This is the third post in a series on rooftop solar technology. This post will discuss some of the key legislative and regulatory efforts that are driving this technology and helping homeowners save energy and money on their utility bills. There are several key initiatives – both legislative and regulatory – currently in effect that will assist in the deployment of rooftop photovoltaics: the solar investment tax credit, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Sunshot program and a variety of other innovative, market-driven mortgage products offered by the Federal Housing Administration and Fannie Mae.
Solar Investment Tax Credit
The solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC) is one of the most important federal policy mechanisms to support the deployment of solar energy in the United States. The ITC was extended by Congress through 2021, which will provide business certainty to project developers and investors. The ITC continues to drive growth in the industry and job creation across the country.
- The ITC is a 30 percent tax credit for solar systems on residential (under Section 25D) and commercial (under Section 48) properties.
- The residential and commercial solar ITC has helped annual solar installation grow by over 1,600 percent since the ITC was implemented in 2006 – a compound annual growth rate of 76 percent.
- The existence of the ITC through 2021 provides market certainty for companies to develop long-term investments that drive competition and technological innovation, which in turn, lowers costs for consumers.
- The Section 25D residential ITC allows the homeowner to apply the credit to his/her personal income taxes. This credit is used when homeowners purchase solar systems outright and have them installed on their homes.
The ITC has proven to be one of the most important federal policy mechanisms to incentivize the deployment of both rooftop and utility-scale solar energy in the United States. As a result of the multi-year extension of the credit enacted in late-2015, solar prices are expected to continue to fall while installation rates and technological efficiencies will continue to climb. The solar industry is predicting that nearly 100 Gigawatts will be installed by the end of 2020. Moreover, the roughly 210,000 Americans currently employed in solar is expected to double to 420,000 in the same time period – all this while spurring roughly $140 billion in economic activity.
Department of Energy Sunshot Program
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Sunshot Initiative is a national effort to support solar energy adoption by making solar energy affordable through research and development efforts in collaboration with public and private partners. SunShot funds cooperative research, development, demonstration, and deployment projects by private companies, universities, state and local governments, nonprofit organizations, and national laboratories to drive down the cost of solar electricity. When SunShot was launched in 2011, it set a goal for solar energy to become cost-competitive with traditional forms of electricity by 2020 without subsidies. This goal set cost targets at $0.09 per kilowatt hour for residential photovoltaics (PV), $0.07 per kilowatt hour for commercial PV, and $0.06 per kilowatt hour for utility-scale PV. According to recent DOE research, the solar industry had achieved 70% of the progress toward the 2020 goals, spurring the department to determine new targets beyond 2020. As the cost of solar comes down, more Americans can take advantage of the clean, affordable power that solar provides.
Aside from these two efforts, there are other national programs and mortgage products that help consumers acquire and finance energy efficiency upgrades, including solar panels, to reduce utility costs:
- Energy Efficient Mortgage – This is a Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loan program that allows borrowers to finance cost-effective energy-saving improvements as part of a single mortgage. These mortgages make it possible for property owners to borrow above the appraised value and stretch debt-to-income qualifying ratios.
- PowerSaver Home Energy Upgrades – This is another FHA program available to homeowners with manageable debt and a credit score of 660 or higher. These loans do not require a home appraisal or lien on the property.
- HomeStyle Energy Mortgage – This is a Fannie Mae program that allows borrowers to make energy-efficient or utility-cost-reducing upgrades within the mortgage when purchasing or refinancing a home.
- Property Assessed Clean Energy Programs (PACE) – These programs allow local or state governments to fund the up-front cost of energy improvements on commercial and residential properties, such as heating and cooling systems, solar panels or dual-pane windows. Property owners pay back those loans through a line item on the homeowners’ property tax bill.
While fossil fuels still dominate energy production overall in the U.S., solar and wind production are on a growth trajectory. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the country set a renewable energy milestone in March of 2017. For the first time, wind and solar accounted for 10 percent of all electricity generation, with wind comprising 8 percent and solar coming in at 2 percent. The private sector is increasingly driving a global push for renewables as solar and wind become increasingly competitive. Solar panels are becoming cheaper, meaning investor interest may spur continued growth in the future. In combination with the energy of the market, the programs and efforts described above will continue to make inroads in the consumer marketplace, making solar a viable alternative for homeowners and businesses who choose to invest in these systems.
