One path to boosting the adoption of renewable energy is to make fossil fuels more expensive with a carbon tax or cap-and-trade policies. Since that apparently isn’t happening any time soon in the United States, the Obama administration is taking another path: trying to push down the cost of cleaner sources. On the solar front, that effort is called “Sunshot,” and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has announced $27 million in SunShot projects that it hopes will help reduce the cost of photovoltaic cells by 75 percent.
Such a reduction reportedly would take the cost down to about $1 a watt, equal to around 6 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) of electricity. At that level, the DOE believes, “solar energy systems could be broadly deployed across the country.”
The department said the $27 million includes $20 million for projects intended to bolster development of “U.S. supply chains for PV manufacturing,” including companies who supply solar materials and tools. The other $7 million is being funneled into the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s PV Incubator program, which supports emerging technologies in solar power such as thin and flexible film cells.
As for specifics of the two different categories of investments, the $20 million will go towards companies like Varian Semiconductor out of Massachusetts, which will get $4.8 million to help reduce the cost of manufacturing interdigitated back contact cells, said to be the most efficient silicon solar cells on the market.
The other $7 million or so is being allocated towards start ups like Crystal Solar of California, for example, who is developing what is said to be “a new technology for the fabrication, handling, processing, and packaging of very thin single crystal silicon wafers (four times thinner than standard cells). This solution uses much less silicon, eliminates many of the wasteful and expensive wafer processing steps and addresses the problem of handling very thin wafers.” This particular organization is slated for getting up to $4 million over 18 months.
The DOE is certainly no slacker when it comes to investing in solar energy related technologies, saying that In the last ten years, it has invested more than $1 billion in solar energy research “that has been leveraged with significant private industry funding to support more than $2 billion in total solar R&D projects.” What are described as “innovations in both science and technology” have reportedly driven the cost of solar down 60 percent since 1995, and have yielded a number of so called critical breakthroughs in solar PV performance and cost.