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Money for SunShot

The dollar-a-watt solar program is off and running. The Department of Energy is looking for innovative researchers to come forward with ways to start its SunShot program to dramatically lower the cost of solar photovoltaic (PV) energy.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu recently announced the Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative, the department has committed nearly $170 million in available funding over three years to support a range of solar photovoltaic (PV) technology research.  The SunShot Initiative aims to reduce the total cost of solar energy systems by about 75 percent – to roughly $1 per watt – before the end of the decade. 

The research and development funding will support four areas of investment, including improving the efficiency and performance of solar cells; developing new installation – or balance of systems – technologies; advancing solar energy grid integration; and researching new materials and processes for solar PV technologies. 

“These investments will drive innovation in the solar energy field – laying the groundwork to meet our SunShot goal of dramatically reducing the cost of solar energy nationwide and helping America to win the race to produce the most cost-effective, high-quality photovoltaics in the world,” said Secretary Chu.  “A robust American solar industry will boost our technological leadership and competitiveness, improve the nation's energy security, create skilled manufacturing jobs, and help reach the President’s goal of doubling our clean energy in the next 25 years.”

The four funding opportunities are intended to improve the performance of current and next generation PV cells, develop advanced power electronics that optimize the performance of PV installations, and reduce the costs of PV balance-of-system hardware.  These include:

• Foundational Program to Advance Cell Efficiency (F-PACE):  In a collaborative funding effort with the National Science Foundation, $39 million is available for research and development in solar device physics and PV technology to improve PV cell performance and reduce the costs of modules for grid-scale commercial applications.

• PV Balance of Systems: $60 million in funding is available for research, development, and demonstration of balance of system components.  Projects may include new building-integrated photovoltaic products, new mounting and wiring technologies, and new building code language that can foster the use of innovative, low-cost hardware designs while maintaining safety and reliability.

• Solar Energy Grid Integration Systems (SEGIS)—Advanced Concepts: $40 million in funding is available to develop technologies that will help increase the integration of solar energy onto the electrical grid and facilitate interactions between solar energy systems and Smart Grid technologies. This could include projects focused on improved energy storage technologies and better system functionality.  SEGIS-Advanced Concepts will also support projects like high voltage systems that reduce the overall installed costs associated with balance of systems components costs for installations, and projects focused on technologies like micro-inverters that are capable of harvesting more energy from the sun.

• PV Next Generation: $30 million in funding is available for early-stage applied research to demonstrate and prove new concepts in materials, processes, and device designs for solar PV component development at the laboratory scale.

National Renewable Energy Laboratory head Dan Arvizu told me the Sunshot initiative is more than research and development. “It's how do you deploy, how do you reduce the cost in installation, power conditioning and all of the things that relate to deployment?" he said.

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