Tune in later this week for part four of this series, where Mark Lesswing will be looking into Tesla’s innovations into the solar roofing space.
This week, we’re joined again by Lee Adkins, who has some great tips for your firm when looking to adopt new technology into your day-to-day business.
Technology is a necessary evil in Real Estate. Love it or hate it, you have to use it and you will have to deal with continuously changing technology and platforms and apps. There are really only two choices here; Embrace the ever-changing world we live in or be left behind. This doesn’t mean you have to jump on every new app or program that comes out – but you do need to have a strategy to help you decide every time you hear about the latest and greatest, shiny new thing.
We’ve found that most successful agents, teams and brokerages have a basic “policy” on adopting new software. Tips for this are to set parameters like; budget (overall marketing or tech budget), annual goals, ease of use for clients/staff/agents, does it work with existing tools (or does that matter?), etc. More and more, certain apps integrate with others too – so explore if the best CRM connects to the best email distribution program for you. Many of these products have free trials or freemium models (where a certain number of users or contacts are free, but become paid as you use them or add users.)
How to decide what to explore and what not to explore:
There are many sites that provide user reviews and “apples to apples” comparisons of software – sites like Capterra and Agent Armory to name a few. Spending more time upfront figuring what you need and what specific tools you’re looking at do, can save you tons of time each week moving forward. A best practice we recommend is setting a future time (3-6 months) to evaluate the tech you’re using.
How to develop a business strategy that helps you make high-level decisions on where to spend your time:
Don’t believe what everyone else says on social – and decide on a time frame for an evaluation of what you’re doing. If you have a clear plan for where your business is headed, you’ll know what components you need to get there. If a certain lead source or software does not contribute to that goal, don’t try it. It’s always funny when people make blanket statements like “software xyz doubled my business last year.” Don’t fall into that trap – your business model is probably completely different from theirs – just because someone (whose affiliation with the company may be unknown to you) says “you” need it doesn’t mean that you do. Stick to your plan. Shiny objects, beware!
Pick one thing that is the “brain” of your business (typically a CRM) and USE IT:
In a people-centric business, often a CRM (Contact Relationship Manager) is the key software piece that you need. Learn to evaluate how the tools you use work together, using the key software piece as the measure. It is not generally a good plan to have 20 logins that don’t “talk” to each other. We’ve had success with our clients on using a specific CRM as the main tool. If lead sources or software won’t work alongside that, we don’t even talk to them. Often it’s a function of learning what NOT to do over exploring all the things you COULD do.
Consider the other Players:
If you have a team or a brokerage, be sure it’s something you can easily train (or that offers support that trains) your agents to use it properly. Many of our clients will test new ideas or platforms with their more seasoned agents before rolling out company-wide. Or maybe test with the newer, more tech savvy agents and see if they like it. People will be honored to be asked for their feedback in the decision process – it’s great team building and you’ll get buy-in from part of the group before rolling it out. You might even be able to have one of those younger agents pair up with the seasoned agents on implementation.
Bottom line is, explore, test, adopt but don’t leap from tool to tool letting it define your business. Embrace the change, but have a simple plan to follow to help you decide which tools make sense for you.
Lee and his team are proud to present the Best Conference Ever on August 22 – an event in Atlanta focused on technology and real estate – but also making it attainable and accessible to all in the business and helping our industry run a better, more efficient and effective business. Come see Managing Director for CRT Chad Curry’s session: “Under All is The Land: Emerging Technologies & Their Impact on Real Estate.” The Best Conference Ever is brought to you by the following individuals, and takes place at the Atlanta Tech Village.
David Lightburn – co-founder of Atlanta Tech Village, Clickscape, Village Realty www.vratl.com
Maura Neill – Team Owner, National Speaker, NAR course writer, www.buysellliveatlanta.com
Lee Adkins – Consultant for teams and brokerages, www.PoweringRealEstate.com
Lee Adkins is the Founder of Amplified Solutions – a consulting company focused on operational excellence for real estate teams and brokerages. He has served in many leadership and committee roles at the State and Local Associations and is currently a Vice President at the Atlanta REALTORS® Association. He frequently teaches and speaks at various conferences around the country. Visit www.PoweringRealEstate.com to learn more or find free resources, tools and suggested reading list.
