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US to invest $357 million in Solar America Initiative

12 Mar 2007

The US Department of Energy has joined forces with 13 industry partners to fund R&D projects to cut the cost of producing and distributing sun power.

The US Department of Energy will invest £168 million in 2007–2009 in 13 solar-technology development projects that are designed to significantly reduce the cost of producing solar energy. The Advanced Energy Initiative, which underpins the research, aims to make solar technology cost-competitive by 2015.

The industry-led teams will contribute more than 50% of the funding for these projects, giving a total R&D spend approaching $357 million over the three years. The agreements constitute the first part of President Bush's Solar America Initiative (SAI), a component of the AEI announced in 2006.

The teams have formed Technology Pathway Partnerships (TPP), which involve more than 50 companies, 14 universities and other parties to progress commercialization of US-produced photovoltaic (PV) systems. The funding starts this year, with $51.6 million going to the TPPs.

The motivation behind these projects is to expand the annual US manufacturing capacity of PV systems from 240 MW in 2005 to as much as 2,850 MW by 2010. Such capacity would also put the US industry on course to cut the cost of electricity produced by PV from current levels of around $0.20/kWh to less than $0.10/kWh by 2015, a price that would be competitive in US markets with other energy sources.

Some of the projects agreed include the participation of the following key companies:

Amonix: a low-cost, high-concentration PV system intended for utility markets. Proposed DoE funding (year 1): $3.2 million (three years): $14.8 million available.

Boeing: a high-efficiency concentrating photovoltaic power system. The project will focus on cell fabrication research that is expected to yield high-efficiency systems. DoE: $5.9 million/$13,300,000 available.

Dow Chemical: development of PV-integrated residential and commercial building solutions. DoE: $3.3 million/$9.4 million available.

General Electric: a value chain partnership to accelerate US PV growth. The project will develop various cell technologies including a new bifacial, high-efficiency silicon cell that could be incorporated into systems solutions. DOE: $8.1 million/$18.6 million.

BP Solar: a low-cost approach to grid parity using crystalline silicon. DoE: $7.5 million/$19.1 million.

Konarka: building integrated organic photovoltaics. This project is focused on manufacturing research and product reliability assurance for low-cost photovoltaic cells using organic dyes that convert sunlight to electricity. DoE: $1.2 million/$3.6 million.

Solar cell developers honoured

In related news, two scientists at the US Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory who pioneered the multi-junction solar cell have been named Dan David Prize Laureates for 2007. This week, Jerry Olson and Sarah Kurtz received their award in a 8 March ceremony in Paris.

The NREL scientists will share the $1 million prize in the "Future Time Dimension: Quest for Energy" with NASA climate scientist James Hansen. NREL is the DoE's primary national laboratory for renewable energy R&D.

The scientists pioneered the multi-junction solar cell, which uses layers of gallium arsenide to achieve high efficiency in converting sunlight to electricity. A cell based on Olson's and Kurtz's design, and manufactured by Spectrolab, recently set a world-record conversion efficiency of 40% (see related story). Most space satellites use multi-junction solar cells, which also power the Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity.

"In the past few years, investment in concentrator systems using high-efficiency, multi-junction solar cells has mushroomed," said Kurtz. "Although this investment is not yet reflected by large installations, the Dan David prize recognizes this technology in the future category, predicting that it will be a huge success."

Olson and Kurtz were selected for their "exceptional and profound contributions to the field of photovoltaic energy", the prize committee said. Solar cells based on the scientists' work "have the potential to alleviate the world's impending energy crisis".

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