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Energy Department Launches SunShot Prize Competition to Install Solar Energy Systems at a Fraction of Today’s Price

published: 2012-09-14 15:06

As part of the Energy Department’s SunShot Initiative, which is working to make solar energy competitive with other forms of energy without subsidy by the end of the decade, the Energy Department has announced the start of a new competition to make it faster, easier, and cheaper to install rooftop solar energy systems. The SunShot Prize makes a total of $10 million in cash awards available to the first three teams that repeatedly demonstrate the non-hardware costs, or price to plug in, can be as low as $1 per watt (W) for small-scale photovoltaic (PV) systems on American 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 percent.  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 American families and businesses.

“This race to the rooftops is designed to inspire innovative teams including installers, local governments, and utilities to make solar energy systems more affordable,” said U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu. “This aggressive target is an important step that will help bring us significantly closer to reaching the  SunShot goal of cost-competitive solar energy by the end of the decade.”

While solar hardware prices have fallen 400 percent in the past four years, the soft costs of installing solar energy systems remain stubbornly 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.

During Phase I of the competition, winning teams will successfully deploy 5,000 small-scale (2–15 kilowatt) 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. In addition to the cash award, the first-place team will officially become “The Winner of America’s Most Affordable Rooftop Solar” prize.

The SunShot Initiative is a collaborative national effort to make solar energy cost-competitive with other forms of energy by the end of the decade. Inspired by President Kennedy's “Moon Shot” program that put the first man on the moon, the SunShot Initiative has created new momentum for the solar industry by highlighting the need for American competitiveness in the clean energy race.

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