This is the second post in a series about rooftop solar technology (view the first post here). The first post reviewed roofing costs because they affect the overall solar cost of a home. In 2016, Fortune recognized the trend towards less expensive solar power installations that could drop another 60% in cost from where they are today. Fortune points out that up until the 1990’s much of the cost reductions were due to technology and manufacturing improvements. They believe the future cost drops will be due to non-technical factors such as financing. I believe there are still technology improvements on the way. This post focuses on the variety of panels that are available for installation and the technology they contain.
It is amazing to look back and see how far the solar panel technology has progressed since Edmond Becquerel first observed the ability of light to generate electricity in 1839. Many in our industry worry about what disruptive developments will come from “kids in their garages”, so it is important to remember that Becqueral was only 19 at the time and he was working in his father’s laboratory. I can imagine that laboratories in 1839 are similar to basements, garages or other workspaces today.
Solar cells took over 110 years to become practical and we have Calvin Fuller and Gerald Pearson from Bell Laboratories to thank for their modern form. They were working on the Bell Solar Battery and in 1954 had created a working prototype. Within four years, solar batteries were powering The Navy’s Vanguard space satellite. These cells had an efficiency of around 14%. No meaningful improvement was made in efficiency until the appearance of thin film technology in the 1990’s. The next big jump occurred over the last three years as manufacturing and design improvements pushed efficiency over 20%.
Solar cells are commonly classified by generations:
• First Generation (or Wafer) – Wafer solar cells are created with crystalline silicon (c-Si). They are efficient, but expensive to produce and contain toxic metals like cadmium and lead. Wafer panels are easy to find but are not eco-friendly and easily identified because of their hexagonal shape.
• Second Generation (or Thin Film)– Thin film amorphous silicon (a-Si) is cheaper and cleaner to produce but is less efficient than first generation wafers. Thin film first made its consumer appearance in the 1970’s as the power source for pocket calculators.
• Third Generation (or Organic) – Organic solar cells are still not practical because of their low efficiency. They are cheap to produce but only have 1/3 of the efficiency of Wafer
An exciting development in thin film panels was achieved by Panasonic’s SANYO brand in the 1990’s. They are now producing thin film solar cells with nearly 20% efficiency (in the real world not the lab). Their technology is a real tongue twister, Heterojunction with Intrinsic Thin layer. I prefer the consumer friendly label “HIT”. Panasonic technology is being used in the Tesla Solar Panels scheduled to hit the market in California this year. Tesla will produce the products in both their Fremont, CA and Buffalo, NY plants.
HIT solar panels are examples of thin film technology so a deeper dive is required to understand who why they perform so well. The answer is due to the clever design of the product. They have a sandwiched design that reduces efficiency loss when heated while capturing more sunlight. This approach makes HIT “bifacial” or able to capture direct and reflected sunlight. This approach increases efficiency in the range of 2-3%.
Tesla’s solar roof is not the only product using of bifacial cells; they have been used for some time in space and in multi-positional configurations. A multi-positional configuration could be used to expose two sides of an array at different times of the day. When used in a vertical arrangement, instead of maximizing generation at high noon, two small peaks can be created; one in the morning and one in the afternoon. If the sum is at a low angle, it is possible to increase the angle of a horizontal panel to capture the reflection off of a light colored roof.
The energysage website provides a comparison of solar cell manufacturers. Their Economy, Standard and Premium categories do not match up with the solar cell generations above because energysage is a consumer-friendly guide not a science website. Also on the energysage website, you will find a regional cost comparison information. All of their information is presented using easy to understand graphics.
The next post will address the regulatory and legislative issues technologies associated with solar energy collection. Can government keep up the changes in the technology? Up until now, the answer has been a resounding “Yes”.
