Solar panel on an industrial rooftopSolar power continues along its firmly established downward cost curve and edges ever closer to achieving the historic milestone of grid parity. Today it just got a huge boost that will help it scale out in this country and will go a long way towards tipping the long term balance in favor of solar. In fact as the industry achieves scale it is cutting per unit costs down. This post outlines the announcement of a large DOE initiative to promote rooftop direct grid connected solar power in the US.

by Chris de Morsella, Green Economy Post Chris is the co-editor of The Green Executive Recruiter Directory. Follow Chris on Twitter @greeneconpost

Perhaps it was just a coincidence, but on the very beginning of summer U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu today announced the offer of a conditional commitment to provide a partial guarantee for a $1.4 billion loan to support Project Amp, which aims to install solar panels on industrial buildings across the US and feed the electricity generated directly into the nation’s power grid. Usually rooftop solar has powered the buildings where they are installed, with surplus power being fed onto the grid — in grid connected systems — or typically charging deep cycle batteries in off grid systems.

Supported by funding from the Recovery Act, the solar generation project includes the installation of approximately 733 megawatts (MW) of photovoltaic (PV) solar panels, which is nearly equal to the total amount of PV installed in the U.S. in 2010. The project sponsor estimates Project Amp will create at least one thousand jobs over a four year period, which is an additional benefit to added capacity of renewable solar energy that will continue to pay dividends for decades and help increase the energy security of our country. Because of the strong US domestic sourcing requirements attached to these loans the US solar photovoltaic sector will receive a large boost that will help it maintain its global competitive position in the global economy.

“This unprecedented solar project will not only produce clean, renewable energy to power the grid in states across the country, but it will help us meet the SunShot goal of achieving cost competitive solar power with other forms of energy by the end of the decade,” said Secretary Chu. “In addition, Project Amp will create at least a thousand jobs across the U.S. and increase our global competitiveness in the clean energy race.” [See: DOE SunShot Initiative Aims for Cost Competitive Solar Energy by 2020].

Project Amp will enable a wide distribution of solar power over approximately 750 existing rooftops owned and managed by Prologis. Prologis is the leading global provider of industrial real estate, Its renewable energy division creates additional value from the company’s existing assets through the deployment of renewable energy installations.

NRG Energy is the lead investor for the first phase of the project, which includes a 15.4 MW installation in southern California. Phase 1 will utilize at least 90% U.S. sourced components. The power from Phase 1 will be sold to Southern California Edison. Additional installations will be built in up to 28 states and the District of Columbia.

NRG Energy is a Fortune 250 wholesale power generation company headquartered in Princeton, New Jersey. We own and operate one of the industry’s most diverse generation portfolios (including nuclear, wind and solar power) that provides nearly 26,000 megawatts of electric generating capacity, or enough to support nearly 21 million homes.

Project Amp is expected to produce up to one million megawatt hours annually, enough to power over 88,000 homes. At this level, the project is also expected to avoid approximately 580,000 tons of carbon pollution annually. Project Amp’s application was submitted by the lender-applicant, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, under the Financial Institution Partnership Program (FIPP).

See our related post: “Which Is Cheaper? Nuclear or Solar” to read more about how nuclear energy and other traditional energy supplies like fossil fuels cost are and will continue to rise and not likely ever go back down. Meanwhile, renewable energy has achieved a “downward cost curve” over the last decade, and they are likely to continue to fall in price.

© 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.

  • Leslie Billera

    Vegetated ‘green’ roofs keep rooftop temps ambient by cooling the air around the solar panels, allowing the panels to improve efficiency by approximately 25%. Combining green roofs and solar panels provide a one-two power punch of environmental goodness for the environment. We look forward to when the federal government gets behind green roofs (and the green roof/solar combo) the way they have for solar! Exciting stuff! Thanks for the update!

    • Chris de Morsella

      That is an an excellent suggestion. Green roofs also provide the important benefit of absorbing storm water and slowly releasing cleansed and filtered water as well as retaining much of it; as opposed to un-vegetated roofs that will typically shed all of that sudden storm surge into the over-taxed storm runoff systems. In the case of many roofing materials that use toxic materials such as tar — this runoff is also polluted.

      Besides green roofs are so cool — and not just thermally cool… they are beautiful.

    • Jerry Toman

      See wind-sun(dot)com for discussions on panel cooling. From reading these forums, one could conclude that only a ~10% improvement could be obtained from cooling, at best…and then there is all that maintenance costs associated with vegetated roofs, including supplying the water.

      The “rule of thumb” is said to be 6″ of room between panel and roof to avoid overheating and efficiency loss.

  • Don Madden

    The move to smaller scale solar is a huge step in contributing to “independence” from the grid. Local energy production and storage will enable homes and buildings to be more self reliant and less dependent on utility energy. The cost savings in reduction of grid expansion will be a positive for the economy.

    • Chris de Morsella

      Don – you bring up an important point that favors distributed energy production. By producing energy close to where it is consumed the already stretched to the limit grid is not further burdened with the need to move power over it’s limited capacity.To the extent that power is produced locally the grid no longer needs to transmit that power through its bottlenecked systems.