The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) reported that the solar industry has realized the 2020 utility-scale solar cost target set by the SunShot Initiative of having an average price of utility-scale solar at 6 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh). Now the DOE is looking ahead. In addition to hoping to drive down costs, new funding programs will aim at a wider range of priorities including early-stage research to improving grid reliability, increasing resilience, and the storing of electrical power.
The DOE announced up to $82 million in early-stage research in two areas to further advance these new research priorities. Up to $62 million will go towards concentrating solar power (the kind that uses mirrors to direct light and produce heat, not the kind that focuses light on PV cells) and up to $20 million will go towards power electronics technology that links solar to the grid.
These awards are not grants but funding agreements in which awardees will be obliged to contribute 20 percent of the funds to their overall project budget. They involve substantial federal oversight and consist of go/no-go technical milestones that help ensure attentive stewardship of projects.
Of the new funding, the $20 million going for early-stage projects to advance power electronics technologies that help link solar PV and the electrical grid. Utilities are not currently equipped to handle getting extra electricity from non-utility scale photovoltaic power generation from consumers that own solar cells. According to the DOE, such advances in power electronics will enable consumers to manage electricity usage along with solar power from solar cells that they own, and help grid operators rapidly identify problems and respond, as well as protect against physical and cyber vulnerabilities.