What are the best solar farm companies?

There are over 9,000 solar companies in the U.S. spread across every state, and the industry employs 250,000 Americans as of 2018.

Solar Farm Companies

The solar industry in the United States can be broken into sectors focusing on residential rooftop installations, mid-sized commercial installations and large ground mounted projects that are essentially power plants. There are over 9,000 solar companies in the U.S. spread across every state, and the industry employs 250,000 Americans as of 2018. Interestingly, for comparison, there are 50,000 coal mining jobs.

Although there are more residential solar installers than solar farm companies, the large farm projects account for over half of the total solar Megawatts constructed annually. Solar farm companies are said to be in the ‘utility-scale market’ and can be loosely categorized as manufacturers, construction companies and developers.

Utility-scale Solar Segmentation

Manufacturers, mostly based in East Asia, make solar panels and other important items like electrical inverters, transformers and racking systems. Top producers in this space include Chinese companies like JinkoSolar, Trina Solar and JA Solar. Only one North American company, Canadian Solar, makes the list of the top 10 manufactures and only part of its manufacturing actually happens in Canada. Construction companies (commonly referred to as EPC’s in the industry) are the people who physically show up to build solar power plants. They are often involved in design and manage the construction process, providing services like procurement of equipment, hiring temporary construction workers, gaining permits and overseeing the timeline and budget during the building phase. Big companies engaged in this segment of the business include Blattner Energy and Mortenson out of Minnesota and Swinerton and Rosendin out of California.

Project developers pull together the equipment, site, entitlements, financing and manpower needed to start major construction projects. If you are a landowner in contact with a solar company, it is likely you have been in contact with a developer. It is important to realize that many developers exist in the U.S. from small start-ups to large multi-national conglomerates with solar divisions employing hundreds.

Total Solar Projects Avg. Size (MW) Year Established HQ Location Corp Phone #
First Solar, Inc. 592 11.6 1999 Tempe, AZ 419-662-6899
Cypress Creek Renewables 771 8.7 2014 San Monica, CA 800-385-1802
8minutenergy 37 131.8 2009 Sacramento, CA 800-585-3132
NextEra Energy Resources 113 36.4 1985 Juno Beach, FL 561-691-7171
EcoPlexus 163 23.8 2008 San Francisco, CA 415-626-1802
sPower 140 25.4 2012 Salt Lake City, UT 801-679-3500
Recurrent Energy 88 26.5 2006 San Francisco, CA 415-675-1500
Southern Current 116 15.6 2015 Charleston, SC 843-277-2090
Innovative Solar Systems 72 25.1 2011 Asheville, NC 828-215-9064
Sempra Renewables 13 111.9 1998 San Diego, CA 877-855-7887
Strata Solar 257 4.7 2008 Chapel Hill, NC 919-960-6015
Silver Ridge Power 39 31.1 2008 Arlington, VA 571-302-3500
SunEnergy1 59 20.2 2010 Mooresville, NC 704-662-0375
Coronal Development Services 49 23.7 2008 Pasadena, CA 855-267-6625
EDF Renewable Energy 49 23.1 1985 San Diego, CA 858-521-3300
NRG Energy 151 7.0 1992 Houston, TX 713-537-3000
Invenergy 28 37.5 2001 Chicago, IL 312-224-1400

The table above illustrates some of the most well established and successful solar farm developers in the United States as of 2018. It is by no means comprehensive with many other great, smaller companies operating at regional levels and large wind developers with strong financial backing entering into the solar market to diversify their business. You can find a more complete list through the SEIA directory.

Project developers pull together the equipment, site, entitlements, financing and manpower needed to start major construction projects. If you are a landowner in contact with a solar company, it is likely you have been in contact with a developer. It is important to realize that many developers exist in the U.S. from small start-ups to large multi-national conglomerates with solar divisions employing hundreds.

Some of the most well established solar farm developers in the United States as of 2018 include First Solar, Cypress Creek, 8minutenergy, NextEra, EcoPlexus, sPower, Recurrent and Southern Current. However, this is by no means comprehensive with many other great, smaller companies operating at regional levels and large wind developers with strong financial backing entering into the solar market to diversify their business. You can find a more complete list through the SEIA directory.

Big companies usually study the bets they will make carefully beforehand and are willing and able to pay more during contract option periods but will often be reluctant to promise the high rents small developers will put in operation periods.

Considering solar farms cost over $1,000,000 for every 5-10 acres of land used, many landowners struggle to understand how smaller companies can raise the capital needed for this business. The simple answer is that companies of different sizes and track records usually operate under different business models. Start-ups often operate in their home region, know it well and can leverage local relationships to spot development opportunities that are sometimes overlooked by large companies. Historically, they have been especially competitive on smaller sized projects and in emerging solar states where their speed to market is an advantage.

When tackling larger sites, small developers keep expenses low by offering low option term rent with promises of higher-than-market compensation if a project reaches construction. They then will sell the development asset to a larger developer; they know it won’t be them that pays the rent after construction.

Small developers carefully spend money on development items that are absolutely necessary and focus much attention on marketing the site. These shops make their money on larger acreage sites by the fees big developers pay them for the assignment of real estate agreements, power contracts and other development assets like early-stage interconnection studies and permits.

On the contrary, larger developers like the ones in the above table acquire assets from others but also research and secure their own projects. Larger developers have the equity and credit needed to take projects from concept to operation. Big companies usually study the bets they will make carefully beforehand and are willing and able to pay more during contract option periods but will often be reluctant to promise the high rents small developers will put in operation periods. Big companies perceive that they bring more value and don’t need to lure landowners with out-of-market rent in the future.

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As a landowner, few things are more important than working with a reputable developer. But, there’s still more you need to know.

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