Earth Notes: Solar Power Finance Without the Jargon, a Review (2019)

Updated 2020-01-04 17:38 GMT.
Candid, informative book by Jenny Chase explains how analysis happens, or how a wet finger in the wind may still sometimes be better! #solar #book #review
solar PV panels on roof
Does what it says on the tin providing a low-art-term discussion of solar power and how it gets paid for. Readable and human, shining a light on how (Bloomberg) New Energy Finance and its pricing indices and analysis were bootstrapped. Did they peak too late with their first kettle, though?

Review

I had my son read (some of) the book, to test the "Without the Jargon" claim, and I think the book passed that sniff test, see below:

  • Solar Power Finance Without the Jargon
  • Paperback, ISBN: 978-1-78634-745-9, World Scientific, July 2019
  • Chapter 16: Solar Is Cheap, but What Does It Mean?
  • Reviewed by: on .
  • Overall it was a well explained and interesting chapter.
  • I enjoyed chapter 6. I thought it was very accessible because you didn't have to be an expert to understand it (I am 11). I didn't understand the references, as those were aimed at professionals.
  • Rating: 4 out of 5.

Background

I know BNEF because I know Michael Liebreich, its founder. I've spent a chunk of my life creating start-ups, and have an understanding of what happens inside them, and how important individuals are in making them succeed. It's not astonishing that someone as modest and funny and smart as Jenny Chase should be part of BNEF's story, and is its chief guru for solar, one of my favorite topics! I also spent a long time in finance (in the City of London) albeit in IT, and I can't fault her on PV or PV (Present Value or PhotoVoltaics).

Having exchanged many a tweet with Chase, I finally made it to a talk that she gave, at Imperial College 2019-10-23.

Less is More

Chase's book is clearly in the tradition of Prof David MacKay's fabulous Sustainable Energy – without the hot air: more insight, less pomp. All good.

I come pre-tainted with existing knowledge of, and interest in, both solar power and finance. Those didn't make Chase's book seem trite or dull. There was lots here that was new to me and/or only previously partly understood.

Beyond the dry facts, spiced with some of the wrong-doings in the market, there are also Things That You Should Know if you are one of the solar workers of the future that Chase's book targets. Networking and Other Stuff Not Taught at State Schools (chapter 11) including Being Female — Pros and Cons, for example.

There's also a lot of the true-but-unexpected in there about how start-ups work, real enough to make me cringe in recognition. Start-ups are fun, but they are not for everyone, even those happy to take risks elsewhere!

The tech is there for techies (yes, I'm a fan of slightly undersizing inverters and pointing panels more west where possible) including why crystalline silicon is still king somewhat against expectations.

I like the realism in chapter 9 Forecasting Methods: Difficulties and Discontinuities about how the world is messy. Her team can be spending more time running around fixing old numbers as data surfaces, than developing shiny new models (that everyone thinks is the important bit). Be humble, absorb new facts whenever available, and avoid getting complacent! Even a bad forecast may be better than no forecast.

We have almost always underestimated the future growth. We have apparently got a little better since 2013, probably because this was the point where we started using a high 'Rest of World' buffer in the forecast — basically, a sizeable chunk of forecast demand on top of the known markets. This was necessary because firstly there are always new markets that you find out about late in a year (Trade press PV Tech says Algeria installed 268MW in 2015, and it seems to be confirmed by government data? We didn't even have Algeria in our forecasts) and secondly, my team members more often underestimate their own markets than they overestimate them.

There are a couple of imperfections in the book, such as graphs being swapped, or maybe mislabelled, I think.

I agree with Morgan, overall it was well explained and interesting!

Clickbait Footnote: Kettling

People refer to Michael as a genius, and you'd imagine that timing is all. But one has to wonder, against chapter 5's Timeline of Relevant Milestones for Solar (p34), if somehow that one might have been called a little earlier and moved the market? The world's populist right-of-centre parties might then have wrapped themselves in solar fabric and we'd be fulfilling the Paris 1.5°C target with room to spare. Or maybe not. B^>