DOE Calls For Lowering The Soft Costs Of Solar

by Zachary Shahan.

SunShot Infographic
DOE SunShot Infographic. Courtesy of U.S. Department of Energy.

The US Department of Energy (DOE) and many others have identified the “soft costs” of solar as the biggest cost barriers that need to be knocked down in order to unleash a true solar revolution in the US. As I’ve noted previously, the soft costs of solar are enormously larger in the US than in the much more mature German solar market, making the overall cost of going solar in Germany about half what it is in the US. The DOE’s response? The SunShot Initiative, which many CleanTechnica writers have covered at one point or another, but none as much as Tina. There’s a lot going on there to bring down the cost of solar in the US, and there are clear successes already, but the DOE is looking for even more applications.

The DOE just sent along an article by the DOE’s solar program manager, Minh Le, as well as a related infographic (below). The article intro, titled “Breaking Down Barriers,” is as follows: “New research shows that the non-hardware “soft costs” of a solar energy system – such as permitting, customer acquisition, and operations – now account for up to 64% of the total price of installing residential solar energy systems in the United States. As the cost of solar panels and other hardware have dropped tremendously, soft costs are soaring. These costs also stand as the greatest barrier to deploying more residential solar energy systems throughout the country. That’s why the Energy Department’s SunShot Initiative is working to lower soft costs in order to make solar energy fully cost-competitive with traditional energy sources by 2020.”

Le goes on to note the progress of SunShot winner EnergySage (which we’ve covered in depth and love) as well as recent winners kWh Analytics and Folsom Labs.

Additionally, Le notes what the SunShot folks are looking for and how easy it is to apply:

In the most recent round of the Solar Incubator program, SunShot announced $10 million to fund outside-of-the-box ideas to lessen solar’s hardware and soft costs. Some of the solutions to tackle this challenge will be driven by software innovations. SunShot is looking for big thinkers, zany creatives, data geeks, app developers, software engineers, and others to devise new approaches to attack soft costs.

Winning applicants could receive up to $500,000 in funding to bring their innovative product or service to the marketplace. Just draft a concept paper that includes a description of your project, summary of qualifications, a short business plan, and other required items and the payoff could be solar’s next  big technology breakthrough.

Since 2007, the SunShot Incubator program has supported 71 projects, with Incubator protégés in the private sector attracting more than $1.8 billion in venture capital and private equity investment. That’s a $16  return for every $1 invested. Your company or idea could be next!

I can’t say how much I’d love it if (another) CleanTechnica reader won a SunShot grant. So, if you think you have a good idea, go for it! And feel free to reach out to me for feedback — a handful of people interested in applying to this program have done so in the past.

This article, DOE Calls For More Support Bringing Down The Soft Costs Of Solar, Could Be You! (+ Infographic), is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Zachary ShahanZachary Shahan is the director of CleanTechnica, the most popular cleantech-focused website in the world, and Planetsave, a world-leading green and science news site. He has been covering green news of various sorts since 2008, and he has been especially focused on solar energy, electric vehicles, and wind energy for the past four years or so. Aside from his work on CleanTechnica and Planetsave, he’s the Network Manager for their parent organization – Important Media – and he’s the Owner/Founder of Solar Love, EV Obsession, and Bikocity. To connect with Zach on some of your favorite social networks, go to ZacharyShahan.com and click on the relevant buttons.

$60 Million More For Low Cost Solar Power

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.

SunShot gives $60 more for low cost solar power.
Rooftop solar panels courtesy of Arlington County.

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.

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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+.

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