The last year has provided a lot of excitement in the renewable energy industry with the passage of government funding packages. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) passed in Nov 2021 invests in upgraded power infrastructure, electric vehicle chargers, resiliency, and environmental cleanup. The Inflation Reduction Act (2022) passed in Aug 2022 provides tax incentives, rebates, and loans for renewable energy and energy efficiency measures.
One method to pass these funds is through government grants so a quick summary how one would go about applying for a grant seems prudent. A government grant sounds intriguing, “free money” from the government to accomplish your project, right? It turns out it is not so simple. If one wants to go search for government grants (found at grants.gov) and then develop a project to utilize those funds likely has the cart ahead of the horse. Now if you have a creditable project in work and you can find a grant that applies you will have a much easier time telling a good story.
Most of the government agencies provide either Grants or Contracts, so it is good to understand the difference which is the definition of the Scope. If the government defines the Statement of Work and deliverables it is a contract. If the proposing organization defines the Scope and Statement of Work then it is a Grant. See the attached figure for agencies supporting each.
Is applying for a grant worth it? A rule of thumb is to assume one hundred hours of work to prepare and submit a grant, and in our experience if you are starting from scratch, it might be twice this much. The small business success rate of receiving a grant after submitting a proposal is typically 15%. An organization can weigh these factors however they choose, but it’s pretty simple that it isn’t worth your time to apply for a grant smaller than $10,000, and a $100,000 minimum not unrealistic.
Grants.Gov is the place to go to search for grants, and to do that you need to register. Unless you have some other approved credentialing service, you will also need an account at Login.gov, so register there first. The Grants.gov website is the central vase not only for searching for grants, but likely where you will electronically submit your proposal. There are numerous search filters, but a simple renewable energy search today results in 63 matches. Although the titles may help you narrow the search one needs to read the general information and eligibility. Digging into a 20-30 page grant opportunity and then realizing that your organization is not eligible is a waste of time, so make sure to not skim past those critical elements. Often the Government office issuing the grant has their own website, and some submissions may be made directly to the agency, but they all must post at Grants.gov, so plan to spend many hours searching this site
If your organization is at least partially serious about applying for a grant, make sure to register at SAM.Gov. Every company needs a Unique Entity Identifier (UEI) which is a step in the SAM registration process. Have patience and perseverance as the SAM registration can take several days to be approved. These registrations are not hard, and everything is free. [BTW – If you receive an email that you need to pay, it is from a company wanting to insert themselves into the process, ignore them.] There are likely additional registrations unique to the grant from the granting agency, so read those details.
I recently attending a Grant writing workshop given by our local Senator, and the presenter had a great idea. Develop your proposal budget first. The opportunity will provide instructions what budget details are required in the grant, but in general you need to know how much financial assistance to ask, how it will be spent, and why you are applying. When you have your budget written down, then you can begin to formulate a compelling story why you need the grant. Be sure to include overhead costs, shared expenses, and other organizations that may be contributing to the project.
The grant opportunity will provide instruction what they want to see, and also the criteria the proposal will be evaluated. I have seen proposals outlined around both these structures. Regardless of the approach make sure to address every section and if you omit a criterion, make it clear why. The people evaluating the proposal are scoring your submission using a rubric, so the goal is to make their job easy.
Submitting the proposal is not one document and done. Expect sections to upload: the technical proposal, budget, bio’s, partner organizations, and potential conflicts of interest. Log into the Grants.gov submission site (or specified location) a couple of weeks before the deadline and upload draft documents. You might find other required documents that you don’t want to be creating minutes before the deadline. If at all possible, have at least two people to check the submission work. Grants that leave out information or submitted late are not evaluated.
If you think a grant might work for your organization there is a lot of help available. Head to Grants.gov and contact your local Congress person to learn what is available in your region.