SUNPATH Gives US Solar Manufacturing a Lift

Young solar companies that need to scale up their manufacturing will get help from a new Department of Energy (DOE) program, SUNPATH.

Through SUNPATH, DOE is making a two-year, $50 million investment to boost US solar manufacturing.

SUNPATH, which stands for Scaling Up Nascent PV At Home, is intended to help companies that have pilot-scale commercial production scale up their manufacturing capabilities, enabling them to overcome a funding gap, called the "Valley of Death." 

Companies often find it impossible to get private financing to build manufacturing capacity – helping then get through this phase can mean life or death to a young firm.

By bridging the Valley of Death, DOE hopes to bring innovative, low-cost solar manufacturing to fruition in the US.

This is the second program DOE has created to support the US domestic solar manufacturing industry through its SunShot initiative, which aims to reduce the costs of solar PV by 75% over the next decade. It’s goal is to make large scale solar cost-competitive with other forms of energy–without subsidies–by 2020. 

Under the first program, SunShot Advanced Manufacturing Partnerships, DOE is investing $112.5 million over five years to support advanced solar PV manufacturing processes. The aim to overcome technical barriers and reduce costs for PV installations.

As recently as 1995, the US had a dominant share in the global solar market, manufacturing 43% of the world’s PV panels. Since then, it’s been steadily declining – shrinking to 27% in 2000 and to 7% in 2010.

DOE says SUNPATH will help return the US to the forefront, driving innovation and assuring a leadership position in the growing clean energy economy.

"This investment provides a necessary boost to domestic solar manufacturing businesses, encouraging them to keep jobs here and establish America’s leadership in the world’s growing clean energy economy," says Energy Secretary Steven Chu. "In addition to invigorating clean energy manufacturing, this program will help achieve the SunShot goal of making unsubsidized utility-scale solar cost-competitive with other forms of energy by the end of the decade."

Thus far, the Advanced Manufacturing Partnerships program has awarded $110 million in projects to three industry and academic consortia that are developing ways to achieve  substantial cost reductions in PV module production.

To ensure these technologies are manufactured domestically, SUNPATH then steps in to support their initial ramp up to high volume manufacturing.

DOE’s national labs will make sure the new technologies are tested at scale in multiple locations and climates in the US.

Read our Feature story on the SunShot initiative and how award recepients are bringing down the cost of solar PV.

North Carolina Start-up Benefits from DOE funding:

On July 19, North Carolina start-up Semprius announced it would build a new high-tech manufacturing plant, which will create over 250 solar jobs over the next five years. Because of DOE support, Siemens took a 16% stake in Semprius for $20 million.

The plant will be located in Henderson, a county where unemployment rate reached 13.3% in May. 

Semprius is pioneering the design and fabrication of high concentration photovoltaic (HCPV) solar modules.

The company’s story is an example for how federally funded research and development sparks job-creation for Americans in a global growth industry.

DOE Seeks Applicants

DOE is seeking applicants with industrial-scale demonstrations of PV modules, cells, or substrates that offer lower-cost solutions in line with the SunShot goal. Applications are due by October 28, 2011.

More information and application requirements can be found at the Funding Opportunity Exchange (FOA number DE-FOA-0000566):

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