accountant’s advice. To find these investors – and make a deal work – you will need to create your own aggregation. You probably need at least ten deals with a common structure, identical documentation, single utility and preferably located in the same taxing authority. As you already know from the size of your pipeline – four deals a year – this could be difficult.

So, I recommend the following profile: a savvy real estate investor with commercial solar investment experience, a large tax appetite and a comfort with solar risk. This type of investor will know and understand that the due diligence must be focused but limited, and the documentation kept as standard as possible. Ideally, this investor might also be an investor in your EPC business. That would give the investor insight on your track record and responsiveness to the “unexpected”.

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Advice from a $20MM Solar PV Investor for Commercial Solar Installers = Focus on a Niche, Be Fast, and Standardize your Operations

noel

There are a few questions that solar EPCs and developers interested in the commercial solar market continuously ask me:

  1. Our company’s sales are limited by finding investors for projects, but I can’t find them. How do we find investors and project finance capital for my projects?
  2. What does a good project look like to investors? What is a creditworthy customer?
  3. What should I focus my company’s time on, and what should the investor do?
  4. How do I determine what I should install the project at and what is an appropriate PPA price to the customer?

The following is a 60+ minute interview with Noel Lafayette of Steep Hill Renewables. Noel runs a $20MM solar fund and is an active solar PV investor. He’s looking to finance and buy mid-market solar projects between 150kW and 1MW. Because he’s actively looking to buy projects and has deep experience in the solar industry, his insights are extremely actionable and valuable to any solar contractors looking to grow in the commercial market. He’s been developing and financing commercial solar projects since 2006. In total, he’s developed more than 50 MW of solar projects.

If you believe that selling, financing, and building projects between 100kW and 1MW is the future of your company or career, this interview is for you.

If you have a question for Noel, please leave it in the comment section of this article.

In this interview, you will learn

  • How most solar deals have 2, 3, or 4 “moving parts” and why investors can accept 1, maybe 2, but never 3.
  • Why policy should not steer property owners toward leasing but should let the market dictate the best ownership model.
  • Why there’s a huge opportunity and going to be a “roof grab” on roof projects between 200kW and 500kW in Massachusetts in the next 24 months.
  • Why you should be pricing your PPA energy price at a 20%+ discount to the customers’ current electric cost to sell projects. You might be able to sell projects at a 10%, but you’ll be able to sell much more at 20%.
  • A key sales strategy for dealing with more conservative or more speculative property owners. What happens when you let the customer keep their SRECs or not.
  • Why new EPCs should work directly with their financing partners when they’re selling projects to make sure they won’t lose money.
  • How to develop a relationship with a solar investor so working out the terms of a deal take 15 minutes on the phone and not weeks.

Continue reading

Posted in Financing, Solar Photovoltaics | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Get Ahead of the Curve in the Solar Industry

The solar industry in the U.S. is growing at a breakneck pace. A recent report by GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association states that, for the first time in well over a decade, the U.S. is expected to install “more solar capacity than world leader Germany.” The report explains that the growth is being driven by “a record level of residential installations” as well as strong performance in the utility sector.
Existing solar infrastructure can produce enough energy to power 1.7 million average American homes, and that number will continue to rise in the coming years.

Solar power is getting cheaper, enjoys tax incentives in some states, and is increasingly in demand as realities about the impacts of oil and gas production and consumption become more stark. There has never been a better time to dive into the solar market. As new markets emerge and new products are developed, those with the applicable skills and knowledge will have access to many unique business and career opportunities.

That’s where we come in. We offer comprehensive, challenging, technical training that relates to all aspects of solar. Our solar courses are taught by sought-after professionals with many decades of experience in the industry. They’ve seen it all, done it all, and made all the mistakes so you don’t have to. Whether you’re interested in installing a small residential system, expanding an existing business, or doing a massive commercial deal, we have the course for you. Take a look:

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50 Minute Presentation on Due Diligence, Crowd-funding and Finding Investors to Finance Nonprofit Solar PPAs

This Q+A has already happened. Please see below for the recording and to ask any questions about the content.

