Western Pennsylvania is well-positioned for green economic growth and opportunity, according to a report issued by the Green Building Alliance. Holding on to that belief, Fred Underwood, owner of Underwood Solar Future LLC, is positioning his business to take advantage of such opportunities.
The report, Green Building Products and Services Market Analysis for Pennsylvania and Benchmark States,” reveals that there are unmet needs in the region. Providing full-service solar panel estimating and installation for commercial businesses and some residential applications, Underwood says his company plans to fill the solar needs of the state and beyond.
The report, conducted by the nonprofit organization that advances economic prosperity and human well-being in western Pennsylvania by driving market demand for green buildings and green building products across every aspect of the building environment, indicates that by 2015 the construction market will be between $1 trillion to $3 trillion annually. It estimates that between $100 billion and $475 billion per year will be earmarked specifically for green building, a positive aspect for western Pennsylvania. The report indicates that the region is within 500 miles of 30 percent of the current green building activity in the U.S., providing a significant opportunity for regional firms to sell products and services in this market.
As one of four solar panel registered insured contractors and the only Black in the area, Underwood and his employees are excited about the possibilities of the company. “Already we have an agreement for a multimillion dollar contract in the Harrisburg area,” he said, pointing out they are negotiating with Petra Ministries and the Rivers Casino. The Harrisburg company is under agreement for the installation of a photo voltaic system that includes 924 solar panels to project 230 watts each. Underwood is also negotiating with KBK Enterprises, co-developers of the $60 million Garfield Heights Redevelopment Project, to install a $200,000 solar energy system at the Club House. “This is exciting for me because Keith and I went to school together,” Underwood said.
Services provided by Underwood Solar Future include electrical energy evaluation and solar review as well as solar system design and panel installation. “As a way to assist clients audit their electrical usage and to identify opportunities for reducing consumption and saving money, occurs at the onset of all projects,” Underwood explained. He also pointed out that the evaluation reviews electrical equipment, all electrical lighting, ballasts in fixtures, automatic light switches, sensors, equipment load, electric utility usage and peak demand.
He said the solar system design and panel installation consisting of custom design is based on geographic location—if the roof is facing south or rooftop orientation, and sunshine access due to neighboring structures or landscape components. Experienced North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners and qualified trained installers head all customer installations that meet needs and budget.
Solar, meaning sun, is based on energy derived from light. He defines solar panels as absorbing light and converting it into direct current power (DC). The power inverter changes it from direct current to alternating current (AC). The alternating current is then routed to the grid for storage. Electricity is drawn down from the grid into the house or business as it is needed.
Weighing the benefits of utilizing solar energy, Underwood said solar is cost efficient and a clean source of energy. He points out that in 2011 Pennsylvania’s electrical cost is predicted to rise as high as 63 percent due to the rising cost of coal because of the removal of the Public Utility Commissions energy cap. He says by installing solar power, operational energy costs; the costs for electricity, whether used for lighting, heating or powering a computer are down. “That’s because you will no longer need to buy all of your electricity from the nearest electrical utility company; instead your solar system will generate electricity onsite at your building,” he said.
He added that numerous new and ever- changing financial resources are being introduced as incentives, tax breaks or low-interest loans to assist with renewable energy choices, such as solar power.
The government provides incentives for using solar energy. The federal government provides up to a 30 percent tax credit, the state of Pennsylvania provides an additional rebate up to 35 percent and the Renewable Energy Credit pays additional incentives paying cash up to two and a half times the amount of one’s electric bill.
For environmental reasons, Underwood points out that the way that we currently burn coal to generate electricity produces high emissions of carbon dioxide, a pollutant to air, aggravator to asthma sufferers and an ozone-depleting “greenhouse gas” that significantly contributes to climate change.
A strong believer of research and education, Underwood credits his interest in electronics at an early age as a reason he is an entrepreneur. A graduate of Allegheny High School on the North Side, he attended the University of Maryland while in the Marine Corps. He gained managerial experience from working as a corporate manager for five years at McDonald’s. In 1997 he started Underwood Contracting, a general contracting business and in 1999 joined the Air National Guard where he still serves. He attended the Pittsburgh Fire Academy for three months and has been a city of Pittsburgh Firefighter since 2001.
Researching the solar panel industry for almost two years, Underwood Solar Future LLC is a registered minority-owned business in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the firm is fully bonded and insured.
Excited about the future of the business, Underwood said his staff of six is eager to provide energy saving possibilities and knowledge to the public. Currently housed in Pittsburgh, they are preparing to expand the business to Charlotte, N.C., Jacksonville, N.C., and Chicago. “My goal is to train people in the solar business and to employ people in the cities I’m looking to expand.” Within the next couple years he says he plans to manufacture the panels he now installs. “My dream is to become a nation wide solar company. I aim to be in the solar business what Comcast is to the cable business today.”
(For information on solar systems or for employment opportunities, call 412-235-7779.)