It’s easy to make mistakes when developing solar projects—and just one goof can lead to other goofs, extra costs, and wasted time.
That’s the word from Keith Cronin and Chris Lord, instructors for HeatSpring’s Solar Executive MBA Training course, which is designed to help you plan well, avoid mistakes and create the most cost-effective projects possible.
Goofing Up Can Be Costly, as This Developer Learned
Here’s just one example of a costly mistake:
“I had a client who executed well on a project generally but missed a small but vital step,” says Lord. The client obtained an informal understanding with a landowner on a needed easement but was so busy getting the project off the ground that the easement was never executed. When it was time to close, the easement issue re-surfaced and the landowner increased his demands.
“In the end, we took a more circuitous easement path around the problem parcel, and it cost a lot of money and almost eight months to fix.” The client also nearly lost a power purchase agreement during the time-consuming fix, Lord says.
Be Sure to Avoid These Common Mistakes
Another example: In Hawaii—where Cronin lives—many developers goofed up in their efforts to participate in a well-advertised feed-in-tariff program, which provided incentives for solar projects. As a result, many projects weren’t built and millions of dollars were lost, he says.
The mistakes? The Hawaii developers fell into common traps by:
- Choosing poor sites
- Planning poorly and creating sub-standard development plans that yielded unforeseen costs
- Failing to meet building department requirements
- Failing to understand how to deal with utility requirements about interconnection.
In addition, developers can goof up by:
- Thinking there’s more profit in a project than actually exists
- Creating unreasonably high expectations for their investors
“Without a clearly defined development plan with people that have been there and done it before, it can be a financial disaster and time sink,” says Cronin.
How to Avoid Expensive Pitfalls
The Solar Executive MBA Training course helps students learn avoid classic pitfalls by giving students soup-to-nuts knowledge about how to proceed with a project, including embarking on the early development stages, acquiring financial quotes, and completing construction, says Lord.
“The development phase is the riskiest phase of the project,” he says. “Developers never know if a project will work. Anything can come out of the woodwork and kill it,” he says.
A good development plan identifies the relationship the developer will have with the landowner, the size of the site and the solar system, access for vehicles, projected power production numbers, who will check the production statistics, and other issues.
The Solar Executive MBA Training course can boost students’ earning power by advancing their understanding of how to plan and execute such important tasks. It allows them to take more responsibility for their projects, says Lord.
Getting Connected with Other Students and Developers
One of the highlights of the course is a weekly conference call during which students ask questions, often about real-life projects, and network with other students in ways that can lead to helpful partnerships, he says.
“During the calls, we answer questions about industry news or challenges students face,” says Lord. Generally five to 10 people dial into the discussion and the talk often focuses on a student’s real project. A recording is posted for those who are not able to participate on the live call.
About three-quarters of the students are already in the solar business, or just getting into it, says Lord, and often help one another during the calls.
For example, one student was having trouble procuring a parcel of property. The class discussed options for leasing and giving the landowners the confidence that the project would advance, he says.
During another call, a student explained that he thought the costs in his state weren’t dropping as quickly as the costs in other states. He wanted to compare development and equipment costs with students in other states; the participants compared those prices around the country.
“There’s a lot of networking that goes on,” Lord says. To boost networking opportunities, students can take advantage of an online discussion board to post questions before the weekly call.
“If you post the on the board other students might weigh in on how to handle a problem,” he says. “That sometimes prompts discussions,” Lord says.
Learn to Execute all Stages of a Project
During the course, students, under the leadership of the seasoned instructors, take a real or sample project through all the stages of a project, including development, financial modeling, and dealing with investors.
The students who get the most out of this intensive course take it very seriously and take advantage of all that it offers. “They are on all the phone calls and keep up with the lecture videos. They ask questions and participate in the discussions and on the discussion boards. Some also try to help other students, and we love it when students do that,” says Lord.
The instructors are both accomplished members of the solar industry. Cronin is CEO of SunHedge, a solar PV consulting firm focused on business consulting, strategic planning, and executive recruiting. One of his earlier companies was acquired by SunEdison. He is author of the book Solar Success Principles: How to Make a Difference and a Fortune in the Green Economy.
Lord is managing director and founder of CapIron, Inc., which consults with customers, owners, developers, utilities, suppliers, installers, and distributors in renewable energy. He has served as an attorney and business manager in companies that include early-stage firms and Fortune 500 companies.
Guided by Lord and Cronin, students will learn how to maximize their time and money.
“If students aren’t privy to the things (the course teaches), it can spell disaster on their expectations, and they’ll waste their most valuable resource: their time,” says Cronin.