If you’d like to RSVP for our next Q+A on Finding, Pitching and Managing Tax Equity Investors that will be on Tuesday January 28th at 2pm EST, you can click here to do RSVP.

If you’d like to submit a question for the Q+A, please join our Linkedin group “Best Practices on Financing Commercial Solar Projects between 200kW and 5MW” and ask it on the course wall. Lastly, you can watch our last recorded Q+A, which is 60 minutes and answers 7 questions about financing commercial solar projects. If you need to getting into the knitty gritty details of how to finance commercial solar projects from start to finish, click here to read more about our Solar MBA (the next class starts February 3rd) or sign up for a Free Solar MBA Test Drive here.

Here is the recording. It was a great session.

Since we started running the Solar Executive MBA course (click here if you want to learn more about the Solar MBA) and teaching experienced solar professionals what they needed to know to finance commercial solar projects, we continuously get a large volume of questions specifically about financing non-profit solar projects.

Here are the Five Questions that we Answered

I’m in the process of completing my first PPA.  Our company is no longer structured to take advantage of tax credits for PPA’s, thus I am struggling to find investors to take a project. What is the best way to find investors? What is their profile? How should I approach them? How long does it typically take from the first time I speak with them to closing a deal?

The best way to find investors- perhaps the question is, what part of the investment is needed? Debt? Equity? Each part is different and often one party could bring one to the table and not the other. It also depends on the size of the deal. Small deals are often not as attractive to institutional investors.

If it is a small project, there’s an opportunity to get a loan via the local bank and finding tax equity investors is usually more challenging. The amount of time to closing can vary greatly, depending upon the deals characteristics and competing deals with higher returns and lower risks.

Approaching investors can come in a variety of ways. If it is a PPA on a for profit business, this can usually be easier to find. Offtakers for a for profit business are going to look at all the documents related to the project and who the company is. Often 3 years of audited financials of the company/host is going to be required in order to qualify the project from an investor’s perspective. There will also need to be title search done on the property to make sure there are no encumbrances. Also looking at the type of business that it is and its long-term goals is critical, as PPA’s go out 15-20 years in the future. Will they be around? Can the PPA be assigned to the new owner? Is the property in a desirable location and can it be sub-leased?

If we are looking at a small project on a non-profit, like a house of worship, there could be affinity investors (high net worth), or people that go there, that could become the investors. They could be accredited investors and be able to hurdle the SEC and financing rules to be a good fit for your project. If they have other investment vehicles, like real estate, then their profiles could match the profile of an energy project. Providing them with a summary of the project, a pro-forma and other related supporting documents can assist you in the marketing of the project.

If it is a larger project, where you need institutional investors, contacting your local lending institutions to see who is doing deals, as they usually know what is happening at loan origination or in their leasing departments (which are usually now called Equipment Financing). They will have access to contacts and it is those relationships that you want to foster.

The amount of time that it can take can vary. We’ve seen spans of 8-12 weeks or more, depending upon the circumstances.

Does the recent push for, and acceptance of, crowdfunding in solar provide opportunities in financing not for profit solar projects?  If so, how?

Yes, but before we get to how, let’s talk about what crowd funding is and how it differs from traditional financing. Traditional project financing involves raising capital – debt and/or equity. Both the Federal government (primarily through the SEC and banking rules) and each State (through “Blue Sky” and state banking requirements) regulate the when, how and from whom of raising capital. The regulations were created in the wake of the prevalent fraud and abuse that characterized the 1920’s capital markets right before the great market crash of 1929. As a consequence of these rules, sophisticate financial institutions generally provide the bulk of all project financing in the U.S.

With the advent of the Internet age, Congress has begun loosening the rules that regulate raising capital, and one result is the emergence of crowd funding. Crowd funding uses the Internet to raise small amounts of money for a specific project from a lot of different people. For the moment it is primarily limited to debt – equity is still on the horizon, but coming soon. (Even when it does come, it will probably be limited to very small transactions, for example under $1 million, and not likely to be well suited to provide tax equity.) But even so, low cost debt – well under 10% and probably average between 6 and 7 percent in today’s market – can still greatly enable a project.

