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Clean Power new sunshot prize for cheap rooftop solar

Published on September 13th, 2012 | by Tina Casey


$10 Million SunShot Prize for Cheap Rooftop Solar

September 13th, 2012 by  

The U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot program has just kicked off a new round in a $10 million solar power competition designed to lower the cost of solar power, pretty much down to where a small rooftop solar installation could be a reasonable investment for practically anyone in the country. If you’re thinking that means building a better solar cell, that’s not it. Instead, the Most Affordable Rooftop Solar Prize is aimed at encouraging the solar industry to figure out ways to lower the “soft costs” of solar power.

new sunshot prize for cheap rooftop solar

Hard Cost of Solar Going Down…

Overall, the Department of Energy estimates that the cost of solar cells and other hardware has dropped by a whopping 400% in the past four years. Even more savings are in store as new high-efficiency solar innovations come on line, along with new low-cost solar cell manufacturing processes.

…But Soft Cost of Solar Stays Up

The sticky wicket has been soft costs, in the form of licenses and permits, installation procedures such as connecting to the grid, and routine maintenance. Those typically account for more than half the cost of a small-scale rooftop solar installation (and why solar is almost twice as cheap in Germany as it is here in the U.S.).

Cutting soft costs might seem relatively easy compared to coming up with the next cutting-edge solar cell breakthrough, but according to the DOE, soft costs have remained “stubbornly high.”

The DOE hopes the temptation of cash prizes will break the logjam. The goal of the new competition is to push soft costs down by more than 65 percent, which will put the solar industry on track to bring soft costs for small-scale residential solar systems down to about 60 cents per watt by 2020.

At that price point, small-scale rooftop solar systems will be competitive with fossil fuels (at wholesale electricity prices).

So, Who Wins the Prize?

The Most Affordable Rooftop prize will go to the first three teams that can hit two benchmarks ending in 2015.

In the first phase, qualifying teams must install 5,000 individual small scale rooftop systems of between 2 and 15 kilowatts, with an average of $1.00 (or less) in soft costs.

The second phase is designed to ensure that the qualified teams have a sustainable business model. It calls for an additional 1,000 installations.

The overall winner gets $7 million and bragging rights to the “America’s Most Affordable Rooftop Solar” name, which of course could be worth much more as a promotional tool.

The real winners, though, are the thousands of U.S. workers who stand to gain from the green jobs generated by the small-scale solar power industry.

Image: Dollars. Some rights reserved by AKZOphoto.

Follow me on Twitter: @TinaMCasey.

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About the Author

specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

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  • anderlan

    I’m really only waiting on capital to slap a few KW up myself. I mean, find a bright spot in your yard, take readings of the tree line, slap a few 2x4s together, put the panels and inverters on it, run a line to your breaker. I don’t see a lot of room for making that any simpler. The only catch is that everyone has different mounting parameters: some don’t have yard space or good light at 3 feet off the ground, so roof is needed.

    If we had a carbon fee that was rebated to everyone equally, I’d have the extra few thousand dollars to buy the panels and inverters, and my payback time would be on a downward curve!

    • Bob_Wallace

      Make that rack out of something more substantial than 2x4s. Your panels are likely to be pumping out the power for 40+ years. Wood rots.

      You can make some sturdy and long lasting racks from steel stock. If you don’t have one, pick up a cheap used drill press to help you drill the holes and bolt everything together.

      And double check your lock washer/nuts. I didn’t and it cost me four panels in a wind storm.

      Stick your wire in some PVC conduit and bury it down a bit. Makes mowing easier… ;o)

  • Anne

    “Overall, the Department of Energy estimates that the cost of solar cells and
    other hardware has dropped by a whopping 400% in the past four years.”

    Wow, so do we have negative prices?

    • dynamo.joe

      Ya, I assume what they meant was “four years ago hardware costs were 4x what they are now”.

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