Web-based Platform Allows Individuals and Organizations to Support Clean-energy Development

SolarCity is transforming energy delivery by making solar power more accessible and affordable than previously possible. Now the company wants to provide a new avenue for individuals and institutions from around the world to participate in and benefit from that transformation. SolarCity has announced plans to launch a new, Web-based investment platform through which it intends to allow a broad range of investors, including individuals and organizations of all sizes, to participate directly in solar investments that have previously only been available to large financial institutions.

“People want to support clean energy development. Customers are seeing the benefits of getting solar for their homes but they would like to participate in other ways as well,” says SolarCity CEO Lyndon Rive. “Previously, only institutional investors could participate in the financing of most solar assets. With our investment platform, we’re hoping to allow far more individuals and smaller organizations to participate in the transformation to a cleaner, more distributed infrastructure.”

SolarCity has acquired a privately held financial technology company, Common Assets LLC, which developed the investment platform SolarCity will use to distribute its investment products. Tim Newell, the president and chief executive officer of Common Assets, and John Witchel, Common Assets’ chief architect, have joined SolarCity as part of the transaction. Newell, who will serve as SolarCity’s vice president of financial products, brings more than 25 years of investment, technology and government experience, including roles as senior advisor to private equity firm US Renewables Group; managing director of venture capital firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson’s clean technology affiliate fund; managing director and head of investment banking for E*Trade’s investment banking affiliate, E*Offering; and head of investment bank Robertson Stephen’s financial technology group.

Witchel, who will serve as SolarCity’s senior technology architect for financial products, is an experienced technology executive and successful entrepreneur with experience in large-scale financial innovation. Notably, Witchel was co-founder and chief technology officer of Prosper Marketplace, where he oversaw design and development of the first person-to-person online lending marketplace in the U.S. Common Assets was backed by U.S. Renewables Group (USRG), a private equity firm that specializes in renewable energy investments, and Jim McDermott, managing partner of USRG, served as chairman of Common Assets prior to the acquisition.

“SolarCity’s financial products will provide an exciting new opportunity for people to make an impact—both for their own financial future and our global future—by investing in the shift to solar energy,” says Newell. “Unlike crowdfunding and community solar approaches that typically aggregate investors to provide loans for individual projects, SolarCity plans to offer debt investments backed by diversified portfolios of solar assets.”

RCMA Announces Presentations During the International Roof Coatings Conference

The Roof Coatings Manufacturers Association (RCMA), in partnership with nine industry organizations, will host the International Roof Coatings Conference (IRCC) July 14-17, 2014, in Baltimore at the Royal Sonesta Harbor Court Hotel. In January, key leaders in the roof coatings industry who make up the IRCC Abstract Review Committee met to select the impressive lineup for this year’s IRCC presentations. The 2014 IRCC will include the following timely topics:

Dr. Karma Sawyer, United States Department of Energy
“The Building Envelope Emerging Technologies Portfolio in DOE’s Building Technologies Office”

Alice Kennedy, Baltimore Office of Sustainability
“Advancing Installation of Reflective Roofing Systems through Community-Based Social Marketing and the Baltimore Energy Challenge”

Dr. James L. Hoff, Center for Environmental Innovation in Roofing
“Introducing the RoofPoint Energy and Carbon Calculator: Measuring the Energy and Environmental Contributions of Roofing Systems”

Jeffrey Steuben, Cool Roof Rating Council
“When the Going Gets Rough: The Impact of Substrate Texture on Solar Reflectance Ratings”

Dr. Hashem Akbari, Concordia University
“Advances in Developing Standards for Accelerated Aging of Cool Roofing Materials”

Michael D. Fischer, Kellen Company
“Energy Efficiency and Sustainability in Codes and Standards: Impact on the Roof Coatings Industry”

Dr. Justin Jitao Chen, Dr. Steven Jiguang Zhang, Dr. Joseph Rokowski and Loganathan Ravisanker, Dow Chemical Company
“Novel PUA Hybrid Chemistry for Elastomeric Roof Coatings”

Joe Mellott and Tom Diamond, The Garland Company
“Overcoming Vapor Drive Issues in Cool Roofing”

Kurt Shickman, Global Cool Cities Alliance
“Cool Surfaces: An International Opportunity”

Dr. Michael R. Van De Mark, Missouri S&T Coatings Institute
“Solvent Reduction Technology – What are the Rules?”

