Barack Obama has said he would like to spend $150 billion over the next 10 years developing alternative energy. In fact, Time quotes Robert Froelich, Chief Investment Strategist at Deutsche Bank as saying, “It’s pretty clear that he wants this to be his legacy.” The R&D money promised under Obama would support companies that are developing clean technologies. Still, it remains unclear which alternative energy will emerge as the alternative. Legislation recently passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, however, extends billions of dollars in tax credits for the solar, wind and biodiesel industries, ending months of uncertainty for renewable energy companies. The AP quotes Rhone Resch, President of the Solar Energy Industries Association, SEIA, as saying, “This bill is a major step in our long journey toward energy independence and ensures that solar energy will be a significant part of America’s energy future.”
Solar Energy Industry Poised to Grow
The Renewable Energy and Job Creation Tax Act of 2008’s solar investment tax credit provisions will extend for eight years the 30% tax credit for both residential and commercial solar installations, according to Congressman Joe Sestak (PA). The $2,000 monetary cap for residential solar electric installations has been eliminated along with the prohibition on utilities from benefiting from the credit. It also authorizes $800 million for clean energy bonds for renewable energy generating facilities, including solar.
The solar energy industry already employs 60,000 Americans -a number he expects to skyrocket. “This long-term extension of the solar tax credits will create a domestic solar industry with hundreds of thousands of jobs while providing clean, affordable, carbon-free energy to millions of American families, businesses, and communities,” the AP quotes Resch as saying. Resch projects that by 2016, solar energy will be the least expensive source of electricity for consumers.
In response to the developments, the AP also quotes Roger Efird, SEIA chairman and President of Suntech America, as saying,” By passing this bill, Congress has finally given the solar energy industry ‘policy certainty’ that will attract investment, expand manufacturing and lower the cost of solar energy to consumer. This will allow companies like mine to move forward with expansion plans to serve the growing U.S. market.”
Moreover, Energy Central contends the legislation is a reversal of fortune for the solar industry since solar power projects are capital intensive and require developers to hold the necessary collateral. Now, with the extension of the tax credits, Energy Central says “businesses with a tax liability are able to use those credits to offset the cost of projects while those emerging ones can take that money and offer equity stakes in certain deals. That cash is then used as a down payment on projects that can demonstrate stable cash flows.” This is critical since banks are unwilling to bet on companies that are not established.
Future Looks Brighter for Solar Energy Start-Ups
Forbes magazine reported that solar energy start-ups last year raised $600 million new investments in 39 deals. Energy Central also points to a number of underlying fundamentals which bode well for the renewable sector - and the solar industry in particular. These fundamentals include potential climate change regulation, fossil fuel volatility and increasing mandates requiring that utilities incorporate more renewable fuels in their portfolio mix.
In fact, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory announced the Center for Revolutionary Solar Photoconversion (CRSP) is launching 12 novel solar research projects totaling more than $1.1 million in its inaugural round of research and development funding.
The Solar Energy Association also says that a number of deals are now in the works, reports Energy Central. The report quotes Monique Hanis, Spokeswomen for the group as saying, “Things might be a little tighter than they have been. But we now have an eight-year stable tax environment and as a result, we have a number of projects that will move forward.”
Many industry analysts and experts believe that solar power offers the promise of contributing a significant percentage of America’s and the world’s energy needs. According to the 2008 Utility Solar Assessment (USA) Study compiled by Clean Edge, Inc. and Co-op America, solar power could provide 10% of U.S. electricity generation by 2025. Amid the trend, talent is flocking to sustainables. Executive search firm, A.E. Feldman says there is a huge rush of talent and money into renewable energy sources, such as biofuels, wind power…and solar power.
A. E. Feldman has cultivated relationships with companies that have access to the financial resources to help fund U.S. based solar initiatives. One senior industry veteran and recruiter working with A.E. Feldman says, “Very few people understand this business yet but the wealth of individuals and institutional investors getting involved is enormously high. Interest in alternative fuels is absolutely growing and attention to the sector will only increase.” A.E. Feldman’s CEO, Carol Schwam, says the burgeoning alternative fuel industry is looking for super-brokers who can funnel money into their businesses. She notes, however, that entrepreneurs in this sector must bridge the gap between the science behind the technology and a successful business.