DoE awards US$145m for solar technologies

By Kari Williamson

The funding will be distributed across 69 projects in 24 states, and aims to accelerate research and development to increase efficiency, lower costs, and advance new solar technologies.

The projects, which are funded through DoE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, will also look to improve materials, manufacturing processes, and supply chains for a wide range of photovoltaic (PV) solar cells and components of solar energy systems.

Some of these investments also support efforts that will shorten the overall time-line from prototype to production and streamline building codes, zoning laws, permitting rules, and business processes for installing solar energy systems, DoE says.

"America is in a world race to produce cost-competitive renewable energy that can reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, create manufacturing jobs across the nation, and improve our energy security," Energy Secretary Steven Chu says.

The awards, which are part of DoE's SunShot programme, will target improvements across the research, development, and demonstration pipeline, from next generation solar technologies 7-10 years away from commercial readiness, to scientific and technological improvements which can be rapidly implemented within five years.

The six categories:

  1. Extreme Balance of System Hardware Cost Reductions (9 projects receive US$42m): The projects will conduct research and development of new balance of system (BOS) hardware, or solar system components including power inverters and mounting racks, but excluding solar panels or cells, that are inexpensive, safe, and highly reliable;
  2. Foundational Programme to Advance Cell Efficiency (18 projects receive US$35.8m): Combining both the technical and funding resources of DoE and the National Science Foundation (NSF), this joint programme will support research that aims to eliminate the significant gap between the efficiencies of prototype solar cells achieved in the laboratory and the efficiencies of solar cells produced on manufacturing lines. The projects under this award address cost and efficiency barriers, advance fundamental solar PV cell research, and develop materials and processes for more efficient, cost-effective solar PV cells;
  3. Solar Energy Grid Integration Systems – Advanced Concepts (8 projects receive US$25.9m): These projects will develop electronics and build smarter, more interactive systems and components so that solar energy can be integrated into the electric power distribution and transmission grid at higher levels. These technologies will help advance a smart grid that will handle two-way flows of power and communication;
  4. Transformational Solar PV Science and Technology – Next Generation Photovoltaics II (23 projects receive US$22.2m): These awards will fund applied research into technologies that greatly increase efficiency, lower costs, create secure and sustainable supply chains and perform more reliably than the current solar PV technologies. Investing in new classes of solar PV technology feeds the industry with the new innovations it will need to compete in the future and will help achieve the goals of the Sunshot Initiative;
  5. Reducing Market Barriers and Non-Hardware Balance of System Costs (7 projects receive US$13.6m): These awards will provide funding to create tools and develop methods to reduce the cost of non-hardware components for installed solar energy systems. The projects will develop software design tools and databases that can be used by local jurisdictions and installers, and tools to streamline building codes, zoning laws, permitting rules, and business processes for installing solar systems; and
  6. SunShot Incubator (Four projects receive US$5.8m): The projects will fund two different tiers of transformational projects. The first accelerates development of new technologies from concept to commercial viability. The second level of funding supports efforts that shorten the overall time-line from laboratory scale development to pilot line manufacture. The SunShot Incubator Program is an expansion of DoE's PV Technology Incubator Program.