by Tina Casey
The cost of solar energy has already plunged a whopping 70 percent in just three years, and it is set to dive right off the charts. The Department of Energy has just announced a new round of $60 million in grants from the innovative solar funding program that has been the driving force behind this impressive success, the SunShot Initiative.
Some of that SunShot money is going to a company called EnergySage, Inc., which is tasked with applying the “best practices of web-based shopping” to develop an online comparison tool that will help make it easier for consumers to compare prices for solar installations.
The “Other” Federal Marketplace
If that sounds vaguely like the idea behind the Affordable Care Act’s online Marketplace, healthcare.gov, that’s generally the idea. In fact, earlier this year EnergySage released a version of its shopping tool, which it calls the EnergySage Solar Marketplace.
As in the health care Marketplace, the Solar Marketplace providers are pre-screened and an automated format makes choosing among numerous options a relatively easy task, while competition for consumers helps keep prices in check.
The first version of the Solar MarketPlace received $500,000 in SunShot funding back in 2012. Based on the success of the Solar Marketplace so far, yesterday the company was awarded another $1.25 million to tweak it some more.
With the new funding in hand, EnergySage will develop the Solar Marketplace thusly:
Planned enhancements will allow consumers to evaluate the suitability, costs and benefits of solar panel systems at their own properties using real-time market data provided by the EnergySage platform prior to initiating the buying process.
The Solar Marketplace system currently provides automatic adjustments for consumers to compare prices and benefits among different sizes and types of installations, and among financing options, too.
As noted previously in CleanTechnica, one standout feature of the Solar MarketPlace is that it provides at least two tiers of engagement, enabling interested consumers to dig deeper into the technology details.
Aside from the obvious benefits to consumers, EnergySage also notes that the Solar Marketplace has benefited the bottom line for solar companies by providing national, mass market exposure to all qualified solar companies, regardless of their size.
Here’s the result, according to EnergySage:
Since its launch, the EnergySage Solar Marketplace has demonstrated its success in closing sales at a much higher rate and shorter sales cycle time than the industry average.
$60 Million In Funding For Low Cost Solar Energy
The EnergySage award is a good example of SunShot’s singular focus on the goal of driving down the cost of solar energy by any means necessary, rather than focusing exclusively on improving solar cell efficiency.
To that end, the new round of funding devotes $12 million to 17 companies that will help lower the “soft costs” of solar power. That includes the Solar MarketPlace as well as a new rooftop solar mapping tool and automatic installation systems designed for utility-scale solar plants.
The new round also addresses “hard costs” with $16 million in funding for advanced single-junction solar cells (loosely speaking, single-junction refers to solar cells made of one material), and $7 million for durability and performance measurement improvements.
Another factor that can help drive down costs is grid integration, and projects in that field will get $8 million. Some of that funding will go to 150 counties through the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, to help local electric cooperatives bump up their integration of solar power.
Workforce availability and quality is also a key component in solar costs. To help feed the solar industry a steady stream of qualified workers, the new funding includes a total of $16 million for regional training consortiums, with another $ million going to help ensure education and training opportunities for minority students.
About the Author
Tina Casey Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.