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Clean Power solar soft cost infographic

Published on December 5th, 2013 | by Zachary Shahan


DOE Calls For More Support Bringing Down The Soft Costs Of Solar, Could Be You! (+ Infographic)

December 5th, 2013 by  

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 managerMinh 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.

For picture fun and solar facts, here’s that infographic noted above:

solar soft cost infographic 
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About the Author

is tryin' to help society help itself (and other species) one letter at a time. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director and chief editor. Otherwise, he's probably enthusiastically fulfilling his duties as the director/editor of EV Obsession, Gas2, Solar Love, Planetsave, or Bikocity; or as president of Important Media. Zach is recognized globally as a solar energy, electric car, energy storage, and wind energy expert. If you would like him to speak at a related conference or event, connect with him via social media:, .

  • Wayne Williamson

    wow..the 75 vs 7.5 hours pretty much says it all.

  • Kyle Field

    Awesome post and one that resonates with me. We need to make it easier and cheaper for people to move into the future with solar. I experienced this exact cost differential when installing through a provider ($820/panel after rebate cost) vs on my own ($320/panel after rebate cost). Granted, I didnt go through the permitting, nor did I require the system to be wired (again) or engineered (again) for the second phase…but it could have easily been a 50% reduction in cost just be cutting out the extraneous soft costs (not to mention the reduction in time-to-install).

    • Zachary Shahan

      Thanks for the real-world perspective.

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