The leading crowd funding platform for solar projects is probably Solar Mosaic. Here is how Solar Mosaic works. Solar Mosaic performs due diligence on the project and if the project meets its threshold requirements will enter a funding agreement pursuant to which Solar Mosaic lends the project $X, at an agreed upon rate and term. Solar Mosaic then raises money by posting the project investment opportunity on its web site. Effectively Solar Mosaic is issuing its own non-recourse notes (secured solely by the revenue from the Project company’s note). Prospective investors have access to the due diligence material. Each investor that likes the Project, including the return, can sign up for an amount of its choosing (subject to a max and min). Once the full amount has been raised, the transaction is closed to further investors.

Crowd Sourcing can work particularly well for non-profits because it allows “affinity investors” an opportunity to participate in a carefully structured transaction and benefit from the due diligence and data gathering presented by Solar Mosaic. An Affinity Investor is someone otherwise affiliated with, or supportive of, the non-profit’s mission. For example, an Affinity Investor for a Church might be a member of the congregation.

Crowd Sourcing is particularly useful for affinity investors because it offers smaller investors an opportunity to participate, and – because it involves only debt and no tax equity  – doesn’t require investors with substantial “tax appetite”.

The negative of Crowd Sourcing for non-profits, is that a tax equity investor must still be found. In fact, if a project is not viable without tax equity, then Crowd Sourcing can only reduce – but never eliminate – the need for tax equity.

I’m specifically interested in issues associated with members of a non-profit organization providing the tax equity financing for a solar installation on their own church, temple, or faith community. How can this be done? What are the issues that need to be addressed with passive income and securities regulation for the investors in these third-party systems on non-profits?

As in our first question, identifying people that fit the profile is essential. Knowing what the characteristics are early and focusing on who your ideal candidate is will eliminate a lot of potential people that are interested, but don’t qualify. Like question #1, the issue always at hand is the passive income rules. This is something you need to talk to your accountant and attorney about. These deals are done often, but it requires more scrutiny from the investor’s perspective, as sometimes, non-profits don’t have a long track record and could also cease business operations as well. As an example, even in a house of worship, a leader in the organization, like a pastor, could leave and take his flock with him to another location, emptying the church and its operations. This will adversely impact an investor and is a risk you should consider.

Active income, is income received like a salary from your company or a gain from the sale of an asset or a business. Passive income, is from things like a rental income. If you receive losses from a business but aren’t an active participant in the business, this is considered passive income.

The challenge is most individuals don’t earn much passive income and has been the issue for a long time, as it relates to investors capacities with solar assets. The other issue is that passive investors can only use tax credits or depreciation to offset other forms of passive income.

What should be on a due diligence checklist for screening non-profits clients and potential investors for those projects?

Due diligence can be lengthy and can also be brief. We like to get as many details about a project, but often in local markets, many vetting cycles for smaller projects are relationship based. (at least that is the case here).

It is also desirable to setup an online data room to effectively manage the layers of documents and correspondence during this process. This keeps everyone informed and up to date with the latest revisions of the documents and limits the digging into your email for the most relevant doc sets.

Developing a detailed process for gathering this information is essential as having a framework will assist you and your team in a consistent way for finding projects as well as how investors will look at working with you. Investors often know others that are in the market for these types of opportunities and creating a template of the items you and they need to go through streamlines the process.

Here is a brief list of items you should consider in vetting a project. Note they are in categories and are essential in streamlining the process of lead generation to COD.

