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Keys to success in sourcing federal government solar projects

By Jim Dankowski

Working to secure government contracts, whether federal, state, or local, can be a challenge. The bidding process is often complex, and the requirements can be extensive.

A company must have adequate infrastructure to meet the specifications set forth by the government. That said, if you can meet these challenges, the benefits can be well worth the effort for manufacturers, distributors, and service providers since project success can help establish vital brand recognition and reputation among key customer bases. 

Particularly in the solar space, the opportunity is vast for distributors and service providers to bolster business as the integration of alternative energy products is considered a high value, high return investment, and executive mandates have allotted budgets to support such initiatives. Based on the U.S. Government's current focus on energy reduction, any product or service that can reduce the overall kilowatt hours of energy consumed, or even better, make an agency more independent from utility power, can provide heavy incentive for government investment.

While the products required for government solar projects may not differ much from a typical customer's project, the same cannot be said about the contract process. First and foremost, securing these contracts can be extremely competitive and requires greater documentation. To succeed, the project proposal must be as descriptive as possible in regard to details of value.

Although a substantially larger commitment of resources (such as time and planning) is necessary, the complex nature of the government proposal process provides the opportunity to highlight your company's specific value and benefit to not only the government but also to other customers. Most often, the high level of detail in the proposal provides enhanced opportunity to increase business beyond the initial requirements of the contract as the government is typically more interested in total overall value than initial capital investment.

Streamlined logistics are also an important aspect of the proposal process. Government agencies prefer to minimize the number of contracts necessary to support one project, thus suppliers with a broad range of skills in addition to the provision of solar products and services have a greater chance of securing these projects. Proven project management, relevant experience, and the ability to safely and efficiently connect the solar generation system to the building or the electrical grid are critical skills that are rarely overlooked. A supplier also offering energy efficiency services is appealing to ensure the solar power is put to the most efficient and effective uses.

Additionally, if a project involves grant money, it is important for the federal agencies and Congress to know the importance of the results of the contracts and projects so the funds are both allocated in budgets and supported on Capitol Hill.

Overall, the three most vital aspects of working effec-tively with government partners include understanding their expectations and deliverables based on the contract, providing past performance insight that is applicable to the project and providing value beyond the contract's stated requirements.

Aside from the bid process, government buying cycles are typically much longer and it can take more than a year to complete an order. However, contract vehicles are everything within the government market, and once a contract is in place, much of the bid process is eliminated and business becomes easier to conduct. It is important to keep in mind that once a contract is secured, the level of reporting is greater with public investments compared to private projects.

The outlook for government projects can be unclear based on factors including budget direction, elections, and public policy, but what cannot be debated is that the government will always be an important market for the electrical industry. The business dynamics are often much larger and complex, but it is important that unsuccessful bids do not prevent you from future initiatives. If your business doesn't have a contract, partner with one that does; it could be a chance for positive exposure and experience, both true keys to future success.  

Jim Dankowski is manager, marketing and business development, government sales and solutions, Eaton Corporation (www.eaton.com).

July/August 2012