Dr. Kaushik Biswas, Oak Ridge National Laboratory
“Impact of Dynamic Insulation Technologies on Steep-Slope Roof Assemblies”

Steve Heinje, Quest Construction Products
“The Roots and Future of Sustainability”

The second biennial IRCC is back by popular demand following the well-received inaugural 2012 IRCC, which was attended by over 120 industry representatives. This year, RCMA has partnered with nine U.S. and international organizations to bring you the 2014 IRCC. These conference partners include:

  • · Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL)
    · Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL)
    · National Research Council Canada (NRC)
    · Canadian Paint and Coatings Association (CPCA)
    · Liquid Roofing and Waterproofing Association (LRWA)
    · Global Cool Cities Alliance (GCCA)
    · European Cool Roofs Council (ECRC)
    · American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE)
    · Alliance to Save Energy (ASE)

The conference will begin with an opening reception on the evening of Monday, July 14, and will continue through noon on Wednesday, July 16. Following the IRCC programming, the RCMA Summer Meeting Series, open to RCMA members and guests, will continue through the morning of Thursday, July 17.

Discounted “early bird” registration opens on Monday, April 7, 2014, and will run through May 19. Please contact RCMA Staff Associate Laura Dwulet to be added to the mailing list for conference and registration updates.

SPFA Professional Certification Program Enjoys Strong Participation in 2013

The Spray Polyurethane Foam Alliance (SPFA), the educational and technical resource to the spray polyurethane foam industry, has announced that it saw more than 1,080 exams administered in its flagship Professional Certification Program during 2013, the first year of the program. An internationally recognized program for the professional certification of those active in the installation of spray foam for roofing and insulation applications, the program encourages best industry practices and safety in the installation of spray foam. With industry demand and first year adoption of the program strong, the SPFA projects a doubling of these numbers to occur during the 2014 calendar year.

“The SPFA Professional Certification Program is the only of its kind offered in our industry,” says Bob Duke, president of the Spray Polyurethane Foam Alliance. “We have witnessed widespread interest and participation in this program during its first year and believe we are on course for it to become the industry’s standard installation certification.”

A certification offered domestically and internationally, the Professional Certification Program is a thorough, standards-driven program developed by the industry in collaboration with OSHA and NIOSH, EPA and other federal agencies, along with other external stakeholders. Designed to be accessible and affordable, the program aims to raise the bar of professionalism and safety in the installation of spray foam and is ISO 17024 compliant.

The 1,000th test of the program, a notable milestone, was administered to Roy Murphy, a professional spray foam installer from Cambridge, Mass. Spray Foam Nation, a national provider of spray foam training, spray foam rigs, equipment sales and service, and an online spray foam store, provided the test as a third-party testing administrator on behalf of the Spray Polyurethane Foam Alliance.

“This is an important milestone, not only for the program, but for our industry at-large,” says Peter Cantone, of Spray Foam Nation. “In bringing this certification program offering to installers of spray foam, the Spray Polyurethane Foam Alliance has moved the industry further forward on a path to professionalism and we are excited to be part of it.”

Still in its inaugural year, the Professional Certification Program has drawn significant attention and participation. “We created this program because we understood it was time for our industry to have expectations established for professional standards in the installation of spray foam,” says Bonnie Strickler, chair of the SPFA Professional Certification Program. “While we expected it to be well received, we did not anticipate the current level of demand and are extremely pleased at the success and adoption of the program in our industry.”

The Professional Certification Program offers various levels of certification for the roofing and insulation categories. To become certified, participants must pass the exam and meet the criteria for the level and category of certification desired. The program is progressive, with each level obtained only after the candidate completes the requirements for the previous level and subsequently completes the requirements for the current level. All certified installers receive professional credentials to demonstrate their program completion and industry expertise.

