• Aug 10th 2011 at 11:12AM
  • 12
Over the course of the next two years, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) will invest $50 million into its SUNPATH (Scaling Up Nascent Photovoltaic At Home) program. The DOE says this multi-million investment is to assist the U.S. in reclaiming its competitive edge in solar manufacturing. SUNPATH is the second phase of the Photovoltaic Manufacturing Initiative (PVMI), which, in turn, is part of the DOE's SunShot Initiative. Got all that?

According to the DOE, as recently as 1995, the U.S. dominated the global solar industry, manufacturing 43 percent of the world's photovoltaic panels. It's been a steady decline since then, though, with U.S. market share shrinking to 27 percent in 2000 and falling to seven percent in 2010.

Here, according to the DOE, is how SUNPATH works:
SUNPATH seeks to increase domestic manufacturing through investments that have sustainable, competitive cost and performance advantages. SUNPATH will help companies with pilot-scale commercial production scale up their manufacturing capabilities, enabling them to overcome a funding gap that often curtails domestic business at a critical stage. By bridging this gap, SUNPATH intends to help ensure that innovative, low-cost solar technologies are manufactured in the United States.
The DOE is hopeful that SUNPATH will be the initiative that drives U.S. innovation and furthers the nation's position as a global clean energy leader throughout the 21st century.
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Department of Energy to Invest $50 Million to Advance Domestic Solar Manufacturing Market, Achieve SunShot Goal

SUNPATH Program Will Boost American Competitiveness, Lower Cost of Solar Energy


August 02, 2011

U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu today announced a $50 million investment over two years for the SUNPATH program, aimed to help the nation reclaim its competitive edge in solar manufacturing. SUNPATH, which stands for Scaling Up Nascent PV At Home, represents the second solar Photovoltaic Manufacturing Initiative (PVMI) supporting the Department of Energy's SunShot Initiative.

"This investment provides a necessary boost to domestic solar manufacturing businesses, encouraging them to keep jobs here and establish America's leadership in the world's growing clean energy economy," said Secretary Chu. "In addition to invigorating clean energy manufacturing, this program will help achieve the SunShot goal of making unsubsidized utility-scale solar cost-competitive with other forms of energy by the end of the decade."

As recently as 1995, the United States maintained a dominant global solar market share, manufacturing 43% of the world's PV panels. In steady decline, U.S. market share shrank to 27% by 2000 and to 7% by 2010. SUNPATH will help return the United States to the forefront, driving innovation and assuring continued leadership in the 21st century clean energy economy.

PVMI Part II: SUNPATH seeks to increase domestic manufacturing through investments that have sustainable, competitive cost and performance advantages. SUNPATH will help companies with pilot-scale commercial production scale up their manufacturing capabilities, enabling them to overcome a funding gap that often curtails domestic business at a critical stage. By bridging this gap, SUNPATH will help ensure that innovative, low-cost solar technologies are manufactured in the United States.

The PV Manufacturing Initiative accelerates the cost reduction and commercialization of solar technologies by coordinating solutions across industry. The initiative will help create a robust, domestic PV manufacturing base and develop a workforce with the critical skills required to deliver reliable, affordable, clean energy.

PVMI Part I: Advanced Manufacturing Partnerships has resulted in the selection of $110 million in projects to three industry and academic consortia to enable substantial cost reductions in PV module production. To ensure that these technologies are manufactured domestically, PVMI Part II: SUNPATH will support an initial ramp up to high volume manufacturing. DOE's national laboratories are stepping up their validation facilities to ensure that the technologies developed and manufactured in Parts I and II are tested at scale in multiple locations and climates in the United States.

The Department of Energy is seeking applicants with industrial-scale demonstrations of PV modules, cells, or substrates that offer lower-cost solutions in line with the SunShot goal. Applications are due by October 28, 2011. More information and application requirements can be found at the Funding Opportunity Exchange (FOA number DE-FOA-0000566).

For more information on the SunShot Initiative, visit energy.gov/sunshot.

DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy invests in clean energy technologies that strengthen the economy, protect the environment, and reduce dependence on foreign oil.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 12 Comments
      paulwesterberg
      • 4 Years Ago
      To encourage adoption you need to get the price of panels down and build them with tiny micro inverters attached so they can just be plugged directly into your home electrical system. When any do-it-yourself joe can spend 5grand at the hardware store and install his own panels and cut his monthly energy bill in half is when real renewable energy revolution will begin.
        • 4 Years Ago
        @paulwesterberg
        The microinverter might be good for DIY projects, but it's often deemed too expensive for solar homes. Instead there are three-phase inverters with about 20-30 connections from photovoltaic array to plug in all modules individually or in series etc.
          • 4 Years Ago
          Three-phase inverters are used in Germany (e.g. from Siemens) and connect several (some over 10, some over 20) DC plugs from modules (at 30-100 V DC) to the inverter that then creates three-phase 230 V or 400 V AC power in the range of 10 to 20+ kW. String Fuses are typically rated at around 900 to 1000 V DC and 6 to 20 A adviced by IEC rules. The cables have conductors of 2 to 6 square millimetres cross-sections. There are alot more details to them, but would make it too long a post.
          Dave R
          • 4 Years Ago
          All residential PV inverters are single phase 240V. I don't know of any residential area which has 3-phase power. Also, only micro-inverters (one small inverter per panel) and string inverters (many panels in series) are used. It's not economical to run 20-30 connections at low voltage (16-50V) to a central inverter when you can hook the panels up in series and run high voltage (300-550V) to the central inverter. You need a LOT less copper that way.
      lne937s
      • 4 Years Ago
      As mentioned earlier, it will take a lot more than 50MM to catch up with Germany on solar. But at least it is something. The one thing that may work in our favor is that we use twice as much electricity per person as Germans (despite lower manufacturing output) and have more sunny places to install panels. So between our thirst for energy and abundant sunlight in many regions, we do have the potential for an increase in demand. But it will take a significant investment to ensure that demand is satisfied by US manufacturing. http://www.grist.org/list/2011-06-10-why-youll-soon-have-solar-panels-in-3-easy-graphs
        lne937s
        • 4 Years Ago
        @lne937s
        BTW, as we tend to use the most electricity during the daytime, when the sun is shining, solar is already economical in many places and doesn't need any storage untill peak demand is exceeded. Texas is currently paying $3 per kWh in the afternoon for electricity. http://www.grist.org/article/2011-08-02-solar-could-help-with-that
        Dave R
        • 4 Years Ago
        @lne937s
        Germany's installed cost of PV is 50% less than your typical install in the US - and it's not because of component prices. The overhead required to get a PV system online in most of the country is enormous - streamlining the cost of permitting (standardize requirements across the country) and other overheads would go a long ways towards making solar more affordable. Luckily - that is one of the goals of the SunShot initiative as well as helping US manufacturers reduce costs.
      throwback
      • 4 Years Ago
      A percentage decrease does not necessarily mean an actual production decrease. It could simply mean there are more countries producing panels.
      Hans
      • 4 Years Ago
      What's 50 million in comparison to a 300 million nation with 14 trillion in depts. It'll take a wee bit more than that to secure a position as "global clean energy leader", let alone to regain it from China and Germany.
      • 4 Years Ago
      This ain't green, it's so blue. In all seriousness, it's good to see improvements on manufacturing of solar cells. With energy paybacks at about 6 months to 3 years depending on technology, it's about time to get the market place closer to 1 dollars a watt from 3 dollars a watt and more. Some already produce solar cells for less than a dollar per watt, but there's still profit needed to run things. At the same time improvements on efficiency are needed since there are two roads to take on better price point: either sell cheaper cells or build more efficient ones at the same price. The best solutions may combine the two.
        KenZ
        • 4 Years Ago
        More of a question than a statement: at some point, the cost of the panels will get low enough that it's the labor/installation that will be the overriding cost that needs to be addressed. Can someone comment on the $/watt of installation cost today? And there are other materials involved too. Perhaps a better question would be: if the actual solar cells today were free, how much would it cost in $/watt for install? Meaning, the cost of the manufacturing of the panels with the "free" cells, the other panel materials like glass and aluminum, shipping, installation. I'm kinda curious, since that tells us, for now at least, what the floor on the cost of home solar will be for the near future regardless of investment in cells... are cells really the dominant area on which to be concentrating? Again, this is a question, not a comment.
          • 4 Years Ago
          @KenZ
          At the moment solar cells are still the most costly part of the total cost. Inverters are runner-ups at 0.40 to 1.00 dollars a watt depending on solution chosen. The limited power warranty (25 years to 80 %) and limited product warranty (10 years for photovoltaics cables etc., up to 25 years for some inverters) often call for using a certified electrician. With the products ready at the site, the installation shouldn't take but a day or so. That should result to some cents per watt depending on their individual rates. Smallest off-grid solutions are user-friendly for standard people to install, however some of these systems can easily go above 10 dollars per watt in price. When bought in bulk, all the individual components should be included in the total price (e.g. 3 $/W). Many of the metal alloys should last for 50 to 100 years and semiconductors (cells) degrade over time, usually the weakest link may be the cables and such.
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