Department of Energy awards $27m to cut solar costs

3 hours ago
 
 The Department of Energy is awarding $27 million in projects to support the development, commercialization, and manufacturing of advanced solar energy technologies.

The award is part of the Department’s “SunShot” initiative to reduce the total costs of photovoltaic solar energy systems by about 75 percent so that they are cost competitive at large scale with other forms of energy without subsidies before the end of the decade.

By reducing the cost for utility scale installations by about 75 percent to roughly $1 a watt – which would correspond to roughly 6 cents per kilowatt-hour – solar energy systems could be broadly deployed across the country.

This will increase American economic competitiveness and help the U.S. regain leadership in the global market for solar photovoltaics.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu said on Friday: “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.

“These efforts will boost our economic competitiveness, rebuild our manufacturing industry and help reach the President’s goal of doubling our clean energy in the next 25 years.”

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

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.

To achieve the SunShot goal of reducing the total installed cost of large scale solar electricity by about 75 percent, DOE will be working 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:

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

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

This includes support for companies across the solar energy supply chain, including U.S. material and tool suppliers and companies that are developing technologies that can be adopted directly into current manufacturing processes.

NREL

Additionally, DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory is investing $7 million to fund the latest round of the successful PV Incubator program, which helps to shorten the commercialization timeline for promising emerging solar technologies.

The companies work closely with DOE national laboratories to scale their technologies and manufacturing processes and move the products from pre-commercial and prototype stage to pilot and full-scale manufacturing operations.

The PV Technology Incubator program has the primary goal of advancing the timeline and commercial potential of new manufacturing processes and products with the potential for dramatic price improvements.

“The startup companies awarded under the Incubator program will truly benefit the manufacturing processes and products in the United States through rapid commercialization of these innovative technologies,” NREL Incubator Manager Martha Symko-Davies said.

This is the fourth installment of the successful PV Incubator program where companies benefit from close partnership with the national laboratories.

Previous awardees including Calisolar and Abound Solar successfully developed new PV technologies with DOE support and are now rapidly scaling their domestic manufacturing operations while creating jobs in their communities. Calisolar currently has about 190 employees in California and 75 MW of capacity with plans to expand to 220 MW. Abound currently has about 350 employees in Colorado and 65 MW of manufacturing capacity with plans to expand to 775 MW with a recently announced $400 million federal loan guarantee.

Projects

In this current round, companies were selected in one of two categories: Tier 1, representing the development of commercially viable prototypes, receiving up to $1 million over 12 months; and Tier 2, representing the development and manufacturing scale-up of pilot-scale processes receiving up to $4 million over 18 months. Funding will be issued through the DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

The Tier 1 projects, subject to negotiation:

Caelux, Pasadena, Calif., is developing a novel flexible solar cell manufacturing process and design, which will dramatically reduce production costs by minimizing the amount of semiconductor material used while also having vast potential to surpass standard device efficiency.

Solexant, San Jose, Calif., is developing a new thin film material comprised entirely of materials that are non-toxic and abundant on the Earth, including copper, zinc, tin, selenide, and/or sulfer (CZTS). These devices will be constructed with a non-particle ink that can be printed and will result in commercially viable efficiencies using scalable, low-cost processes.

Stion, San Jose, Calif., 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 creation of power. The devices are constructed in a way that significantly reduces cost, simplifies manufacturing and reduces material utilization over traditional designs.

The Tier 2 project, subject to negotiation:

Crystal Solar, Santa Clara, Calif., 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, eliminating many of the wasteful and expensive wafer-processing steps and addressing the problem of handling very thin wafers.

NREL is the Department of Energy’s primary national laboratory

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