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Three New Low Cost Solar Power Projects That Kick Butt

Three new Energy Department solar projects are in the works to give the old body-slam to three obstacles standing in the path of low cost solar power, and it’s about time for solar power to get out there and show some muscle. Solar costs have been sinking like a stone while the cost of extracting oil and gas from fracking wells has been rising, and it could be a short wait for the two trajectories to cross paths.

That’s something to keep in mind as Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) has seized the Ukraine crisis as an excuse to call for opening up, well, everything to drilling here in the US.

low cost solar power from 3 new US DOE projects

Solar panels courtesy of Oregon DOT.

Three Paths To Low Cost Solar Power

We’re going to file this one under “a little goes a long way,” because the grand total of this round of funding for low cost solar power is only $2.2 million.

That relatively puny amount is characteristic of the Energy Department’s SunShot Incubator Program, which for those of you keeping score at home launched in 2007 under the Bush Administration, so let’s give this great American artist and former President a shout-out with this thumbnail from the program’s web page:

Since the program was launched in 2007, $104 million in government funds has leveraged more than $1.7 billion in venture capital and private equity investment, demonstrating a ratio of nearly $18 in subsequent private sector support for every $1 of federal support.

And now for the good stuff.

With a grant of  about $497,000, the Berkeley company SolarNexus, Inc. will take on the scattershot solar installation market, which is dotted with all kinds of different software tools. SolarNexus has the assignment of integrating an existing, publicly available data standard into an automated system that will enable those tools to work together.

The system, called Integrated Energy Project Model can be accessed at It’s funded by the State of California and the Go Solar California initiative, with project manager Itron.

SolarNexus came across our radar last year for a new software platform that provides small solar installers with software tools on a competitive level with larger companies, so the concept of an integrated system that cuts down on administrative costs is right within its comfort zone.

The second batch of funds, a cool $1 million, is going to the The San Francisco company Genability. Genability’s contribution will be to streamline the bidding process and give a huge boost to transparency for solar customers, by creating a tool for analyzing the optimum payment plan for a solar installation.

The package includes a “Verified by Genability” certification, kind of like the Good Housekeeping seal of approval, which will pull duty as a marketing tool for solar companies.

Genability’s focus on the savings potential of solar power and other clean tech is the key factor here. This is how the company describes its approach to its customers:

The New Energy companies…are solar developers, EV manufacturers, and the makers of internet connected devices. And they are fundamentally changing the way consumers receive and interact with their power. Genability helps New Energy Companies build energy intelligence into how their products work and are sold. Selling more and saving their customers money.

The Belmont, CA company CelLink Corporation fills out the funding round with a $704,000 grant for creating a new circuit that could chop the cost of manufacturing high-efficiency silicon photovoltaic cells by about 10 percent. That kind of detail could make a huge difference as silicon hits a price wall.

We don’t have information on the circuit yet (trade secrets?) but it does involve tweaking the fabrication method to use cheaper materials and less expensive processes.

Cheap Solar Power And Soft Costs

If you’re wondering why the Energy Department is throwing money at solar projects that have nothing to do with solar cell efficiency, there is a good reason for that. We’re as happy as the next guy to pass along the latest news in cutting edge photovoltaic technology and record-breaking solar cell efficiency, but the cost of a solar cell accounts for only about half the total installed cost of solar power.

Since SunShot is aimed at bringing down the installed cost of solar power, soft costs are a key target area for funding.

The other “soft costs” of solar power are a major obstacle between your rooftop and those shiny new solar panel you’ve been eyeballing. That includes everything from administration and management to shipping, labor, permitting, and grid connections.

Earth To Rand Paul….

Since we brought up Senator Paul at the top of this article, let’s be fair and note that he’s not the only one who sees a fossil fuel solution to the tragic crisis unfolding in Ukraine.

Last week, several other members of Congress, including Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI), made pretty much the same points when they called for boosting natural gas exports in order to support international sanctions against Russia.

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Tina 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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