  • Site Control- this by far is the most important first step in the process. Having a LOI with a building or landowner is the first step.  Once this is secured, you can do your feasibility study to determine the system size and other environmental attributes associated to the preliminary permitting scope to provide the land owner with a MOU and lease document. These are usually contingent upon the findings of the next step.
  • Permitting- this is one that will make or break the economics of a deal. You could have an unforeseen site condition that could halt the development of your project or an added cost that will make the return the investor needs to fund the project, undesirable.
  • Power offtake- who is buying your power? Rooftop and it’s the customer and the utility or is it a PPA directly with the utility? Knowing these things early determines the economic desirability for an investors appetite and risk.
  • Project finance-what kind of funding sources are you looking for? What will be the terms of the deal for investors? Is is a direct purchase, sale-leaseback, partnership flip? Who will monetize the incentives? Are there insurance policies to manage risk? Is there a clear construction schedule and penalties for delay? Have you spoken to the utility for a schedule?
  • Interconnection- where is the transmission line? Is it rooftop project and interconnection is easy? Do you know these costs and have a contingency fund if there are cost overruns? Do you have consulting engineers costs figured out? Are there any studies that need to be performed by the utilities that could take time and be an added cost?
  • Engineering- what are your critical path items? Will you do everything in house or outsource? Do you have sub contractors that have done the work before that work with and understand the engineering requirements? Who will fill out the interconnection agreement? What will happen if the utility needs to curtail the system? Who will do the testing and verification?

With all due diligence, comes the risk of timing. As with solar tax credits, the end of the year timing is crucial in investor and tax planning. Not having your project built in the particular year you pitched to investors can have an adverse affect on their projected returns and can make the deal un-financable.

When would we want to use a PPA and when would we want to use a lease to finance a non-profit solar project.

The selection of a PPA vs. a Lease will be driven by at least two important factors. The first and most important is whether applicable law and the serving utility for the project permit a third party PPA. Under a PPA, the project owner sells power to a host customer. This sounds suspiciously like a utility’s job: selling and delivering power to a customer. Utility’s are heavily regulated entities, and – like all monopolies – jealously guard their turf. So as a general rule, PPA’s are not permitted unless expressly permitted by applicable state law or otherwise approved and acceptable to a utility. That is the bad news. The good news is that most state’s permit third party PPA’s where the power is produced and used on site, but they do so under different schemes. For example, in California PPA’s are permitted in all investor owned utility jurisdictions. Most municipal utilities either don’t permit PPA’s or limit how power may be produced and sold within their service territory. For example, LADPW has long interpreted its charter as preventing any other party from selling and delivering power to a retail customer within its service territory. Luckily, where PPA’s are not permitted, leases can and often do work. Under a lease, a user of electricity leases a solar system from a leasing company. The user then uses the solar system to generate and deliver for its own use solar power. (In both cases – a PPA and a lease – you must still follow all of the interconnection requirements.)

The second factor in determining whether to use a PPA or lease depends on the economic objectives of the non-profit, and the investors/project company. Under a PPA, a customer has little responsibility for a solar system other than to pay for the electricity delivered from it. The operating and maintenance expenses, taxes and insurance are all the responsibility of the power provider (and ultimately the investor). In addition, a PPA revenue stream looks variable because it will fluctuate with the number of kWh’s delivered by the system. That variability is important because if a solar system under delivers, or unexpectedly breaks, the risk and cost are all on the project company/investor.

By contrast, a lease shifts many of those risks to the non-profit. That is, under a lease, the payments due from the non-profit are fixed lease payments, and not variable PPA revenues. Put another way, under a lease the non-profit will be responsible for operations, maintenance, taxes and insurance. If the systems under performs or even fails to perform, the non-profit must continue to make the lease payments while bearing the cost of repairing the system.

In some cases, one might structure a lease to shift O&M, taxes and insurance back to the leasing company, but this will be a rare exception. Leasing companies are financing machines, and they don’t want any expenses. They prefer triple net type of leases, and a fixed stream of revenue.

Why are non-profits a special case? Why are we hosting this Q+A on financing solar on non-profits?

We organized a Q+A on commercial solar projects in August and it was a huge success.  Click here to see the 60 minutes of video answering 7 questions ranging from how to calculate pre-tax vs post-tax ROI to what owner/lessor arrangements needed to be made in tenant situations.

Since then, we’ve had a large cohort ot students go through our Solar Executive MBA course (the next Solar MBA starts in February. In the class students learned how to finance commercial solar projects from start to finish, click here to test drive the Solar MBA course for free). Also, our Linkedin group on “best practices for financing commercial solar projects between 250kW and 3MW” has continued to grow.

