This article is part of a series of tutorials, interviews and definitions around commercial solar financing. If you need to learn more about solar finance, click here to test drive our Solar MBA. In the Solar MBA students will complete financial modeling for a commercial solar project from start to finish with expert guidance. The class is limited to 50 students, but there are 30 discounted seats. 


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.

  • Why commercial developers need to focus on a specific, well-defined niche and only call on creditworthy customers
  • Why speed and ease of transaction are the most important factors for expanding a development or EPC firm in growing solar markets on both the sales, equipment procurement, and financing aspects of a project. Why developers should not play the “one cent game” and shop around a project for months with different investors
  • What a creditworthy customer looks like to Noel and other investors and what red flags are to Noel when he’s looking at projects
  • How Noel went from working in commercial real estate to building a $30MM pipeline as the Business Development manager of Northeast Sales for UPC Solar to raising and running his own $20MM fund
  • The 3 key characteristics of the most successful solar development teams
  • Why you shouldn’t make special cases for a project that you’re working on. As Noel says “if you’re working too hard to make it work, it’s not going to work”
  • The challenges Noel is facing with distributing his $20MM fund
  • The types of developers Noel likes the work with and the type of projects Noel wants to finance with those developers
  • For the next 5 years, why DG storage is a sweet spot that Noel is excited about it
  • Trends on un-leveraged IRR project returns
  • How the industry will know when storage is actually going to happen.
  • Why they’re aren’t more people like Noel operating with huge funds going after mid-market projects

More Information on the Subject

If you’re super interested in the subject, I have a few resources for you.

  1. Noel was talking about CT SEIA at the beginning. If you’d like to join them, you can find more information about CT SEIA here. I was talking about SEBANE, you can read more about SEBANE here.
  2. Join our LinkedIn group on the Best Practices for Financing Solar Projects Between 200kW and 3MW to network with other professionals and investors.
  3. Check out our Solar Executive MBA class. In the class, students learn everything they need to know to finance commercial solar projects from start to finish including financial models, legal contracts, development timelines, and more. If you’d like to test drive the Solar MBA for free to check out the content, click here to test drive the Solar MBA.
  4. Watch 60 minutes of video and answer 7 questions on financing commercial solar projects ranging from how to calculate pre-tax vs. post-tax returns, how a partnership flip works, performing due diligence, dealing with SREC price risk, and more.
  5. Sign up for the free course on “Commercial Solar PPA Basics”
  6. If you’re interested in financing non-profit solar project, listen to this 50-minute presentation that will answer 7 questions on due diligence, finding capital, and crowdsourcing trends for non-profit projects.
  7. Noel mentioned that storage is going to be a huge growth section of the solar industry in the next 5 years, and we believe him, so we’re building a Solar Grid Storage MBA course.

Did you enjoy this interview? Do you have any questions for Noel?

  1. Do you have a question for Noel? Ask it in the comment section below
  2. If you like, please consider sharing it on your LinkedIn profile.
  3. What other subjects should we cover in a future interview? Please list ideas below in the comment section.