The U.S. Department of Energy is focusing on making solar power an affordable and viable option for homeowners by implementing new funding programs and competition in the industry. The latest development is called SunShot Prize, or “America’s Most Affordable Rooftop Solar Competition”, which will award a combined $10 million to the top three teams who can install 5,000 rooftop PV systems from 1 kW to 15 kW at an average price of $2/W or below. The first team to reach the installation quota by the end of 2014 will be awarded $7 million, and the second and third place teams will earn $2 million and $1 million.
The SunShot Initiative is intended to increase competition between solar energy and traditional sources by 2020 by encouraging development of public-private partnerships, strategic business models, and innovative approaches to lowering the soft costs of PV installations which deter interested consumers. The Department of Energy stated in a press release, “By breaking a significant price barrier, the winners will demonstrate that solar energy is an affordable solution for millions of American families.”
Winners can appreciate the America COMPETES Act, signed by President Obama in 2011, which will provide funding for the prize money. SunShot director, Ramamoorthy Ramesh, stated that although PV module prices have fallen, the cost-reduction focus currently remains on the expenses associated with permitting, financing and installing systems. However, research and development (R&D) activities continue as the America COMPETES Act also authorizes budgets for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, the labs at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the National Science Foundation for PV technology- and product-level R&D.
The teams participating in the SunShot competition can take advantage of the predicted growth in the industry, as the first quarter of 2012 was the second best quarter ever in number of installations at 506 megawatts, behind the fourth quarter of 2011 which recorded 708 megawatts. A new study by GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association announced a predicted 75% increase in PV installations this year to total around 3.3 gigawatts.