The Obama Administration bolstered the solar power industry in July 2015 by announcing a new federal initiative to increase solar power investments. An underlying theme of the new initiative is partnering with states’ housing authorities and other organizations to invest in solar projects in low- to-moderate-income housing communities to lower residents’ energy bills. The Administration set a goal of installing 300 megawatts (MW) of renewable energy in federally subsidized housing by 2020.
The initiative will drive government contract opportunity for companies in the energy, construction, and urban design industries because state and city agencies will have federal dollars to spend on installing solar projects.
Furthermore, in September 2015, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) plans to release more information for community planning and development grantees, including compliance information, tools and case study examples on how federal grants can be used for renewable energy resources, such as solar photovoltaic, solar hot water and cogeneration. The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) is also expected to update its second-mortgage program to make it easier for homeowners to borrow as much as $25,000 for solar and energy-efficient improvements.
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) July 7, 2015
Housing Authorities Go Solar
The White House has commitments from 22 public housing authorities and affordable housing providers to install solar power and other renewable energy sources on their facilities.
In 2014, Onvia’s Project Center found that special districts, which include housing authorities, across the country issued 154 solicitations with solar enhancement to housing communities in mind.
Advances and Trends in Solar Technology
Solar power, also known as photovoltaic (PV) technology, has been turning away from battery storage over the last decade. Battery-based systems have dropped to just 1% of solar installations, compared two-thirds in 1997, Paul Pickering, an electrical engineer, wrote in the EE Times in July 2015. Nowadays, it’s more common for solar systems to be connected to utility grids. In 2013, more than three-quarters of grid-connected PV capacity installed were concentrated in California, Arizona, and North Carolina, the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) reported in July 2014.
In 2014, the solar industry in the U.S. grew 34% over 2013 to nearly 7,000 MW. Within the PV sector, more than 6,200 MW of capacity was installed, led by the residential and utility segments, which grew by 51% and 38%, respectively, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. IREC linked the growth in the utility sector to include Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) policies, lower installation costs and federal loan guarantees.
Most importantly, state and local government policies and incentives are very influential in regards to the amount of investment and, as a result, the number of contracts that are available. IREC is concerned about the expiration of the federal Investment tax credit, which is slated to end in 2016 and could slow the amount of investment in solar energy.
A Growing Business for Solar Powered Industries
As installation costs decrease and presidential attention counteracts an expiring tax incentive, multiple industries are seeing a growing field of business. According to Onvia’s Project Center, energy companies had nearly 800 solicitations and awards in 2015, centered mainly in power generation and utilities.
Construction companies and builders can find contracts as city and state agencies drive dollars toward the low- to moderate-income communities. In 2015, construction and building contracts have been related to road projects, in large part for solar-powered traffic and roadwork signs. But cities’ and housing authorities’ building projects and improvements will include aspects of solar power. In addition, firms can find opportunities to support civil engineering and design projects.
The solar power market is growing and with the support of the White House’s initiative, contractors who do work in this sector should look forward to a bright future full of related bid & RFP opportunities.