What’s the one topic that we continue to get a lot of questions about?

You guessed it, how to finance non-profits. So, this is your chance to get your question answered.

There are several reasons why there has been such focus on non-profit clients.

  1. Non-profits operate on small budgets and they always need cash. Having lower and predictable operating expenses is very valuable to these organizations. It’s an easy sell to get your foot in the door.
  2. Non-profits have a social mission that tends to fit well with solar.
  3. There’s A LOT of non-profits! So the potential target market is huge. According to NCCS, there are 1.4 million non-profits in the US. Figuring this problem out will result in a huge increase in sales for the firms that provide this service.
  4. They can’t purchase a system in cash, because they don’t have a tax apetite, so financing is a natural fit for them.

More Information on the Subject + Feedback

Posted in Financing, Solar Photovoltaics | 5 Comments

Learn How to Calculate the Heat Loss for a Zero Net Energy Home, For Free

Can you answer this question?

homework

No? Perhaps you need the tool below.

 Zero Net Energy Home Heat Loss Calculator

Learn how to Calculate Heat Loss

Click here to sign up for a free test drive of the “Zero Net Energy Homes” course, get the  heat loss calculator, and learn how to calculate the heat loss for a Zero Net Energy home.

In the past 18 months, Marc Rosenbaum has trained 150 professionals how to design zero net energy homes, and the results have been phenomenal. For the capstone project, students submit full designs for zero net energy homes including energy models and floor layouts, which get personally reviewed by Marc. Click here to see two of the capstone projects for yourself.

Students love the high-quality, detailed content; the interaction with Marc and the other students; the tools that can immediately be applied in practice, making them incredibly valuable; and, most of all, the price. You can learn all these skills for under $1,000. An in-person version of this course would cost well over $5,000 (when factoring in travel, hotels, and loss of work time), and you wouldn’t get to delve into the subjects as deeply due to time constraints.

Why is calculating heat gain/loss of a structure so important?

Building a home with an extremely low heat loss is the basis for a well designed, cost effective Zero Net Energy Home. In order to design a home with a low heating and cooling load, you must be able to understand how  design elements of the shell, wall construction, and window and door quantity and placement will impact the heat gain or loss of the building. In this test drive, you will get the video lessons, reading lessons, a free tool, and an assignment to calculate the heat loss of a sample building.

There are three main drivers of energy use in a residential home after it has been built: the heating and cooling load, hot water use, and appliances.

While efficient equipment and closely-monitored energy consumption can substantially decrease the energy used in hot water production and appliances, it’s critical to consider the quality of the shell. The shell of the home is the basis for designing the HVAC system that will determine the heating loads, but it’s also the place where a lot of design decisions will be made based on the client’s desires and tastes, which will impact building and operating costs.

Why are we offering the free test drive?

Think of the test drive like auditing a college course. In the first day or two, you can usually tell if you’re going to like the teacher, the content, the format, and goals of the class. This is exactly how this test drive works.

We created the test drive for two main reasons:

  1. We want to spread this information. Even if you never sign up for the full course, the reading assignments, one hour of video, and free tool will be extremely useful to you.
  2. It will show you how the online course structure works. We’ve worked really hard to make our online courses facilitate real human-to-human interaction, provide amazing content, and lay the content out in a way that’s easy to learn. However, providing extremely high-quality learning experiences for very technical subjects online is still new, so some students are understandably skeptical. The purpose of the test drive is to put any doubts to rest.

What’s included? 

zero net energy homes sample content

  • One hour of sample content
  • Two quizzes to make sure you learned the material
  • One Free Tool: Marc’s Heat Loss Calculator
  • One homework assignment

What will you learn in the test drive?

The goal of the test drive is to get students comfortable with the online course setting and showcase the excellent content.

Everyone needs to understand how to accurately (and quickly) determine what the heat loss of a potential home design is going to be. In the test drive, you will be provided everything you need to calculate the heat loss of a Zero Net Energy building, and you’ll have a homework assignment to test your knowledge and compare it against the right answer.

 Click here to sign up for a free test drive of the “Zero Net Energy Homes” course

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