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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.

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.

 
Awarded Geofill Material Tech an $87,422 contract in December 2014 to replace the roofs at the Pecan Hill Apartments. The new replacements must have solar reflectance to redirect the Texas heat and sop up the loss of heat at nighttime. The SAHA committed to the White House on the initiative.
 
 
Issued a request for proposals (RFP) in June 2015 to build a solar energy generation facility. BHA wants a solar energy project developer that is able to finance, design, construct and operate commercial-scale solar energy facilities. BHA’s facility will supply power to the authority-owned, city-operated water filtration plant.

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.

Sauk County in Wisconsin
 
Released an RFP in April 2015 for a two-phase solar and energy efficiency project to determine if PV solar system will be useful on its county buildings. In phase 1, the company will assess whether such a system is beneficial. Phase 2 includes the construction and a review of possible solar financing arrangements.
 
 
Approved a proposed resolution to enter an agreement with Sunfolding, Inc. in April 2015. The resolution includes a $1 million grant to develop a new solar tracker that lowers the cost of solar electricity by reducing component costs and improves efficiencies in construction and design.

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.

 
Released a bid in April 2015 to engage communities in outreach activities encouraging residents to consider solar PV, and all resulting potential customers will be forwarded to the “Solar UP NH” installer.
 
 
Issued a bid in January 2015 for a solar services provider (SSP) to coordinate the design and engineering the system, overseeing all permitting, construction and installation. The vendor will also provide the systems’ ongoing operations and maintenance. The SSP will purchase the solar panels, inverters and all other required system components.

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.

Obama administration solar power initiative