DOE grants USD$145 million for development of solar technologies


Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced yesterday that a total of 69 projects in 24 states will receive a funding boost to develop their solar technologies, under the DOE’s SunShot initiative.

"The projects announced today under DOE’s SunShot Initiative will spur American innovation to help reduce the costs of clean, renewable solar energy and re-establish U.S. global leadership in this fast growing industry," stated Chu.

The funds have been distributed throughout six project categories. These are:

1. Extreme balance of system hardware cost reductions

In this category, nine solar projects have been awarded USD$42 million. Through research carried out, new balance of system (BOS) hardware and solar system components, excluding solar cells and panels, will be developed.

In a statement released, it was said, "BOS accounts for more than 40 percent of the total installed cost of solar energy systems and represents a major opportunity to achieve significant cost reductions.”

2. Foundational program to advance cell efficiency

In the bid to improve solar cell efficiencies, a total of 18 projects will receive USD$35.8 million. DOE has come together with the National Science Foundation, specifically to try to eliminate the "significant" gap between cell efficiencies achieved in laboratories and those seen in mass production.

"The projects under this award address cost and efficiency barriers, advance fundamental PV cell research, and develop materials and processes for more efficient, cost-effective photovoltaic cells," explained DOE.

3. Solar energy grid integration systems: Advanced concepts

Under this category, eight projects have been promised USD$25.9 million in financial support. The aim is to develop a smart grid that can deal with two-way flows of power and communication. As such, the projects will focus on electronics and interactive systems which can help to integrate solar energy into the electric power distribution and transmission grid.

4. Transformational PV science and technology: Next generation photovoltaics II

A total of 23 projects are set to receive USD$22.2 million under this research and development category. The main focus will be on improving existing photovoltaic

technologies through such things as the betterment of efficiencies and cost reduction.

"Investing in new classes of photovoltaic 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," said DOE.

5. Reducing market barriers and non-hardware BOS costs

In this category, seven projects have been awarded USD$13.6 million. The goal is to reduce the cost of non-hardware components for installed solar systems. As such, it is expected that software design tools and databases will be created to help with issues like permitting, zoning and building codes.

6. SunShot incubator

In the final category, four projects will receive USD$5.8 million to speed up the development of new solar manufacturing processes and products, which offer "dramatic" price improvements.

Specifically, Halotechnics of Emeryville, California has been awarded USD$1 million to develop its two-tank thermal energy storage system, operating at 700 degrees C. In a separate statement issued, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) said that early tests have shown that this technology shows promise for concentrating solar power. "It uses a novel molten salt that has a low melting point and maintains high stability while transferring heat and storing material," it said.

Renewable Power Conversion Inc., based in San Luis Obispo, California, meanwhile, has been granted USD$793,325 to improve its advanced photovoltaic inverter technology. "Its inverter gives indications of lasting 25 years while maximizing system efficiency, which, sold commercially, would help reduce the levelized cost of renewable energy loaded onto the grid," commented NREL further.

Tigo Energy, also based in California, has been awarded USD$3,026,000 to bring its DC arc-fault detector into pilot production. According to NREL, the device improves photovoltaic array safety, and reduces operations and maintenance costs.

Lastly, Vermont-based Solaflect Energy of Norwich has been given USD$999,595 to work on its Suspension Heliostat. "It's an innovative heliostat design that could disrupt the market by using 60 to 65 percent less steel than a traditional design, thus reducing significantly the cost of the mirror field in a concentrated solar power plant," said NREL.

Clouds' effects

In other NREL news, new information has been made available on cloud activity. Specifically, data has been produced, which demonstrates what happens "second-by-second" when clouds pass over solar installations.

The results are the efforts of 12 months of work, where data was collected at one second intervals at 17 measurement stations in Hawaii.

"By understanding the characteristics of cloud shadows that pass across a large PV system," explained NREL, "utility officials can devise strategies to better manage those fluctuations so the grid isn't adversely impacted."

Watch out for the October edition of pv magazine, which will be covering the topic of cloud surveillance in more detail.

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