Although many stakeholders have raised concerns about the potential energy policies under the incoming Trump administration, it appears the Obama administration remains determined to keep pushing forward with clean energy initiatives, even in its final days.
In fact, the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) has announced a new commitment for its SunShot Initiative to cut the cost of solar-generated electricity by 50% between 2020 and 2030. The DOE says this new target builds on the SunShot Initiative’s progress in helping the solar industry reach more than 90% of the initiative’s established 2020 goal in just five years.
Additionally, the DOE has announced up to $65 million for three new funding opportunities, subject to congressional appropriations, that will further drive down the cost of solar energy and accelerate widespread deployment.
“Both SunShot and the solar industry have made major strides to reduce costs for innovative technologies, which resulted in dramatic market growth and the creation of hundreds of thousands of American jobs,” says EERE Acting Assistant Secretary David Friedman, in a press release. “These new goals and funding will further push down costs, save American consumers and businesses money, and create even more jobs.”
The DOE’s SunShot Initiative was launched in 2011 with the goal of making solar electricity cost-competitive with traditional energy sources without subsidies by 2020. In just five years, the DOE says, the initiative and the U.S. solar industry have achieved more than 90% of the established 2020 goal to reduce the cost of utility-scale solar PV electricity to $0.06/kWh; utility-scale solar electricity costs now average $0.07/kWh.
The new SunShot 2030 targets are $0.03/kWh for utility-scale PV, $0.04/kWh for commercial PV, and $0.05/kWh for residential PV. These targets are for areas with average U.S. climate and without subsidies. In the sunnier regions of the country, achieving the SunShot 2030 targets would mean costs of $0.02/kWh for utility-scale solar, according to the DOE.
The agency says the program has also surpassed 70% of its commercial and residential cost targets in just five years, showing that the market is on track to achieve these goals by 2020. Recent modeling suggests that achieving the new 2030 targets could more than double the projected amount of nationwide electricity demand that could be met by solar in 2030 and beyond.
To support these new goals, the DOE says it is now accepting applications for three funding opportunities under the SunShot Initiative’s programs. The PV Research and Development Program is making up to $25 million available to improve PV module and system design, including hardware and software solutions that facilitate the rapid installation and interconnection of PV systems. The Technology to Market Program has $30 million available for projects that accelerate the commercialization of products and solutions that can help to drive down the cost of solar energy. Finally, SunShot is making up to $10 million available under its Systems Integration Program for projects focused on improving solar irradiance and power forecasts used by utilities.
Although the DOE’s new goals are encouraging, the question is whether a Trump administration will follow through with the agency’s plans.
After Donald Trump won the U.S. presidential election, a host of renewables and environmental stakeholders issued statements questioning the future of clean energy in the country. During his campaign, President-elect Trump vowed to back out of the Paris Agreement, undo the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan and dismantle the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Furthermore, an Associated Press report says Trump is currently considering oil tycoon Harold Hamm to become the DOE’s new secretary.
When reached for comment, a DOE spokesperson declined to speculate on the Trump administration’s plans and what they might mean for the DOE’s SunShot Initiative or other renewable energy programs.
Nonetheless, at the moment, it seems the current administration will continue to signal its support for clean energy. In addition to the new SunShot goals, the DOE just revealed a list of new clean energy initiatives, and the U.S. Department of the Interior recently released its final rule for solar and wind development on public land.