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Sunrun's First-Quarter Earnings Report Is Full of Question Marks

Screen Shot
Screen Shot

Image source: Sunrun Q1 2016 earnings presentation.

It's interesting to note that Sunrun continues to grow, despite having a much higher cost structure than competitors. What's even more interesting is that its assumed value creation is vastly higher than competitors.

Inexplicably, Sunrun estimates that its project NPV is $4.51 per watt compared to just $3.46 per watt at SolarCity. Sunrun is either charging more for solar than competitors, estimating much more in renewal value, being very aggressive in how its accounting for investment tax credit rebates, or a combination of all three. There's no other explanation for how the company could create more value than SolarCity, despite having 37% higher costs. And still, it's easy to argue that Sunrun isn't creating any long-term value at all.

The misleading numbers in NPV

Let's take a look at the total of $21 million in NPV Sunrun said it created in the first quarter. That's less than the $31 million added to estimated retained value of purchase or renewal. And that doesn't include about $14 million in costs associated with exiting the Nevada market. If those two were included, the net NPV contracted during the quarter would be a loss of $24 million.

I think the way Sunrun calculates NPV is misleading because it assumes there's hundreds of millions of dollars in value for 20-year-old solar systems. There's no evidence today that customers will want to renew a lease at 90% of the prevailing electricity rate (Sunrun's assumption) with 20-year-old equipment. It wouldn't make sense to, given the fact that solar costs are falling year after year. The better assumption would be that Sunrun has to remove the solar system at its own cost, which it is contractually obligated to do, per the company's own SEC filings.

More than meets the eye

Sunrun's numbers looked a little better than SolarCity's and Vivint Solar's on the surface, but dig a little deeper, and you see that its competitive position isn't all that strong. As the industry gets more crowded, I don't see how the company can continue being competitive given its much higher cost structure relative to its peers.

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The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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