By Ryan Huffman on Feb 4, 2011

DOE Announces 'SunShot' Initiative to Boost Solar Energy


The SunShot program might make more solar farms like the Nellis Solar Power Plant, the second largest photovoltaic power plant in North America.

A new government initiative could lead to massive growth in America’s use of solar power by the next decade.

That’s the aim of the Department of Energy’s “SunShot” program, announced by Energy Secretary Steven Chu on a conference call Friday.

“The SunShot will spur American innovation and help establish U.S. leadership in this growing industry,” Chu said.

Chu said the Department of Energy hopes to bring the cost of notoriously expensive solar power down to a level where it can compete with other forms of energy production. The SunShot program sets a goal of reducing the cost of solar power by roughly 75 percent over the next ten years, with a target cost of $1 per watt of energy produced by photovoltaic cells.

“That would make solar energy cost-competitive with other forms of energy without subsidy of any kind,” Chu said. “And at this level, we think that solar energy systems could be broadly deployed across the country.”

Richard Swanson, President Emeritus of SunPower Corp., spoke highly of the initiative during the conference call. Swanson said administration support of solar energy innovation has inspired his company to add more than 650 new jobs over the next four years.

“The President and Secretary Chu and his team have been fantastic supporters of solar,” Swanson said. “They really understand that solar is now within reach of offering affordable power without incentives anywhere in the country.”

As part of the initiative, Chu announced $27 million in new Department of Energy funding for solar projects. Chu said government money will be spent on research programs designed to drive down costs in every aspect of solar energy production.

“The fact that we’re trying to reduce the cost by roughly 75 percent is something which will require changes to manufacturing, installation, everything, so you can really get the cost down,” he said. “The module itself is now only about half the cost of the entire system, and so these improvements have to be throughout the whole system.”

While both Swanson and Chu acknowledged that they did not know which research projects would lead to achieving the SunShot’s goals, Swanson expressed confidence that the program would help expand America’s use of solar power and other forms of clean energy.

“I believe that with universities, national laboratories, government and industry all working together, we’ll create a clean energy industry that is a vital part of our national security and well-being,” he said.

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      • Gill Bates

        Small, not enough – but better than nothing.

        Solar is the future.

      • Jack

        Uh-huh, right, so, you are talking PV cells–hmm, how is that going to be good for baseload power when the sun is not shining? (rain, night, clounds, you name it)

        Concentrated Solar Thermal (CST) would at least have a chance at being useful for baseload power but you needs LOTS of sun and there is very few locations in the USA where CST could be implemented.

        If you are talking PV you are talking a complete waste of time, EVEN IF IT IS FREE (i.e. no cost to PV cells) because you simply cannot make baseload power with it. And it is not dependable enough for peak usage supplementation.

        Look, didn’t Spain just blow its entire GDP on this and now is bankrupt because of it? (Yep, look it up)

        This is complete waste of time.

        Sure, there are exceptions for NICHE applications but for “general baseload power” —it will NEVER WORK – first of all you would have to be able to store it, second of all you would have to have a dependable frequency of sunlight and due to clouds and nighttime and other “inconveniences” PV will never ever be useful (even it was free).

        Don’t tell me about PV “blankets” floating in space beaming power down via microwaves.

      • Jack

        And this article mentions “Nellis Solar Power Plant”, all 14MW of it as being the second largest PV array in USA. And uses 140 acres to do it

        14MW is good for what? NOTHING MUCH (at full power just under 10,000 average size homes…but only when the sun shines!) And absolutely useless when the sun isn’t shining..so you have to have a conventional power plant to constantly back it up.

        A decent Natural Gas or Coal power plant produces 500MW. Heck a single simple cycle peaker unit can generate 50MW on its own!

        Look if you want “low pollution” baseload power you want nuclear. Nuclear is worthless for power peaks (aka. “on demand” power generation) as it cannot easily be ramped up and down (you need NG, Coal, etc to do that) but it is great for baseload regardless of sunshine and the world is full of uranium (new mines to go online in Greenland soon).

        Sure PV plants can be built in a few years, but provides a tiny amount of power. 14MW and that’s the second largest. And if no sun, no power. Believing in PV is believing in the tooth fairy.

      • http://www.pvpower.com LeeATPVPower

        $1 per watt would be incredible. I really like that the US is increasing their funding for solar so that individuals can become energy-independant. I’m interested in hearing the plan to bring down the cost of the other PV system components (inverters, batteries, etc).