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DOE awards $56M to 21 concentrating solar power projects; $8M for reducing soft costs of rooftop PV systems

The US Department of Energy (DOE) will award $56 million over three years—subject to congressional appropriations—for 21 total projects to further advance advanced concentrating solar power technologies (CSP). The research projects, conducted in partnership with private industry, national laboratories and universities, support the Energy Department’s SunShot Initiative, a collaborative national effort to make solar power cost-competitive with traditional energy sources by the end of the decade.

DOE also announced the “America’s Most Affordable Rooftop Solar” competition to aggressively drive down the cost of rooftop solar energy system as well as $8 million in awards to nine small businesses to lower the cost of financing, permitting, and other “soft costs,” which can amount to nearly half the cost of residential solar systems.

CSP awards. These awards are to help speed innovations in new components to lower costs, increase operating temperatures and improve the efficiency of CSP systems. The 3-year applied research projects will focus on achieving significant improvements in CSP performance, while driving progress toward the SunShot goal of 75% cost reduction.

CSP technologies use mirrors to reflect and concentrate sunlight to produce heat, which is then used to produce electricity. CSP systems are distinguished from other solar energy technologies by their ability to store energy as heat so that consumer demand can be met even when the sun is not shining, including during the night. These systems can be combined with existing fossil-fuel plants to allow for flexible power generation.

The projects will develop innovative concepts for potential performance breakthroughs and demonstrate new approaches in the design of collectors, receivers, and power cycle equipment used in CSP systems.

Each of these subsystems is critical to CSP operation: the collectors collect and concentrate the Sun’s energy onto the receiver; the receiver accepts and transfers the heat energy to the power cycle; and the power cycle converts the heat energy into electricity. Developing low-cost collectors, high-temperature receivers, and high-efficiency power cycles are critical to subsequent power system integration, engineering scale-up, and commercial production for clean electricity generation.

As part of a planned three-year initiative, Congress has appropriated an initial $16.3 million in fiscal year 2011. The Energy Department plans to make additional requests totaling $39.7 million to Congress in FY13 and FY14 to support these innovative CSP projects.

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Competition. “America’s Most Affordable Rooftop Solar competition” offers a total of $10 million in prize money to the first three US teams that can install 5,000 rooftop solar PV systems at an average price of $2 per watt. By setting an ambitious target, the competition aims to spur creative public-private partnerships, original business models, and innovative approaches to make solar energy affordable.



Which world is DOE living in? Solar energy has already reached grid parity and is some instances even cheaper.

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