Join us with Jacob from NAR’s Commercial division! He recently attended a #CRETech summit, and is here to fill us in on what he learned while there. He covers some takeaways from the summit, including embracing technology in the commercial real estate space. Join us Fridays at 3PM Eastern for Office Hours on our Facebook page, where you can ask questions as you watch and we’ll comment back to answer!
Facebook Live Office Hours: Commercial Tech Key Takeaways from CRTLabs on Vimeo.
In late July, the National Association of REALTORS® hosted blockchain experts, software developers, and industry partners with the intent of combining efforts to launch effective blockchain applications in real estate. In addition to distributed ledger experts, the meeting was also attended by technology executives from large MLS’s and REALTOR® Associations, real estate attorneys, home inspectors, and representatives from local governments.
NAR’s Research and Development Lab, CRT Labs, has been leading the organization’s innovations in this space and organized the full day meeting. The day was kicked off by a presentation from a leading figure in the open-source software movement, Brian Behlendorf, who is also the project lead for the Hyperledger Project.
The group spent the day discussing the merits, value, governance, and access control of a multitude of different potential blockchain applications. The purpose of these applications ranged from improving access to public licensure information to enhancing the way REALTOR® associations exchange member information. Perhaps the most impactful application discussed was the development of a blockchain-based system that generates and tracks unique identifiers for properties in a similar way that VIN numbers identify automobiles.
The potential for impact of these applications was so great that the group has decided to move forward and dedicate development resources to multiple applications. Following the event, Behlendorf, on behalf the Hyperledger Project expressed interest in making the Property Unique Identifier application a featured case study for their organization.
Brian Behlendorf, HyperLedger Project
|Behlendorf shared the exact moment of when he realized the potential for blockchain technology. His “Ah-Ha” moment came after hearing of a land title project in Honduras that was being started to protect land ownership through decentralization of records. In recent history, the digitization of systems has led to the centralization of systems. He explained how permissioned ledgers can begin to re-decentralizing how these systems work.
Behlendorf then went on to describe the opportunity and benefits that will come from the transformation of the traditional “hub and spoke” models to ledgers, and specifically how the roles of intermediaries in those models will shift over time.
John Mirkovic, Cook County Recorders of Deeds
|John Mirkovic currently serves as Deputy Recorder (Communications/IT) for the Cook County Recorder of Deeds. In that role, he serves as office spokesman and is responsible for internal and external communications, legislative advocacy, the CCRD Property Fraud Unit, and has implemented numerous technology advancements at CCRD.
Mirkovic shared his experience launching a pilot program to use blockchain to track and transfer real-estate property titles and other public records, becoming the first land recorder’s office in the country to do so.
Andrew Page, Business Analyist, Connamara Systems
|Andrew Page presented on Design Patterns for Public Registries. Prior to this meeting,Page created an open source title registry application that could be integrated with local, state, or federal governments to track ownership of assets. He spoke about the advantages and disadvantages of different application architectures for the title registry.
David Conroy, CRT Labs, NAR
|Dave Conroy demonstrated an application that would allow for more efficient sharing of engagement levels of REALTORS® among the three levels (National, State, and Local) of REALTOR® associations on a private and permissioned ledger.
About CRT Labs
CRT Labs is a research group operated by the National Association of REALTORS’® Center for REALTOR® Technology. The primary goal for CRT is to track emerging technologies that will affect real estate, educate its members, advocate for the proper use of technology, and innovate when there is a gap between what is needed and what is available.
In 2015, CRT established the R&D lab to investigate smart home/internet of things devices, renewable energy, urban agriculture and building materials, as well as any other emerging technologies as they become evident. CRT is working with NGOs, vendors, national laboratories, universities and government agencies to help promote NAR as an agent for technology research and innovation.
This week on the CRT Labs blog, Jacob Knabb from NAR’s Commercial division writes about some much-needed advancements in commercial real estate technology.
Four industry leaders met recently in Chicago to discuss the state of commercial real estate technology, exploring what disruption might mean for the future of commercial real estate.
Emily Line, Vice President of Commercial Services, Realtors Property Resource® (RPR), Constance Freedman, Founder and Managing Partner, Moderne Ventures and the Moderne Accelerator, and Karin Kraai, Senior Managing Director, Newmark Grubb Knight Frank, joined moderator Ginger Downs, Chief Executive Officer, Chicago Association of REALTORS®, for an informative discussion of commercial real estate technology to a packed room of Chicago-area real estate practitioners.
