The DOE’s “SunShot” initiative which is modeled after the highly successful Apollo moon shot program aims to spur innovations and rationalizations that will together slash the total system cost of solar photovoltaic systems by three quarters within this decade. If it manages to achieve these goals then solar PV would become cost competitive with other forms of energy and the US could regain the position of world leader in solar power that it once enjoyed.

by Chris de Morsella, Green Economy Post Follow Chris on Twitter @greeneconpost

The Department of Energy’s (DOE) “SunShot” initiative aims to reduce the total costs of photovoltaic solar energy systems by about 75% at which point they will be cost competitive with other forms of energy without the need of public subsidies or tax rebates. By reducing the total system cost for utility scale installations from current levels by about three fourths to roughly $1 per watt of installed capacity solar energy systems would achieve grid parity. Grid parity is the price point at which solar electricity could be put up onto the grid at or under the average cost of electricity on the grid.

The photovoltaic sector is critical for the future economic well being of our country and the SunShot initiative is trying to help drive overall system costs down in this renewable energy sector to increase American economic competitiveness and help the United States regain leadership in the global market for solar photovoltaics that it has recently lost to other nations notable China, Spain and Germany. As part of the SunShot initiative, Secretary Chu announced that the Department of Energy is awarding $27 million in projects to support the development, commercialization, and manufacturing of advanced solar energy technologies.

“America is in a world race to produce cost-effective, quality photovoltaics. The SunShot initiative will spur American innovations to reduce the costs of solar energy and re-establish U.S. global leadership in this growing industry,” said Secretary Chu. “These efforts will boost our economic competitiveness, rebuild our manufacturing industry and help reach the President’s goal of doubling our clean energy in the next 25 years.”

The SunShot program builds on the legacy of President Kennedy’s 1960s “moon shot” goal, which laid out a plan to regain the country’s lead in the space race and land a man on the moon. The program will aggressively drive innovations in the ways that solar systems are conceived, designed, manufactured and installed.

Will this type of top down big government R&D effort pay off? Only time will tell of course, but the government certainly has a role to play in helping to drive innovation in this area and government programs — like the Moon Shot after which this initiative is modeled and from which it takes its inspiration — have in the past really helped to kick start what have become huge industries that have put America in a leading position in the world.

One area that the government could take a lead on is to help rationalize and simplify the building codes for solar installation and permitting, which are currently mostly ad hoc and often require navigating through what can only be described as a Byzantine process that adds thousands of dollars to the average residential solar rooftop installation for example. With this goal in mind and recognizing the importance and relative ease with which very significant savings could be achieved in the total system cost by improving the permitting process, the SunShot initiative will also focus on steps to streamline and digitize local permitting processes to reduce installation and permitting costs. To achieve the SunShot goal of reducing the total installed cost of large scale solar electricity by about 75%, DOE will be working closely with partners in government, industry, research laboratories, and academic institutions across the country.

If you would like to read more about the importance of finding ways to streamline and rationalize the permitting process for solar see our recent article on this subject: Solar Price Parity Achievable by Streamlining Cost of Permitting

SunShot’s Four Areas of Focus

SunShot will work to bring down the full cost of solar—including the costs of the solar cells and installation—by focusing on four main pillars:

• Technologies for solar cells and arrays that convert sunlight to energy
• Electronics that optimize the performance of the installation
• Improvements in the efficiency of solar manufacturing processes
• Installation, design and permitting for solar energy systems.

For more information and to follow the initiative’s progress, visit the SunShot Initiative website.

As part of the launch of the SunShot initiative, DOE is also announcing $27 million in awards to nine new projects. This funding includes support for five projects that are receiving $20 million to further develop U.S. supply chains for PV manufacturing. This includes support for companies across the solar energy supply chain, including U.S. material and tool suppliers and companies that are developing technologies that can be adopted directly into current manufacturing processes. More information and a list of awardees is available.

Additionally, DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory is investing $7 million to fund the latest round of the successful PV Incubator program, which helps to shorten the commercialization timeline for promising emerging solar technologies. The companies work closely with DOE national laboratories to scale their technologies and manufacturing processes and move the products from pre-commercial and prototype stage to pilot and full-scale manufacturing operations. More information and a list of awardees is available.

The SunShot initiative builds on the Department’s significant research and development (R&D) efforts in solar energy over the past decade, conducted in partnership with American universities, national laboratories, and the private sector. In the last ten years, DOE has invested more than $1 billion in solar energy research that has been leveraged with significant private industry funding to support more than $2 billion in total solar R&D projects. This includes investments by DOE’s Office of Science, Solar Energy Technologies Program, and ARPA-E, the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy. Innovations in both science and technology have driven the cost of solar down 60% since 1995, and have yielded a number of critical breakthroughs in solar PV performance and cost. A fact sheet detailing some of the Department’s past and current work in solar energy is available.

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© 2011, Chris de Morsella. All rights reserved. Do not republish.

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Author: Chris de Morsella (146 Articles)

After a decade performing as a lead guitarist for rock bands, Chris de Morsella decided to return to the career his uncle mentored him in as a youth....Software Engineering. Since that time he has thrown himself into his work. He has designed a compound document publishing architecture for regulatory submissions capable of handling very large multi-document FDA regulatory drug approval submissions, for Liquent, a division of Thompson Publishing. At the Associated Press, Chris worked with senior editors at facilities around the world, to develop a solution for replacing existing editorial systems with an integrated international content management solution. He lead the design effort at Microsoft for a help system for mobile devices designed to provide contextual help for users. Chris also helped to develop the web assisted installer for LifeCam2.0, the software for Microsoft’s web cam and developed late breaking features for the product He also served with the Rhapsody client team to redesign and build a major new release of Real Networks Rhapsody client product. His most recent assignment has been Working with the Outlook Mobile Time Management team for the next release of Outlook Mobile for the SmartPhone. Chris' interests are in green building and architecture, smart grid, the cloud, geo-thermal energy, solar energy, smart growth, organic farming and permaculture. Follow Chris on Twitter.

  • http://www.cleanenergyactionproject.com John Whitney AIA

    A great concept, as is the ARPA-E program. However, funding levels of $27 million for the SunShot R&D program and $151 million for ARPA-E in 2009 are ridiculous. If the SunShot program is serious it should be investing in the billion dollar range. $27 million is almost laughable.

  • http://greeneconomypost.com Chris de Morsella

    Yeah — I agree on that score. The level of funding is ridiculous especially considering how much more government support other energy sources manage to squeeze out from the public trough.