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DOE to invest $50M to advance domestic solar manufacturing market

The US Department of Energy (DOE) will invest $50 million over two years for the SUNPATH (Scaling Up Nascent PV At Home) program, aimed to help the US reclaim its competitive edge in solar manufacturing. SUNPATH represents the second solar Photovoltaic Manufacturing Initiative (PVMI) supporting the Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative.

As recently as 1995, the United States maintained a dominant global solar market share, manufacturing 43% of the world’s PV panels. In steady decline, US market share shrank to 27% by 2000 and to 7% by 2010. SUNPATH is intended to help return the United States to the forefront.

PVMI Part II: SUNPATH seeks to increase domestic manufacturing through investments that have sustainable, competitive cost and performance advantages. SUNPATH will help companies with pilot-scale commercial production scale up their manufacturing capabilities, enabling them to overcome a funding gap that often curtails domestic business at a critical stage. By bridging this gap, SUNPATH intends to help ensure that innovative, low-cost solar technologies are manufactured in the United States.

The PV Manufacturing Initiative accelerates the cost reduction and commercialization of solar technologies by coordinating solutions across industry.

PVMI Part I: Advanced Manufacturing Partnerships has resulted in the selection of $110 million in projects to three industry and academic consortia to enable substantial cost reductions in PV module production. To ensure that these technologies are manufactured domestically, PVMI Part II: SUNPATH will support an initial ramp up to high volume manufacturing.

DOE’s national laboratories are stepping up their validation facilities to ensure that the technologies developed and manufactured in Parts I and II are tested at scale in multiple locations and climates in the United States.

The Department of Energy 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 28 October 2011. More information and application requirements can be found at the Funding Opportunity Exchange (FOA number DE-FOA-0000566).



Serious money finally. Some of that 2-4 billion that encourages oil companies to drill would make a nice war chest for the renewable sector.


And companies which went to China for cheap labor, like Evergreen Solar, might come back.

Automation is key to this, and robots do not work cheaper in 3rd-world countries. Foxconn is set to replace thousands of workers in its Chinese plants with robots. If e.g. Evergreen Solar can automate its cell and panel production with robots to cut, place and connect cells, the factory might as well be close to its customers to minimize shipping costs and exchange-rate risk.


Positive news obviously,
But $50M is still only 16 cents per person in US.
If the west would invest the price of 1 glass of beer per person to catapult the solar expansion, this $2B would make a very real difference.
1pint !


Relying on robots to re-capture the manufacturing market may not work. As E-P so incorrectly stated, Foxconn China will have 100,000 low cost robots installed in their factories by 2015.

We will have a hard time to catch up because:

1. Our robot cost up to 3 times more.
2. Our robots installation cost up to 3 times more.
3. Our robots surveillance and maintenance cost up to 3 times more.

The only way may be to import installed and operated 1,000,000+ Chinese robots.

Since the many more million unemployed created would cost us a fortune we no longer have, we would be back to square one.

If we cannot beat them we may have to join them @ $1/hour. We were there not so long ago.

Roger Pham

In some tasks, human labor is cheaper than robot, while in other tasks, robot is cheaper than human. There will be a need for a combination of human and robot.

But the trend is that computer and robot will take away more and more tasks previously done by human. Yet, the economy cannot grow infinitely in order to provide jobs, due to resource and environmental constraints. The time will come when society will need to consider laws to mandate shorter work week, for example, 3-to 4-day work week, (24-32-hour work week) in order for all qualified workers to be gainfully employed. Right now, full time is 40 hours/week, and anyone employed over 40 hours/week will have to be paid overtime pay. France has been at the forefront of this thinking, with shorter workweek all along.

Countries that have a low-cost manufacturing advantage due to them abusing the environment (eg. coal-fired electricity would be one) or abusing their workers,should have appropriate tariffs set on their products in order to level the playing field.

We cannot join them at $1/hour wage because that would be abusing our workers, nor should we abuse our local environment by allowing companies to dump all the toxic wastes in the air, the rivers or the ocean.

What goes around will come around to haunt us. The world is getting smaller and smaller these days! We now feel the searing summer heat partly from the CO2 released from the rapid proliferation of the coal-burning power plants in fast-developing economies around the world. Likewise, the mercury level in the ocean is getting higher and higher and more and more toxic.

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