2013 Solar Employment Grew 10 Times Faster than the National Average Employment Growth Rate

The Solar Foundation (TSF), an independent nonprofit solar research and education organization, has released its fourth annual National Solar Jobs Census, which found the U.S. solar industry employed 142,698 Americans in 2013. That figure includes the addition of 23,682 solar jobs over the previous year, representing 19.9 percent growth in employment since September 2012. Solar employment grew 10 times faster than the national average employment growth rate of 1.9 percent in the same period. Read the full report. State-by-state jobs numbers, including a more detailed analysis of the California, Arizona, and Minnesota solar markets, will be released in February.

“The solar industry’s job-creating power is clear,” says Andrea Luecke, executive director and president of The Solar Foundation. “The industry has grown an astounding 53 percent in the last four years alone, adding nearly 50,000 jobs. Our census findings show that for the fourth year running, solar jobs remain well-paid and attract highly skilled workers. That growth is putting people back to work and helping local economies.”

Solar employers are also optimistic about 2014, expecting to add another 22,000 jobs over the coming year. By comparison, over the same time period, the fossil-fuel electric generation sector shrank by more than 8,500 jobs (a decline of 8.7 percent) and jobs in coal mining grew by just 0.25 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics current Employment Survey (not seasonally adjusted), September 2012 – November 2013.

“The solar industry is a proven job-creator,” says Bill Ritter, former governor of Colorado and director of the Center for the New Energy Economy at Colorado State University. “In Colorado and across the country, we have seen that when the right policies are in place to create long-term market certainty, this industry continues to add jobs to our economy.”

“SolarCity has added more than 2,000 jobs since the beginning of 2013; every single one in the United States. When you install a solar panel you create a local job that can’t be outsourced,” says Lyndon Rive, CEO of SolarCity. “More than 90 percent of Americans believe we should be using more solar, and fewer than 1 percent have it today. We’ve barely begun this transformation, but as it advances, the American solar industry has the potential to be one of the greatest job creators this country has ever seen.”

Solar companies are also reporting that cost savings are driving their clients’ decision making, as 51.4 percent of customers report going solar to save money and another 22.9 percent because costs are now competitive with utility rates.

“Tens of thousands of new living-wage jobs have been created over the past year thanks to plunging solar technology costs, increasing consumer demand, and supportive government policies,” says Amit Ronen, director of The George Washington University Solar Institute. “As the nation’s fastest growing energy source, we expect the solar industry will continue to generate robust job growth for at least the next decade.”

The National Solar Jobs Census 2013 was conducted by TSF and BW Research Partnership with support from the GW Solar Institute. The report, derived from data collected from more than 2,081 solar firms, measured employment growth in the solar industry between September 2012 and November 2013. The margin of error of this data set is +/- 1.3 percent, significantly lower than any similar national industry study.

“The study shows both aggressive hiring and clear optimism among US solar companies,” says Philip Jordan, vice president at BW Research Partnership. “Of particular interest was the continued high wages among solar installers, who earned an average of between $20 and $23.63 per hour. We also found higher than average employment of veterans in the solar industry, a sign that their high-tech skills are valued in this sector.”

“SunPower is proud to be a global leader in solar power technology and energy services, creating thousands of American jobs and injecting billions into the U.S. economy,” says SunPower CEO Tom Werner. “We employ about 1,000 people at facilities in 10 states and are actively hiring hundreds more. Our network of approximately 400 dealers employs more than 6,000 across the U.S., and two of our major solar power plants last year created 1,300 jobs at peak construction. Solar is a competitive, reliable resource, and an economic success story for America.”

New-construction Starts in December Grew 5 Percent

New construction starts in December grew 5 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $554.5 billion, according to McGraw Hill Construction, a division of McGraw Hill Financial. Although nonresidential building and housing settled back during the final month of 2013, the nonbuilding construction sector (public works and electric utilities) finished the year on a strong note. For 2013 as a whole, total construction starts advanced 6 percent to $516.8 billion. This follows the 10 percent gain reported for 2012 (which drew support from a record amount of new electric utility starts that year) and modest 2 percent gains in both 2010 and 2011. If the volatile electric utility category is excluded, total construction starts in 2013 would be up 14 percent, following a 9 percent gain in 2012 and essentially flat activity during 2010 and 2011.

