ray of sunshine

DOE loans Houston company $3B for project that will provide solar energy to underserved communities

Houston-based Sunnova Energy has secured a loan from the Department of Energy. Photo via sunnova.com

A partial loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Energy will support more than $5 billion in loans for Sunnova Energy equipment and technology that’ll supply solar energy to underserved communities.

The $3 billion partial loan guarantee equates to a 90 percent guarantee of up to $3.3 billion in loans. In turn, Sunnova says, that’ll support more than $5 billion in loans to about 75,000 to 115,000 U.S. households. It’s said to be the largest single commitment to solar power ever made by the federal government.

At least 20 percent of the Project Hestia loans will be extended to customers with FICO credit scores of 680 or less, and up to 20 percent of the loans will be earmarked for homeowners in impoverished Puerto Rico.

The Department of Energy (DOE) says Sunnova’s Project Hestia — a virtual power plant — will provide rooftop solar, battery storage, and energy software to residential customers and create more than 3,400 jobs. Sunnova, an energy-as-a-service provider, says each residential power system will feature energy technology accessible by smartphones and other electronic devices.

“The software will give customers insight into their household’s energy usage and greenhouse gas emissions, allowing customers to reduce electricity use — or even contribute electricity to the system in markets that allow such contributions — when the grid is under stress,” says DOE.

The estimated 568-megawatt Project Hestia is poised to help avoid the emission of more than 7.1 metric tons of carbon dioxide over the next 25 years, DOE says. The project will produce enough energy to power roughly 425,000 homes per year.

John Berger, CEO of Sunnova, says the federal loan guarantee “marks the beginning of an exciting chapter in our pursuit of a cleaner and more equitable energy landscape. With our collaboration with the U.S. Department of Energy, we are embarking on a journey that expands clean energy access and delivers economic benefit to Americans in disadvantaged communities.”

As of June 30, Sunnova had 348,600 customers in the U.S., up from 279,400 at the end of 2022. The company projects a 40 percent rate of customer growth in 2024 compared with 2023.

The publicly traded company posted revenue of $328.1 million in the first half of 2023, up from $212.7 million during the same period last year.

Last month, in an interview with EnergyCapital, Berger explained misconceptions about solar power, predicted the rise of the home as a power station, and highlighted the importance of energy independence.

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A View From HETI

Houston could have ranked higher on a global report of top cities in the world if it had a bit more business diversification. Photo via Getty Images

A new analysis positions the Energy Capital of the World as an economic dynamo, albeit a flawed one.

The recently released Oxford Economics Global Cities Index, which assesses the strengths and weaknesses of the world’s 1,000 largest cities, puts Houston at No. 25.

Houston ranks well for economics (No. 15) and human capital (No. 18), but ranks poorly for governance (No. 184), environment (No. 271), and quality of life (No. 298).

New York City appears at No. 1 on the index, followed by London; San Jose, California; Tokyo; and Paris. Dallas lands at No. 18 and Austin at No. 39.

In its Global Cities Index report, Oxford Economics says Houston’s status as “an international and vertically integrated hub for the oil and gas sector makes it an economic powerhouse. Most aspects of the industry — downstream, midstream, and upstream — are managed from here, including the major fuel refining and petrochemicals sectors.”

“And although the city has notable aerospace and logistics sectors and has diversified into other areas such as biomedical research and tech, its fortunes remain very much tied to oil and gas,” the report adds. “As such, its economic stability and growth lag other leading cities in the index.”

The report points out that Houston ranks highly in the human capital category thanks to the large number of corporate headquarters in the region. The Houston area is home to the headquarters of 26 Fortune 500 companies, including ExxonMobil, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, and Sysco.

Another contributor to Houston’s human capital ranking, the report says, is the presence of Rice University, the University of Houston and the Texas Medical Center.

“Despite this,” says the report, “it lacks the number of world-leading universities that other cities have, and only performs moderately in terms of the educational attainment of its residents.”

Slower-than-expected population growth and an aging population weaken Houston’s human capital score, the report says.

Meanwhile, Houston’s score for quality is life is hurt by a high level of income inequality, along with a low life expectancy compared with nearly half the 1,000 cities on the list, says the report.

Also in the quality-of-life bucket, the report underscores the region’s variety of arts, cultural, and recreational activities. But that’s offset by urban sprawl, traffic congestion, an underdeveloped public transportation system, decreased air quality, and high carbon emissions.

Furthermore, the report downgrades Houston’s environmental stature due to the risks of hurricanes and flooding.

“Undoubtedly, Houston is a leading business [center] that plays a key role in supporting the U.S. economy,” says the report, “but given its shortcomings in other categories, it will need to follow the path of some of its more well-rounded peers in order to move up in the rankings.”

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

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