SunShot Initiative on its way to investing $457 million to cut costs of solar

SunShot Initiative on its way to investing $457 million to cut costs of solarThe Department of Energy’s (DOE) SunShot Initiative will invest $457 million into solar technologies in a bid to reduce the cost of solar to $1 per watt over the next ten years.

Most recently, DOE announced up to $112.5 million in grants over the next five years to support development of advanced solar photovoltaic manufacturing processes throughout the United States. The money will go to industry- and university-focused development.

This is the second round of funding being made through the SunShot Initiative. In February, DOE announced $20 million in funding to support photovoltaic projects underway at 1366 Technologies, 3M, PPG, Varian Semiconductor and Veeco, and $7 million to support the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) as part of its Photovoltaic Incubator program.

“The whole proposed budget, $457 million, is going through the congressional appropriation process,” said Ramamoorthy Ramesh, program manager for the SunShot Initiative and Solar Energy Technologies Program. This and the February announcements are just the first two that the money has been made available for. “The way it works is it’s made up of different funding opportunities,” he said.

Under this round of funding, SunShot made three awards. The Bay Area PV Consortium, managed by Stanford University and the University of California, will receive $25 million to develop and test new materials, device structures, and fabrication processes in an attempt to achieve cost-effective PV modules in high volume production.

SVTC Technologies in San Jose, Calif., will receive $25 million to create a fee-for-service PV Manufacturing Development Facility (MDF). The facility will help startups, materials suppliers, and other solar innovators to eliminate upfront capital and operating costs during product development and pilot production, according to DOE.

The U.S. Photovoltaic Manufacturing Consortium, a partnership of SEMATECH, the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering (CNSE) at the State University of New York at Albany, and the University of Southern Florida, won a total of $62.5 million. They will use the funding in an attempt to reduce the costs of copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) thin film photovoltaics.

“We think we can accelerate that goal and achieve it in the 5- to 10-year time period.” said CNSE Vice President for Clean Energy Programs Pradeep Haldar.

“The premise is, what the secretary called hubs. After 5 years of government funding, they’re to become independent,” Ramesh said. “This is more focused on developing the expertise on manufacturing to become more competitive.”

So far, the rounds of SunShot funding have focused on manufacturing, which makes up about half of the installed costs of solar. The other half is the balance of system costs, according to Ramesh.

“It’s something we are sweating a lot on,” he said. “We have a complete effort to speed up permitting processes.”

Somewhat echoing concerns from solar investors earlier this week, Ramesh said the U.S. is suffering from lack of a cohesive permitting process.

“Because we don’t have a streamlined process, we don’t do it as well as we can,” he said.

Just the permitting costs for a home photovoltaic system can cost as much as $2,500 because a proposed system has to be inspected by numerous people, like fire, electric and roofing inspectors.

“It can be done a lot more efficiently. If you bring [those] costs down, the penetration will become much bigger,” he said.

To address those expenses, the DOE is holding a competition to speed up the process, according to Ramesh.

The DOE is asking cities and municipalities to submit their permitting process and time to completion to see which is the fastest.

“The winner will get a big prize. In the process of doing it, we will get a whole lot of information,” Ramesh said.

The DOE will use the information to help develop a national unified process.

“That is the biggest focus of one of the teams within the program,” he said.

Pictured: A prototype inverted metamorphic multi-junction PV cell, courtesy of DOE.