The December statistics produced a reading of 117 for the Dodge Index (2000=100), compared to 111 in November. This marked the third highest month for the Dodge Index during 2013, after September’s 118 and October’s 125. During the first eight months of the year, the Dodge Index had hovered within the fairly narrow range of 100 to 108, but then showed a stronger pace of activity during the final four months, reflecting in part the impact of several very large projects. In December, large projects that were entered as construction starts included the $1.5 billion Goethals Bridge replacement project in New York and New Jersey, two large natural gas-fired power plants, and two large manufacturing plants. For all of 2013, the Dodge Index averaged 109, up from 103 in 2012.

Nonresidential building in December slipped 7 percent to $168.6 billion (annual rate), pulling back for the second month in a row after its elevated pace in October, although its fourth quarter average was still 17 percent above what was reported in the first quarter. Several commercial categories in December paused from the improved activity registered earlier in the fall. New office construction dropped 44 percent from November which had been lifted by the start of such projects as the $336 million Transbay office tower in San Francisco; in contrast, the largest office projects entered as December starts were an $80 million office complex in Cary, N.C., and a $73 million data center in West Des Moines, Iowa. Similar December declines were registered by hotels, down 42 percent; and warehouses, down 46 percent; although the latest month did include the start of an $88 million Amazon distribution center in Windsor, Conn. Store construction, which was the one commercial category that did not post a November gain, managed to increase 6 percent in December. The December pause for nonresidential building was cushioned by a sharp 110 percent jump for manufacturing buildings, which reflected the start of two massive chemical plants in Louisiana, each valued at $500 million.

The institutional building categories in December were mixed. Educational facilities grew 5 percent, helped by the start of a $213 medical research building in Boston and a $151 million college science building in Chicago. Healthcare facilities in December jumped 30 percent from the prior month’s subdued amount, and featured groundbreaking for an $80 million hospital in Virginia and a $70 million cancer center in Wisconsin. The smaller institutional categories generally weakened in December, with public buildings (courthouses and detention facilities) down 32 percent; churches, down 44 percent; and amusement-related work, down 46 percent (compared to the previous month which included the $763 million Vikings Multipurpose Stadium in Minneapolis). The transportation terminal category retreated a slight 1 percent in December, and included the start of a $230 million terminal renovation project at Los Angeles International Airport.

For 2013 as a whole, nonresidential building increased 7 percent to $168.6 billion, shifting to an upward direction after the 5 percent decline reported for 2012. The commercial categories overall advanced 16 percent, faster than the 13 percent gain witnessed in 2012. The strongest gain by commercial category was registered by hotels, up 28 percent; followed by warehouses, up 27 percent; office buildings, up 17 percent; and stores, up 1 percent. The small 2013 increase for stores was limited by the comparison to 2012 that included the $400 million renovation to Macy’s flagship department store in New York. The manufacturing building category in 2013 surged 36 percent, helped by the two large chemical plants in Louisiana reported as December starts as well as by such projects as a $1.7 billion fertilizer plant in Iowa, a $1.7 billion natural gas processing plant in West Virginia, and a $1.5 billion industrial gas products plant in Louisiana. The institutional building group during 2013 decreased 3 percent, less severe than declines of 9 percent in 2012 and 11 percent in 2011. The two largest institutional categories performed as follows – educational buildings, down 1 percent; and healthcare facilities, down 6 percent. The smaller institutional categories showed this pattern for 2013 – amusement-related work, up 25 percent; transportation terminals, down 2 percent; churches down 11 percent; and public buildings, down 27 percent.

