Environmental Protection

DOE boosts solar development with more funding.

DOE Adds $77M to Stimulate Solar and Wind Development

The Sunshot program will receive $27 million in projects to advance manufacturing while wind initiatives will include $50 million in research and development.

U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu recently added details of the Department of Energy's "SunShot" initiative to reduce the total costs of photovoltaic solar energy systems by about 75 percent in order to make them cost competitive at large scale without subsidies before the end of the decade. The energy chief along with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar also announced major steps supporting offshore wind energy in the United States, including new funding opportunities for up to $50.5 million for projects that support offshore wind energy deployment and several high priority Wind Energy Areas in the mid-Atlantic.

By reducing the cost for utility scale installations by about 75 percent to roughly $1 a watt (which corresponds to roughly 6 cents per kilowatt-hour), solar energy systems could be broadly deployed across the country.

"The SunShot initiative will spur American innovations to reduce the costs of solar energy and re-establish U.S. global leadership in this growing industry," said Chu. "These efforts will boost our economic competitiveness, rebuild our manufacturing industry, and help reach the President's goal of doubling our clean energy in the next 25 years."

The program will aggressively drive innovations in the ways that solar systems are conceived, designed, manufactured, and installed. In addition to investing in improvements in cell technologies and manufacturing, the initiative will focus on steps to streamline and digitize local permitting processes that will reduce installation and permitting costs.

SunShot will work to bring down the full cost of solar ─ including the costs of the solar cells and installation ─ by focusing on:

  • Technologies for solar cells and arrays that convert sunlight to energy;
  • Electronics that optimize the performance of the installation;
  • Improvements in the efficiency of solar manufacturing processes;
  • Installation, design and permitting for solar energy systems.

DOE also announced $27 million in awards to nine new projects. This funding includes support for five projects to further develop U.S. supply chains for PV manufacturing. This includes support for companies across the solar energy supply chain, including U.S. material and tool suppliers and companies that are developing technologies that can be adopted directly into current manufacturing processes.

DOE's National Renewable Energy Laboratory is investing $7 million to fund the latest round of the successful PV Incubator program, which helps to shorten the commercialization timeline for promising emerging solar technologies. The companies work closely with DOE national laboratories to scale their technologies and manufacturing processes and move the products from pre-commercial and prototype stage to pilot and full-scale manufacturing operations.

“We’re pleased the DOE is taking an ambitious approach to improving the U.S.’s global solar competitiveness,” said Tyson Rohde, GoSolarUSA president and CEO. “Eliminating solar soft costs and permitting delays in particular promises to be a great boon for the domestic solar industry.” This company is funding the development of technologies such as the Volt Solar Charger, a battery pack that uses solar cells to charge wireless devices.

Chu and Salazar released the joint National Offshore Wind Strategy: Creating an Offshore Wind Industry in the United States. This interagency plan demonstrates a federal commitment to expeditiously develop a sustainable, world-class offshore wind industry in a way that reduces conflict with other ocean uses and protects resources. The plan focuses on overcoming three key challenges: the relatively high cost of offshore wind energy; technical challenges surrounding installation, operations, and grid interconnection; and the lack of site data and experience with project permitting processes.

"The mid-Atlantic Wind Energy Areas are a key part of our 'Smart from the Start' program for expediting appropriate commercial-scale wind energy development in America's waters," Salazar said. "Through the Strategic Work Plan, the United States is synchronizing new research and development initiatives with more efficient, forward-thinking planning so that we can help quickly stand up an American offshore wind industry. This initiative will spur the type of innovation that will help us create new jobs, build a clean energy future, and compete and win in the technologies of the 21st century."

Chu released three solicitations, representing up to $50.5 million over five years, to develop breakthrough offshore wind energy technology and to reduce specific market barriers to its deployment:

  • Technology development (up to $25 million over 5 years): DOE will support the development of innovative wind turbine design tools and hardware to provide the foundation for a cost-competitive and world-class offshore wind industry in the United States. Specific activities will include the development of open-source computational tools, system-optimized offshore wind plant concept studies, and coupled turbine rotor and control systems to optimize next-generation offshore wind systems.
  • Removing market barriers up to $18 million over 3 years): DOE will support baseline studies and targeted environmental research to characterize key industry sectors and factors limiting the deployment of offshore wind. Specific activities will include offshore wind market and economic analysis; environmental risk reduction; manufacturing and supply chain development; transmission planning and interconnection strategies; optimized infrastructure and operations; and wind resource characterization.
  • Next-generation drivetrain (up to $7.5 million over 3 years): DOE will fund the development and refinement of next-generation designs for wind turbine drivetrains, a core technology required for cost-effective offshore wind power.

Salazar also identified four Wind Energy Areas offshore the mid-Atlantic as part of Interior's 'Smart from the Start' approach. The areas, on the Outer Continental Shelf offshore Delaware (122 square nautical miles), Maryland (207), New Jersey (417), and Virginia (165), will receive early environmental reviews that will help to lessen the time required for review, leasing and approval of offshore wind turbine facilities.

Based on stakeholder and public participation, Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) will prepare regional environmental assessments for Wind Energy Areas to evaluate the effects of leasing and site assessment activities on leased areas. If no significant impacts are identified, BOEMRE could offer leases in these Mid-Atlantic areas as early as the end of 2011 or early 2012. Comprehensive site-specific NEPA review will still need to be conducted for the construction of any individual wind power facility, and BOEMRE will work directly with project managers to ensure that those reviews take place on aggressive schedules.

Under the national strategy, DOE is pursuing a scenario that includes deployment of 10 gigawatts of offshore wind generating capacity by 2020 and 54 gigawatts by 2030.

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