Commercial. Industrial. Governmental.
When Mitsui launched ForeFront Power, the company’s main business was developing onsite energy solutions for businesses. That means installing solar panels on factory or warehouse roofs, on unused open space, or on parking-lot canopies to generate a proportion of a company’s onsite energy needs.
Public sector bodies, particularly schools and colleges, are also major customers of such onsite solutions and the company has completed multiple projects in this sector in California, with more under construction and in the planning stage.
Since teaming up with Mitsui, ForeFront Power has also entered an entirely new market: community solar projects serving multiple residential customers. How does community solar work? Traditionally, individuals who wanted access to solar power had to install solar panels on their own roofs. Sometimes, however, issues like poor southern exposure or planning restrictions could make this difficult. Community solar solutions get around such problems by generating the energy offsite.
ForeFront Power leases a piece of ground roughly the size of a ballpark in the same county or utility zone, and a power-grid interconnection. It then arranges for the construction of a small solar array typically capable of generating 3 megawatts of power, enough for the needs of 500 households. Subscriptions to the power generated are sold through specialist online marketing companies. Customers can purchase up to 100 percent renewable energy from a local project while also saving on electricity costs. (A rapid decline in the cost of solar panels coupled with federal and state incentives mean that solar energy can be cheaper than the fossil-fuel alternatives.)
The local legislative context is what determines where ForeFront Power concentrates its community solar projects. In 2018, for example, the company completed eight 3 megawatt projects in New York, a state with an ambitious RPS target (50 percent by 2030), a framework supportive of community solar and a commitment to 100% carbon-free electricity by 2040. In parallel, the company is also actively developing solar-project sites in states which are soon to introduce similar frameworks. As more states put such programs in place, demand in the inland states should start to grow rapidly.
Profit, meanwhile, is generated in two ways: first in the form of revenues from the electricity generated, and second—and more significantly— from selling on the solar projects to financial investors. Financial institutions and pension funds are enthusiastic about investing in solar energy projects because they combine the tangible benefits of solid, long-term cash flow and yields with intangible ESG (environment, social and governance) reputational benefits.