Residential building in December dropped 6 percent to $205.3 billion (annual rate), with both sides of the housing market easing back. Single family housing slipped 3 percent, as recent months have shown more of an up-and-down pattern after the consistently steady gains witnessed earlier in the year. When viewed on a quarterly basis, single family housing still registered consistent growth during 2013, with the fourth quarter up 8 percent compared to the first quarter. Multifamily housing in December retreated 13 percent after November’s increase of the same magnitude. December’s largest multifamily projects were smaller in scale than what had been reported in the previous month, but still included such substantial entries as a $159 million apartment building in Sunny Isles Beach, Fla., a $128 million condominium tower in Honolulu, and a $127 million apartment building in Brooklyn.

The 2013 amount for residential building was $205.5 billion, up 24 percent, and close to the 31 percent gain reported for 2012. Single family housing in dollar terms climbed 26 percent, similar to the prior year’s 29 percent hike. The regional pattern for single family housing in 2013 showed increases for all five major regions, as follows – the South Atlantic, up 33 percent; the Midwest, up 27 percent; the West and Northeast, each up 26 percent; and the South Central, up 18 percent. Multifamily housing in 2013 advanced 16 percent, showing additional growth on top of the increases in 2010 (up 23 percent), 2011 (up 33 percent), and 2012 (up 37 percent). By major region, multifamily housing revealed this performance in 2013 – the Midwest, up 26 percent; the Northeast, up 24 percent; the South Atlantic, up 21 percent; the West, up 13 percent; and the South Central, down 6 percent. The top five metropolitan areas in terms of the 2013 dollar amount of multifamily starts, with the percent change from 2012, were – New York, up 23 percent; Boston, up 74 percent; Washington, D.C., unchanged from the prior year; Miami, up 12 percent; and Los Angeles, down 24 percent. Metropolitan areas ranked 6 through 10 for multifamily starts were – Dallas-Ft. Worth, down 6 percent; Chicago, up 52 percent; Seattle, unchanged from the prior year, San Francisco, up 12 percent; and Denver, up 17 percent.

The 6 percent gain for total construction starts at the national level in 2013 was the result of gains in four of the five major regions. Showing the strongest growth was the Northeast, up 17 percent; followed by the Midwest, up 9 percent; the West, up 8 percent; and the South Central, up 3 percent. The South Atlantic was the one major region to experience a decline in 2013, dropping 3 percent. The South Atlantic’s shortfall reflected the comparison to 2012 that included the start of two massive nuclear facilities, located in Georgia and South Carolina. If electric utilities are excluded from the construction start statistics in the South Atlantic, then total construction for that region in 2013 would be up 19 percent.

Free Webinar Tomorrow: Predicting and Preventing Workplace Injuries

Griffin Schultz, general manager of Predictive Solutions, will present a webinar on Wednesday, Jan. 29 at 1 p.m. (EST) titled “Predicting and Preventing Workplace Injuries—a How-To Guide.”

In this webinar, Schultz will describe how big data, analytics, and prediction relate to the world of safety. Following a review of the theory and methodology behind predicting workplace injuries, Schultz will provide examples of companies that are successfully employing prediction to keep their workers safer. These examples will serve as the basis for a “how-to” guide.

Schultz is responsible for all aspects of Predictive Solutions’ business—a fully owned subsidiary of Industrial Scientific Corp.

Access a registration link for this webinar.

NRCA’s President, Nelson Braddy, Responds to Proposed Legislation to Reform Cost Recovery Provisions of the Federal Tax Code

Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) recently released a discussion draft of proposed legislation to reform the cost recovery provisions of the federal tax code. This draft would repeal the current depreciation system, referred to as Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System, and replace it with a new system that pools assets into separate categories. The draft also instructs the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to analyze the economic depreciation rates of tangible assets and authorizes the U.S. Department of Treasury to review CBO’s findings to determine whether assets should be reassigned depreciation schedules or whether new ones should be created.

Under the Baucus proposal, the changes in these depreciation schedules would generate nearly $700 million in revenue for the government during the next decade. This would be used to offset cutting the 35 percent corporate income tax rate. Unfortunately, Baucus’ proposal cuts tax rates for only C-corporations but not for pass-through businesses that pay income taxes at the individual rate.

