DOE solar program 70% to its goal — reports

Source: Christa Marshall, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative has reached 70 percent of its 2020 goal to slash solar power costs.

DOE made that announcement with the release of eight research reports about the 5-year-old initiative, which aims to reduce the cost of solar energy technologies 75 percent by the end of the decade.

The¬†papers¬†provide a current snapshot of the solar industry, highlight lessons from the program’s first five years, and identify challenges and opportunities affecting solar’s continued growth. They cover a range of topics, including financing, distributed generation, concentrated solar power and environmental impacts of solar.

On a webinar, SunShot Initiative Director Lidija Sekaric said several themes emerged from the research, including that increasing use of “flexibility” options such as storage can allow higher levels of solar penetration on the grid. Innovation with both solar technology and financing options also will be key to achieving the 2020 goal, she said.

According to DOE, innovation is needed in areas such as better solar panel efficiency as well as installation costs.

“We are confident” we are going to meet the 2020 goal, Sekaric said.

Conclusions from the reports include that solar power could provide $400 billion in environmental and health benefits in the United States by 2050. One study found that photovoltaic systems in the residential sector could be financed similar to expensive appliances, with zero percent financing over four years, for example. Another study found that implementing grid flexibility options like energy storage could bring solar penetration levels affordably to 25 percent.

On the webinar, Robert Margolis, a senior analyst at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, said that lower technology costs could help bring more solar manufacturing to the United States. China has dominated that sector. He and Sekaric said that an elimination of net metering can prompt increased payback for consumers by about two to eight years and that concentrated solar power combined with thermal storage could play a “vital role” in the technology’s cost-effective growth.

The solar industry grew by more than twentyfold since the beginning of the Obama administration, according to DOE.

The reports were compiled in collaboration with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories and Argonne National Laboratory.