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article imageSolar industry meets Energy Department goals — Three years early

By Karen Graham     Sep 13, 2017 in Technology
Washington - The solar industry got a huge boost on Tuesday when the US Department of Energy announced the 2020 utility-scale solar cost target set by the SunShot Initiative has been met, three years early.
Largely due to rapid cost declines in solar photovoltaic (PV) hardware, the average price of utility-scale solar is now under $1 per watt and $0.06 per kilowatt-hour (kWh). The DOE also said prices for residential and commercial systems were 86 percent and 89 percent, respectively, toward achieving their price goals.
Green Tech Media is reporting that Becca Jones-Albertus, the acting deputy director of the SunShot Initiative, says, “Our mission is to make solar affordable for all Americans, and so our goals are defined for average U.S. climates. We use Kansas City as that example. Hitting a six cents per kilowatt-hour target for Kansas is a more significant metric than hitting six cents in sunnier parts of the country.”
File photo: The 150 MW Andasol solar power station is a commercial parabolic trough solar thermal po...
File photo: The 150 MW Andasol solar power station is a commercial parabolic trough solar thermal power plant, located in Spain. The Andasol plant uses tanks of molten salt to store solar energy so that it can continue generating electricity even when the sun isn't shining.
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Given the success of the SunShot's 2020 goals being met, the Energy Department is looking to the future with an expanded 2030 vision for the Solar Energy Technologies Office. While continuing to work on driving down costs, new funding programs will focus on a broader scope of Administration priorities, which includes early-stage research to address solar energy’s critical challenges of grid reliability, resilience, and storage.
Daniel Simmons, the Acting Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy said, “With the impressive decline in solar prices, it is time to address additional emerging challenges. As we look to the future, DOE will focus new solar R&D on the Secretary’s priorities, which include strengthening the reliability and resilience of the electric grid while integrating solar energy.”
Photovoltaic solar panels on the roof of a house near Boston Massachusetts.
Photovoltaic solar panels on the roof of a house near Boston Massachusetts.
Gray Watson (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Drivers behind success of solar industry
Technological innovation has always been the primary driver behind the cost declines being seen in all aspects of the renewable energy sector, and especially in the solar industry. Solar has become more efficient, in part due to improvements in material quality and innovative cell and module designs.
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And we must mention the development of diamond wafer sawing, which dramatically reduces material loss in the making of silicon wafers. And research is continuing, including developing an ultra-stable perovskite solar cell, to spray-on solar roofs for houses. In turn, research and development have led to a number of start-up companies specializing in solar, adding jobs to the economy.
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File photo: Solar PV panel and system installation.
File photo: Solar PV panel and system installation.
And while there have been great reductions in costs due to improved technology and innovative solutions, according to a report from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory released on Tuesday, stubborn “soft” costs like labor, permitting, interconnection, customer acquisition, financing, and grid integration, remain challenges.
In its annual report, Solar Jobs Census 2016, reported: "Solar employs slightly more workers than natural gas, over twice as many as coal, over three times that of wind energy, and almost five times the number employed in nuclear energy. Only oil/petroleum has more employment (by 38 percent) than solar."
What is the DOE's SunShot Initiative?
The SunShot Initiative, begun in 2011, is a collaboration of private companies, universities, state and local governments, and nonprofits, as well as national laboratories. The goal of the initiative has always been to support solar energy adoption in order to make solar energy affordable for all Americans. It is run by the DOE's Solar Energy Technologies Office.
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Surprisingly, this is one Obama-era program that has not been given the axe and can only be attributed to its overwhelming success. The initial goal was to make solar energy competitive with traditional forms of electricity by 2020. However, by 2016, the program achieved 90 percent of the progress towards the 2020 goal.
Shedd’s 265-kilowatt solar panel project is a highlight in itself—it is the largest installation...
Shedd’s 265-kilowatt solar panel project is a highlight in itself—it is the largest installation at any cultural institution in Illinois—but it’s only the first step of Shedd’s plan to cut energy usage in half by 2020.
Shedd Aquarium
DOE announces $82 million in early-stage research in two areas
To further the DOE's priorities in R&D, the agency announced up to $82 million in early-stage research in concentrating solar power ($62 million) and power electronics ($20 million) would be made available. These awards are not grants but will require awardees to contribute 20 percent of the funds to their overall project budget.
This means there will be substantial federal oversight and will consist of go/no-go technical milestones that ensure attentive stewardship of projects. Innovations powering electronics technology "are fundamental to solar PV as the critical link between PV arrays and the electric grid," according to the DOE.
The damages to the electrical grid caused by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma has clearly shown the need for greater research and development of technologies that will allow grid operators to rapidly detect and respond to problems on the grid, protect against physical and cyber vulnerabilities, and enable consumers to manage their electricity use.
More about solar industry, energy department, sunshot initiative, R&d, Obamaera goals
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