Clean Power low cost solar in 7 days

Published on March 5th, 2015 | by Tina Casey


Low-Cost Solar In 7 Days, Not 180 Days

March 5th, 2015 by  

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.

low cost solar in 7 days

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:

Sunshot 7 Day Solar Prize

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).

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Image Credit (cropped and full-sized): Courtesy of US Department of Energy.

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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+.

  • JamesWimberley

    This is a competition to reinvent the wheel. Germany, and I think Australia and the UK, have solved the problem.
    1. No permitting, for residential systems 1950s building codes. Replace with one ex-post inspection within 48 hours of filing.
    2. Replace all other incentives with an unlimited FIT, with a transparent and near-automatic degression.
    3. Make feed-in a right.
    4. Put all paperwork on the Web.

    • Matt

      So turn James. You forgot ban HOA bans on PV. I like the money quota
      “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.”
      Which is why ALEC and utilities are fighting tooth and nail to stop or at least delay every one.

      • Will E

        Solar is plug and play. same thing as to switch on the light. very easy. install connect, switch the button , ready. than again,
        I dont live in USA.

    • Ronald Brakels

      In Australia I need to go through a lot of red tape to get a gun. I don’t need a permit to get rooftop solar. America, U R doing it Rong!

      • Ronald Brakels

        I’ll also point out I don’t need a permit to install a big air conditioner. If one doesn’t need a permit to install a big, large power draw piece of machinery like that, it makes no sense to require one for rooftop solar.

  • We need to get away from DC to AC conversion with home PV systems. (I’m being overly simple here to make a point, so please don’t take it literally) Install just enough PV solar to run say all the low voltage DC equipment (computers, gizmos, etc.) and LED lights, assuming battery storage. Done. This eliminates a bunch of hardware, install and headaches with utilities. Rewire the house like the way homes were wired in the turn of the 20th century – by stapling exposed wires to wood molding. If the city inspector comes by and asked about the panels on the roof, say “what panels.” Over the summer, pick up the guy’s bar tab. The problem with suburbanites is they don’t understand the purpose of the local bar – and are afraid to take public transportation – but that’s another story. Other things to directly wire could be a DC air conditioning window unit that feeds off the battery.

    Keep it simple. No need to go through energy consultants billing at $150 on US DoE technical services and consulting contracts. Or middlemen financiers adding no value to the value chain. Or marketing reps and communication writers selling stuff for government contractors. This just ticks off republicans and some democrats. Leave the graft and arm twisting to the fossil fuel lobbyists.

    Here’s an example of too much California BS and not enough Midwestern git r’ done. Chicago is going after 350Green for its fast EV charging stations – after bilking the DoE and selling a scam rapid EV charging stations. Please clean technology enthusiasts, stop with the shady deals. There’s too much at stake.

    • Offgridman

      Thanks for sharing this link, my sister that lives in that area has been wondering what happened to the network that was supposed to be available a couple of years ago.
      She gave up little over a year ago and got a new gas mobile instead of an EV because her job requires being able to recharge during the day when going to different schools that don’t have chargers yet either.
      It is sad to see that greed even corrupts people that are supposed to be doing good things. How much this is due to the inherent corruption in the political system there it is hard to tell from the article or comments, but one can wish that people involved in green projects would rise above it.

    • Steven F

      My home has typical 120VAC 20 amp wiring which uses 14 gauge wires (1.83mm diameter. Doing the math a 12VDC wiring would need to carry 200 amps to deliver the same amount of power. 200 amps require a wire gauge of 1 or 0 (7 or 8mm diameter wire). 8mm wire is difficult to work with, it doesn’t bend easily and you cannot simply staple it to a wall or hid it under a wood molding and it doesn’t make 90 degree bends. Additionally thick wire like this cost about $2.50 per foot and you would need at least 100 feet for a small home. for 14 gauge wire you can buy 100 feet for less than about $70.

      So overall a 12V system doesn’t really save you any time or money. Furthermore it limits you to only a small system while many of your big loads continue to use utility power. its the Big loads that account for most of the electrical bill, not lights, TVs, or computers. Also there is not a good sellection of low DCC voltage appliances available.

      Today you can buy PV panels with a small DC to AC converter mounted on the back of the panel. wire these together and then run the wire to across the roof and down to the utility meter. Install a small circuit breaker panel and then wire it to side of the meter that runs into the house. done this way wire cost are minimized, And installation of the wire alone doesn’t take that much time.

      Most of the cost are in the panning on were to put the panels, figuring out how many are needed, designing the system, getting approvals and permits, modifying the roof for the panels, and getting the work inspected. in some places permit cost alone can be very expensive and take days to get approval.

      The following study done in california shows some of the permitting issues that affect cost and installation time. After the study was done many cities in california reduced PV fees and simplified the permitting process. many places outside of Califiornia have probably not done that.

      • I think you’re over thinking this whole thing. You don’t need to convert the whole house to 200 amps. Jiminy Christmas, what the hell. The DC air conditioning I linked below runs between 15 and 25 amps. The wiring would pertain to that specifically – not the whole house.

        As an engineer, I’d say there’s no need to get an engineer. If California is making homeowners get PE stamped drawings for each install – that’s California’s problem. Someone is scamming at the State level. That’s been done, where a state engineer writes in the regs saying all designs for a certain action needs to be PE stamped. Then the state engineer’s brother in law provides design and PE services. In most states, just a licensed contractor tied into the equipment manufacture can pretty much do the install from soup to nuts. Even permitting.

        Let’s look at the big electricity user: air conditioning. Here’s an ACDC 12 unit that runs off PV panels and the grid:

        and here’s their DC off grid unit here:

        Even Lennox has PV solar air/heat systems that they’ll install. The dealer/contractor will do the permitting, engineering and installation.

        We can’t be overcomplicating these things. The off grid DC air unit looks kind of cool. Real simple.

        And the US government give free preliminary engineering through NREL to size a PV rooftop system:

        The app pretty much sizes a system for you.

        Keep it simple – or renewables will never get going at the rate we need them to.

  • Marion Meads

    Buying, financing and installing solar is much much more cumbersome than buying a car, and yet cars are often more expensive than the Solar PV system! What kind of convoluted world we all lived in. So I like the concept of DOE. Please set aside plenty of money to underwrite the financing at very low APR without the need for credit checking. Get the legal power to have the ability to switch the electricity from the household to the grid if the household doesn’t pay, so this is very low risk underwriting.

    • jeffhre

      “Buying, financing and installing solar is much much more cumbersome than buying a car, and yet cars are often more expensive than the Solar PV system! What kind of convoluted world we all lived in.”

      Yes, and solar panels just sit benignly on owners roofs, while cars accelerate with enough glass metal and steel to become hazards, even deadly ones.

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