Energy Department Launches SunShot Initiative for Solar Power

The U.S. Department of Energy announced an initiative that aims to reduce the total costs of photovoltaic solar energy systems by about 75% over the next decade. 

If successful, the so-called SunShot initiative would help make large scale solar cost-competitive with other forms of energy–without subsidies–by 2020.

The cost-competitive mark for utility-scale installations is considered to be roughly $1 a watt, which corresponds to roughly 6 cents per kilowatt-hour.

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 aims to aggressively drive innovations in the ways that solar systems are conceived, designed, manufactured and installed.

"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 Energy Secretary Steven Chu.

In addition to investing in improvements in cell technologies and manufacturing, the SunShot initiative will also focus on steps to streamline and digitize local permitting processes that will reduce installation and permitting costs, DOE said. See our story on how permitting costs add $2500 to solar systems.

To achieve the SunShot goal, DOE says it will work closely with partners in government, industry, research laboratories and academic institutions across the country. 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:

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

As part of the launch of the SunShot initiative, DOE also announced $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.

  • 1366 Technologies ($3 million, Lexington, Massachusetts): The goal of this project is to further develop a new, manufacturing process that dramatically reduces the cost of producing silicon wafers for use in silicon PV modules. The Direct Wafer process delivers significant improvements in manufacturing efficiency since it does not require sawing individual wafers from blocks of silicon.
  • 3M (NYSE: MMM)($4.4 million, St. Paul, Minnesota): The goal of this project is to develop and commercialize a flexible, highly transparent Ultra Barrier Topsheet that will enable successful commercialization of flexible photovoltaic modules.
  • PPG ($3.1 million, Cheswick, Pennsylvania): The goal of this project is to develop the materials, coating designs, and manufacturing processes necessary to commercialize a new glass article for the Cadmium Telluride (CdTe) module manufacturing industry.
  • Varian Semiconductor (Nasdaq: VSEA) ($4.8 million, Gloucester, Massachusetts): The goal of this project is to reduce the cost of manufacturing interdigitated back contact cells, the most efficient silicon solar cells on the market.
  • Veeco (Nasdaq: VECO) ($4.8 million, Lowell, Massachusetts): The goal of this project is to accelerate the research and development, integration and commercialization of an innovative thin film CIGS (Copper, Indium, Gallium, Diselenide) PV multi-stage thermal deposition production system in order to manufacture cost-efficient CIGS PV solar cells.

It also includes $7 million in the latest round of funding for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s PV Incubator program.

  • Caelux (Pasadena, California): Caelux is developing a flexible solar cell manufacturing process and design that minimizes the amount of semiconducting material used. This has the potential to significantly improve device efficiency while dramatically reducing production costs.
  • Solexant (San Jose, California): Solexant is developing a new thin film material from substances that are non-toxic and not rare. These devices will be constructed with a nanoparticle ink that can be printed and will result in commercially viable efficiencies using scalable, low cost processes.
  • Stion (San Jose, California): Stion is developing a thin film technology that will allow two high-efficiency thin film solar devices to be stacked, allowing for much better absorption of light and power generation. The device is constructed in a way that significantly reduces cost, simplifies manufacturing and reduces materials utilization over traditional designs.
  • Crystal Solar (Santa Clara, California): Crystal Solar is developing a new technology for the fabrication, handling, processing, and packaging of very thin single crystal silicon wafers (four times thinner than standard cells). This solution uses much less silicon, eliminates many of the wasteful and expensive wafer processing steps and addresses the problem of handling very thin wafers.

Learn more about the SunShot initiative:

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