Funding Aims To Reduce Solar Installation Costs

The U.S. government has an enviable record of supporting its solar energy sector. Since 2007, the Department of Energy’s (DOE) SunShot Incubator scheme – which funds technological breakthroughs aimed at cutting the cost of installed solar power by 75 percent – has spent $60 million on helping laboratories and small businesses commercialise the next generation of solar innovation, attracting nearly $1.3 billion in private investment.
 
While the Incubator program has been successful, it has focused primarily on the hardware side of improving solar efficiency; prototype panels, better silicon wafer production, improved mounting systems and enhancement of related components.
  
Now Secretary of Energy Steven Chu says it is time to address the non-hardware issues that push up the cost of rooftop solar power systems for households and commercial buildings. These so-called “soft” costs include labour, permitting, interconnection and inspection which, according to the DOE, can add up to half the cost of a solar power system.
 
The DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy says it will release $7 million in funds under the SunShot Incubator program directed at developing tools and approaches to reduce these non-hardware costs. 
  
Although not a particularly fresh initiative from the DOE (in June the Department announced $15 million over three years to tackle the problem), as the price of photovoltaic material continues to fall, these balance-of-system (BOS) costs will soon become the major obstacle to rooftop solar power reaching parity with fossil fuels.
 
“Even if you paid nothing for the hardware, you’d still pay thousands of dollars to install a residential solar power system,” said Secretary Chu. “This SunShot Initiative will help reduce costs such as permitting and installation, and spur American innovation to deploy solar energy at homes and businesses across the country.”