DOE Takes On ‘Soft Costs’ In New Solar Energy Competition


As part of its SunShot initiative, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has announced a new competition that it says will make it faster, easier and cheaper to install rooftop solar energy systems.

Called the SunShot Prize, the competition makes a total of $10 million in cash awards available to the first three teams that repeatedly demonstrate that non-hardware costs can be as low as $1/W for small-scale photovoltaic systems on U.S. homes and businesses.

This ambitious target represents a decrease in the ‘soft costs’ of solar energy systems – including permitting, licensing, connecting to the grid and other non-hardware costs – by more than 65%. By breaking a significant price barrier that was considered unachievable only a decade ago, the winning teams will demonstrate that solar energy is an affordable solution for U.S. families and businesses, the DOE says.

While solar hardware prices have fallen 400% in the past four years, the soft costs of installing solar energy systems remain high. The SunShot Prize is meant to inspire innovative, sustainable and verifiable business practices that reduce these soft costs to $1/W. Achieving this target will bring the SunShot goal of $0.60/W for residential system soft costs within reach by the end of the decade, according to the DOE.

During Phase I of the competition, winning teams will deploy 5,000 small-scale (2 kW to 15 kW) rooftop PV systems with non-hardware costs averaging $1/W. Phase II, which is intended to assess the business sustainability of the winning teams, calls for the installation of an additional 1,000 qualifying systems.

The competition will run through 2015. The first-place winner will receive $7 million, second place will receive $2 million and third place will receive $1 million for successfully achieving these goals.

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