Jonathan Cohen (Colliers): Payback on solar now under 4 years

Robert McLean

#cee, #proptech, #development a #architecture

Who are you targeting with your photovoltaics business line?

It can be clients who have a building and want to know the possibility of installing photovoltaics on the roof. It could also be for a free land plot adjacent to the building, or photovoltaics (PV) over the parking area. We’ll do an analysis, and then we advise what’s possible according to zoning conditions, along with what’s possible in terms of timing and legislation. Different types of photovoltaic installations have different regulations. If you’re installing less than 50 kW of peak power (in Poland) the procedures are quite simple. You don’t need a building permit, for starters.

What happens above 50 kW?

The more power you produce, the more regulations apply like building permits and a concession in order to be an energy producer. We then advise the client on the best procurement methods to go about buying the panels and installing them. We’ll secure competitive bids from contractors then oversee delivery of the installation. What we’ve seen in recent months following the current energy crisis is that payback periods for photovoltaics have dramatically reduced.

When you say dramatically, what are we talking about?

The most popular approach we’re seeing is basic photovoltaic installations of up to 50 kW, meaning an area of maybe 250 or 300 sqm. Before the war, they had a payback period of 6 to 7 years. Today that can be less than four years.

Remind me what you can do with 50 kW…

A typical house would have an installation of maybe 6 kW. A typical warehouse building of maybe 20,000 sqm would have maybe around 400 to 500 kW of power.

Not all panels are created equal and not all panels will be ideal for all buildings. Aren’t there a lot of ways to go wrong for building owners?

There are many contractors offering lots of turnkey solutions. They’ll visit your property, make you an offer and tell you how quick the payback will be. Obviously, those contractors have their preferred products. But you have to look at the type of panels, the way that the panels are configured — what we call their topology. The topology determines how effectively the panels will work. That’s something which contractors who are determined to give you a cheap solution will not necessarily advise you about.

We would typically explain what we want for the client and then ask the contractors to provide an offer for that. We’d also accept an alternative offer if they feel that they can optimize any aspects of the system.

What’s driving PV investments? Are companies trying to meet their ESG requirements, or is it simply an investment they’re making to bring down costs?

It depends very much on the client themselves. If you’re an owner-occupier then you’re very, very focused on the operational expenses of your building. You’ve got a longer-term perspective, so a significant investment in photovoltaics makes sense. It’s more complicated for a landlord who’s leasing the space to a tenant. Obviously, the photovoltaic installations are a capital expense since they generate energy.

But who should be the beneficiary of that energy? It doesn’t make sense to provide it to the tenant for free. If you want to sell the energy to the tenant, then there’s the issue of regulation. Do you have a concession to sell energy? There’s also the issue of upkeep, because there will be maintenance costs over the operational life of the system. Do you add it to the service charge? It can become a little bit complicated, so we can help in terms of structuring those things.

Are you suddenly getting panicked calls from energy-dependent companies?

We’ve had a number of clients that contacted us asking for advice developing energy security strategies for existing buildings that they’re in. Photovoltaics can be part of that, but it’s not a year-round, 24 x7 solution. Reserve power lines and standby power generation are still the easiest solutions in terms of general technology, even if there are limitations, particularly in city center sites.

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