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DOE announces achievement of SunShot goal, new research focus; $82M in two new solar power opportunities

In conjunction with the annual Solar Power International conference, the US Department of Energy (DOE) released new research showing that the solar industry has achieved the 2020 utility-scale solar cost target set by the SunShot Initiative. Largely due to rapid cost declines in solar photovoltaic (PV) hardware, the average price of utility-scale solar is now approximately 6 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh).

While utility-scale solar costs have declined nearly 30%, residential- and commercial-scale solar system prices have lagged behind at 6% and 15% reductions, respectively, according to the report from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). The report shows that the levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) benchmarks without subsidies for the first quarter of 2017 fell to between 12.9 and 16.7 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) for residential systems; 9.2-12.0 cents a kWh for commercial systems; 5.0-6.6 cents a kWh for utility-scale fixed-tilt systems; and 4.4-6.1 cents a kWh for utility-scale one-axis tracking systems.

NREL PV system cost benchmark summary (inflation adjusted), 2010–2017. Click to enlarge.

The report estimates that the total installed system cost, which is one of the primary inputs used to compute LCOE, has declined to $2.80 per direct current watts (Wdc) for residential systems, $1.85 Wdc for commercial, $1.03 Wdc for fixed-tilt utility-scale systems, and $1.11 Wdc for one-axis tracking utility-scale systems.

According to the report, low module prices have been the primary driver of cost reductions for solar energy. The more stubborn “soft” costs like labor, permitting, interconnection, customer acquisition, financing, and grid integration, remain challenges.

Solar energy currently supplies about 1.5% of US electricity. With DOE’s help, the solar industry has drastically cut costs to enable technological innovation and market growth. In the last 10 years, the amount of solar power installed in the US has increased from 1.1 gigawatts (GW) in 2007 to an estimated 47.1 GW in 2017—enough to power the equivalent of 9.1 million average American homes.

Given this success, DOE is looking beyond SunShot’s 2020 goals with an expanded 2030 vision for the Solar Energy Technologies Office. Specifically, while DOE will continue research to drive 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. To further the new priorities for DOE’s Solar Energy Technologies Office, Acting Assistant Secretary Simmons announced up to $82 million in early-stage research in two areas:

Concentrating Solar Power (CSP): Up to $62 million will support advances in CSP technologies to enable on-demand solar energy through the Generation 3 Concentrating Solar Power Systems (Gen3CSP) FOA (DE-FOA-0001697). CSP technologies use mirrors to reflect and concentrate sunlight onto a focused point where it is collected and converted into heat. This thermal energy can be stored and used to produce electricity when the sun is not shining or integrated into other applications, such as producing fresh water or supplying process heat.

The Gen3CSP funding program will take successful, high-Ztemperature, lab-scale sub-component concentrating solar power technologies, develop them into integrated assemblies, and test these components and systems through a wide range of conditions. This includes the development of a test facility that allows diverse teams of researchers, laboratories, developers and manufacturers to remove key technological risks for the next generation CSP technology and enable the reduction of the levelized cost of energy (LCOE).

The Gen3CSP funding program will flow through two phases to de-risk various aspects of CSP technologies. Phase 1 addresses the gaps in technology pathways and retiring the most important risks through applied research and development. Phase 2 consists of building a test facility for the selected pathway where tests can be performed for future use in a large scale CSP plant development.

Awards will be separated into three topics, each of which will overlap the two phases:

  • Topic 1 awardees will perform overall integration and systems analysis, then finalize a design before down-selection to one single pathway. The down-selected awardee will construct a test facility and conduct research and risk retirement activities; and

  • Topic 2 awardees will design and build components for CSP systems and conduct cross-cutting, foundational testing to complement the Topic 1 pathways.

DOE expects to make approximately 12 awards under Gen3CSP, each ranging between $500,000 and $35 million for a total of $62 million. Topic 1 awardees will have a 20% cost share requirement. Prior to submitting a full application for this opportunity, a brief, mandatory concept paper is due on 27 October 2017.

Power Electronics: Up to $20 million is dedicated to early-stage projects to advance power electronics technologies. Such innovations are fundamental to solar PV as the critical link between PV arrays and the electric grid. Advances in power electronics will help grid operators rapidly detect problems and respond, protect against physical and cyber vulnerabilities, and enable consumers to manage electricity use.

The Advanced Power Electronics Designs for Solar Applications funding program (DE-FOA-0001740) will help the industry develop new technology to improve the devices that serve as the critical link between solar photovoltaic (PV) arrays and the electric grid.

Advanced smart inverters and other power electronics will allow utilities to collect data on photovoltaic (PV) systems and better support voltage and frequency regulation, enabling operators to pinpoint and regulate solar production levels. Given that all solar PV-generated electricity must flow through a power electronic device, this presents an opportunity to innovate and discover new applications that lower costs, offer enhanced services for improved lifetime value, and lower grid integration costs. Ultimately, these projects will improve the reliability and security of our national electric grid by improving the interface point between solar and the grid.

The FOA is divided into two topic areas:

  • Holistic solar PV inverter/converter designs that lower lifetime costs by lowering upfront costs, extending product life, improving efficiencies, and lowering manufacturing costs; and

  • Modular, multifunctional power electronics designs that enhance solar power electronics with new functionalities, including those that direct integration energy end use devices, provide online operations and maintenance services, support controls to reduce grid integration costs, and aid in orderly recovery from grid outages to improve resiliency, among others.

SunShot expects to make 10-15 awards under this funding program, each ranging between $0.5 million and $3 million for a total of $20 million. Projects will have a 20% cost share and up to a 3-year performance period.




Solar energy, at close to $0.01/kWh, will soon drive CPPs, NGPPs NPPs and variable Hydro (to some extend) out of the market place.

Sunlight hours correspond closely to peak consumption hours.

Electrolyser operators will learn to produce H2 during sunlight hours to avoid extra storage cost.

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