Now that rooftop solar installations are becoming commonplace, shouldn’t they be as quick and simple to install as, say, a new home furnace? That’s the question that will be put to rest by the US Energy Department, which has just launched the new “Race to 7-Day Solar Prize.” Cash prizes totaling $10 million are at stake, and to ice the cake, the winning team will most likely be the one that comes up with a low-cost solar solution.
The Road To Low-Cost Solar
We’re linking low-cost solar energy to the 7-Day Solar concept because according to the Energy Department, it is not unusual for solar customers to wait 180 days or more between inking a deal and actually seeing it up and running.
That delay can pile on administrative costs and other “soft costs” of solar energy. The last time we checked, soft costs accounted for more than 60 percent of the cost of a typical solar installation, so the road to low-cost solar has to be hacked through that obstacle.
Here’s a nifty infographic from the Energy Department to illustrate what we’re up against:
Since the typical solar installation results in lower electricity costs, let’s also add the frustration factor of seeing your money go down the drain in needless utility expenses, with your solar panels collecting dust in some warehouse when they could be churning out clean power on your roof.
Here’s how the Energy Department sees it on a national level:
To put it in perspective, if every solar project deployed in the U.S. this year was forced to wait one extra day before connecting to the grid, it would result in a loss of $4 million worth of electricity.
A Collaborative Solution
The 7-Day Solar prize comes under President Obama’s 2011 SunShot initiative, which aims to make solar as least as cheap and ubiquitous as fossil fuels. The initiative is heavy on cutting edge technology to improve solar cell efficiency while reducing the cost of manufacturing solar cells, and it is also tackling these pesky soft costs from a wide variety of angles.
The 7-Day Solar prize is geared toward getting all solar players to collaborate, including government agencies, solar companies and other businesses, nonprofits, utilities, and community stakeholders.
That’s going to take a while so don’t hold your breath just yet. The 7-Day Solar schedule calls for up to 20 teams to be ready for action this September, and then they have 18 months to implement their solutions. The winners will be decided in March 2017 based on a point system.
There are two parts to the contest. The “seven” in the 7-Day Solar name is for the part dealing with small solar systems of up to 100 kilowatts. The winning team will have to show their stuff at scale by building a total of at least 10 megawatts.
The other part is for large systems of up to 1 megawatt, with a time goal of seven weeks and a total goal of 15 megawatts.
If all goes well, in a couple of years we taxpayers can all give ourselves a group hug for bringing low-cost solar to thousands if not millions of properties across the US, because SunShot is putting up seed money to help support the teams.
So, if you have any ideas, get cracking. Letters of intent are expected by March 22 and you can get all the details here (tell them CleanTechnica sent you).
Image Credit (cropped and full-sized): Courtesy of US Department of Energy.