DOE Announces 'SunShot' Initiative to Boost Solar Energy

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The SunShot program might make more solar farms like the Nellis Solar Power Plant, the second largest photovoltaic power plant in North America.

A new government initiative could lead to massive growth in America’s use of solar power by the next decade.

That’s the aim of the Department of Energy’s “SunShot” program, announced by Energy Secretary Steven Chu on a conference call Friday.

“The SunShot will spur American innovation and help establish U.S. leadership in this growing industry,” Chu said.

Chu said the Department of Energy hopes to bring the cost of notoriously expensive solar power down to a level where it can compete with other forms of energy production. The SunShot program sets a goal of reducing the cost of solar power by roughly 75 percent over the next ten years, with a target cost of $1 per watt of energy produced by photovoltaic cells.

“That would make solar energy cost-competitive with other forms of energy without subsidy of any kind,” Chu said. “And at this level, we think that solar energy systems could be broadly deployed across the country.”

Richard Swanson, President Emeritus of SunPower Corp., spoke highly of the initiative during the conference call. Swanson said administration support of solar energy innovation has inspired his company to add more than 650 new jobs over the next four years.

“The President and Secretary Chu and his team have been fantastic supporters of solar,” Swanson said. “They really understand that solar is now within reach of offering affordable power without incentives anywhere in the country.”

As part of the initiative, Chu announced $27 million in new Department of Energy funding for solar projects. Chu said government money will be spent on research programs designed to drive down costs in every aspect of solar energy production.

“The fact that we’re trying to reduce the cost by roughly 75 percent is something which will require changes to manufacturing, installation, everything, so you can really get the cost down,” he said. “The module itself is now only about half the cost of the entire system, and so these improvements have to be throughout the whole system.”

While both Swanson and Chu acknowledged that they did not know which research projects would lead to achieving the SunShot’s goals, Swanson expressed confidence that the program would help expand America’s use of solar power and other forms of clean energy.

“I believe that with universities, national laboratories, government and industry all working together, we’ll create a clean energy industry that is a vital part of our national security and well-being,” he said.

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