The Rosemont, Ill.-based National Roofing Contractors Association supports comprehensive tax reform that boosts economic growth by substantially lowering individual and corporate tax rates. Roughly 75 percent of its members are S-corporations, limited liability companies and other pass-through entities. Cutting taxes for entrepreneurs that file at the individual rates and as large corporations is essential for the roofing industry. NRCA is disappointed Baucus’ discussion draft does not include reductions in individual income tax rates.

In addition, NRCA supports reforming the depreciation schedule for commercial roof systems. The current 39-year depreciation schedule is an obstacle to economic growth and more than double the average life cycle of a commercial roof system, which is 17 years. Baucus has proposed extending the depreciation schedule for real property, including commercial roof systems, to 43 years, which does nothing to remove the incentive for building owners to forego a full retrofit to a failing roof in favor of making only piecemeal repairs. In addition, extending the depreciation schedule will further complicate business owners’ tax decisions; do nothing to promote economic growth; and fail to advance greater energy efficiency within the commercial building sector. Baucus has stated the goal of this proposed legislation is to “establish a system of cost recovery that better approximates the decline in the economic value of an asset.” However, 43 years to depreciate a commercial roof system does not accurately represent its economic value.

NRCA is pleased to see Baucus included higher Section 179 expensing limits in his discussion draft, which would permanently increase the expensing limits to $1 million and be indexed for inflation.

Baucus has requested comments regarding the discussion draft be submitted by Jan. 17, 2014. NRCA will submit its comments to the tax code in a comprehensive manner. The association remains committed to working with lawmakers to pass progrowth tax policies that benefit the roofing industry and the economy.

Survey Finds Labor Shortages Are Increasing

Nearly three-fourths of construction firms across the country report they are having trouble finding qualified craft workers to fill key spots, according to the results of an industry-wide survey released by the Associated General Contractors of America, Arlington, Va. Association officials called for immigration- and education-reform measures to help avoid worker shortages.

Of the 74 percent of responding firms that are having a hard time finding qualified craft workers, the most frequently reported difficulties are in filling onsite construction jobs, like carpenters, equipment operators and laborers. Fifty-three percent are having a hard time filling professional positions, especially project supervisors, estimators and engineers.

Eighty-six percent of respondents said they expect it will remain difficult or get harder to find qualified craft workers; 72 percent say the market for professional positions will remain hard or get worse. Seventy-four percent of respondents report there are not enough qualified craft workers available to meet future demand while 49 percent said there weren’t enough construction professionals available.

To prepare future construction workers, 48 percent of responding firms are mentoring future craft workers; 38 percent are participating in career fairs; and 33 percent are supporting high school-level construction skills academies. In addition, 47 percent of responding firms are offering internships for construction professionals.

Stephen E. Sandherr, CEO of the Associated General Contractors of America, says Congress needs to jettison arbitrary caps on construction workers that were included in immigration reform the Senate passed in 2013. “Lifting those restrictions will go a long way to ensuring construction jobs left vacant by domestic labor shortages go to workers who are in the country legally,” he says.

Sandherr urges elected and appointed officials to do more to ensure public-school students have an opportunity to participate in programs that teach skills, like construction. He adds skills-based programs offer students a more hands-on way to learn vital 21st century skills, such as math and science. Such programs also have been proven to reduce dropout rates and give students an opportunity to earn the higher pay and benefits that come with construction jobs.

Nearly 700 construction firms participated in the survey. View the national survey results and analysis, as well as results for 15 states with larger survey samples.

ARMA Releases Educational Video

The Asphalt Roofing Manufacturers Association has produced a short, educational video, titled “Asphalt Roofing and the Science of Color”. It explains how manufacturers create different color shades and combinations. The video is designed to help homeowners choose the color that works best for their home. Watch the video on the association website or YouTube channel.

Resources to Assist with Equipment Finance

The Equipment Leasing and Finance Association has released three resources to help businesses take advantage of the benefits of equipment finance. The multimedia resources—a video, digital toolkit and an infographic—highlight how companies of all types and sizes can use leasing and financing to their strategic advantage to acquire the equipment they need to operate and grow. The tools are available on the association’s website.