(L-R) Kraai, Line, & Freedman. (photo by Jacob S. Knabb)
Ready or Not Here Comes Commercial Real Estate Technology
The first major takeaway is complexity inhibits technology adoption, as does fear of change.
Line pointed to a 2016 Forbes survey, which found only 11% of respondents consider themselves on the leading edge of technology. Yet the same executives also believe that technology is “revolutionizing the industry.” A similar survey by KPMG revealed that over 94 percent of commercial real estate executives identified complexity as their greatest challenge, Line noted, with 84% identifying ‘information management’ as one key solution. “Despite the fact that 84% recognize the solution, 89% are still not willing to step out of what’s comfortable,” Line said.
It is impossible to ignore the fact that new technology companies are entering the industry at a rapid pace, creating cost-efficient products designed to simply workflow. Most of these companies offer supportive data in a more digestible fashion. One great way for REALTORS® to establish yourself in the tech sector is to sign up to test new products “At Moderne, most of the companies we fund asked to create pilot programs where users can try a new company’s product for free in exchange for user feedback,” said Freedman. “Get involved and you may build a real relationship with a company.”
Commercial Real Estate Technology Isn’t Exactly Disruptive
The second key takeaway is that commercial real estate hasn’t had a true disruption yet. “We’ve had embellishers and enhancers [in commercial real estate technology] but not a disruptor,” said Kraai. Commercial real estate still hinges on human expertise at its core and as a result “brokers don’t want to be disrupted,” Kraai argued. Freedman agreed, noting the importance of human relationships. “Deals can take five or more years to complete [and] clients want an advisor or a consultant,” Freedman argued.
“Disruption is separate from the individual,” echoed Downs. “And the products need to make the broker more efficient.”
Technologies created for other markets will penetrate commercial real estate, enhancing how the industry functions. There movement towards smart buildings in smart cities is undeniably changing the way brokers and investors think about properties. “Buildings are becoming greener and offer far more smart tech options for tenants,” said Kraai. “Here in Chicago’s riverfront we are seeing a definite desire on the part of tenants and firms to have a smaller footprint.”
Intentionally Cultivating a Growing Workforce
The final takeaway is three-fold: Diversity creates better companies, the key to building diversity is through mentorship, and this matters to the incoming millennial workforce. Line argued the “Work, Live, Play” movement is unavoidable.
“Shifting lifestyle preferences are prompting major changes in the real estate landscape, forcing developers, investors, and REALTORS® to dive deeper into research and think about the full picture for a community,” Line referenced a study commissioned by NAR and conducted by Swanepoel T3 Group called the Commercial Real Estate ALERT. According to the report, Millennials will make up 75 percent of the workforce by 2030. “One of the most pressing challenges for commercial real estate is to plan for where this important segment of society will live, work, and play,” Line reasoned.
This incoming workforce brings a different set of expectations about diversity. Freedman noted a particular lack of diversity when it comes to the investor space. “The managing partners in firms across equity is roughly 7%,” she said. “In real estate, it’s closer to 3%.” Freedman bemoaned the fact that hardly any women have their own fund despite the fact that almost all want to.”
That said, Downs noted a marked shift in company culture to attract younger employees and improve the happiness of current ones. “Millennials will soon be the largest demographic in the work force, so it’s important to consider what they are looking for in a work place and find spaces to make those dreams a reality,” said Downs. “Because so many of us live tech-heavy, fast-paced lives, we need our work places to be innovative and efficient.” The entire panel strongly believed that practitioners should commit to the old-school method of mentorship to support millennials, particularly women and minorities, entering the commercial real estate and technology space. A diversified industry creates much stronger returns. As Kraai succinctly put it: “All of the Top-20 Tech firms have women in at least 20% of their key positions. It makes better thinking and increases profitability.”
Jacob S. Knabb is Commercial Communications & Member Services Associate for the National Association of REALTORS®. He works frequently with CRT Labs, keeping us informed of the latest and greatest in commercial real estate technology trends.