DOE: SunShot Hitting Mark With Solar Price Plunge

The Obama administration says that SunShot, the R&D program to bring down the cost of solar-generated electricity to where it’s competitive with conventionally sourced electricity, is 60 percent of the way toward its goal, at least when it comes to big solar.

Citing levelized cost of energy data from the National Renewable Energy Lab, the Department of Energy said on Wednesday that “the average price for a utility-scale PV project has dropped from about $0.21 per kilowatt-hour in 2010 to $0.11 per kilowatt-hour at the end of 2013.”

sunshot cost

Image via U.S. DOE, based on National Renewable Energy Lab data.

The DOE noted that the average retail price of electricity in the U.S. is 12 cents per kWh. That said, utility-scale solar electricity doesn’t really compete with retail electricity (whereas distributed, or rooftop solar, does) – which is why SunShot has a 2020 goal of getting solar down to 6 cents per kWh, in the neighborhood of the cost of new natural gas-fired generation.

The administration didn’t point to specific SunShot investments that have impacted the cost of utility-scale solar, but the program has supported a wide range of research and development efforts, typically with six- or seven-figure awards, occasionally larger. Many of the funding opportunities have been applicable to distributed solar, but an example of a SunShot program aimed at utilty-scale would be the $25 million grant to Soitec to open a plant in San Diego. The company makes concentrating photovoltaics panels that are used in utility-scale plants in sunny areas like the U.S. Southwest.

In any case, however much SunShot has had to do with the drop in the cost of big solar, surely a much bigger factor has been the precipitous and fortuitous (well, maybe not for Solyndra) decline in the price of solar PV, so steep that power plants that had been envisioned using solar thermal have switched to PV. The factors there have been a host of market forces – demand slipping from high growth rates, polysilicon plunging in price, the over-extended Chinese manufacturing sector dumping cheap panels all over the world, etc. The administration’s loan guarantee program has probably helped utility-scale solar, as well, by getting several big plants launched and showing their viability, and the administration can also take credit for aggressively permitting large amounts of big solar on public lands.

As for how much money has gone into SunShot, with Washington, D.C., emptying out on Wednesday in advance of a forecast snowstorm, we were unable to track down a firm number. However, the Energy Department had said it was looking to spend $356.5 million on SunShot in the 2014 fiscal year.

Sports columnist, newspaper desk guy, website managing editor, wine-industry PR specialist, freelance writer—Pete Danko’s career in media has covered a lot of terrain. The constant along the way has been a fierce dedication to knowing the story and getting it right. Danko's work has appeared in Wired, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

  • http://www.energysage.com/blog EnergySage

    We at EnergySage are extremely proud to be one of the recipients of the DOE’s SunShot award. We have made a lot of great progress but still have a long way to go. If you’re interested in seeing what we’ve been doing with our portion of the award, check out our newly launched Instant Solar Estimator – http://bit.ly/1gKEjv0

  • Hard Little Machine

    In Hawaii solar electric was sold on the premise they could sell it back to the grid. Unfortunately no one checked with the grid to see if they could handle it, which they can not. So no one’s getting their solar systems hooked up to the grid any more leaving the entirety of the cost on the consumer.

  • TheRealist II

    From a Government who always tells the truth, sure why not!

  • Scaramouche

    *wants to feel optimism again, but is leery of it

  • Billy___Bob

    End all subsides now. The Spanish are working at it.

    “MADRID—Spain’s government on Monday laid out the details of its plan to cut subsidies for renewable-energy producers, a move those producers say could cause defaults across their industry.”

    http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304851104579361103986679382

  • john kaiser

    great news-the future moves on! ya know a stupid question is why dont the gas and oil companies buy into the next generations power needs? o thats right they are in the business of making money and they dont owe humanity or the planet itself a damn thing. now im sure all the right wing trolls will comment on why solar is bad or even socialist. the longer the gop in america pushes its business only agenda the more capitalism seems like a failed system.

    • DRTexas

      Slow your roll there, Skippy. Some of the largest energy companies (Exxon, Shell, etc.) are putting billions into solar and wind research. It may just be for PR, but it is going to some of the best universities and private research labs in the world.
      It is better to remain silent, and let the world think you are an idiot; Than to speak stupidly, and remove all doubt.