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The SunShot Initiative

In 2007, the amount of solar power installed in the U.S. was 1.1 gigawatts (GW). As of 2017, that amount has increased to 47.1 GW. Enough to power 9.1 million average American homes. If you're thinking "we've still got a long way to go," you'd be right. On the other hand, increasing installed power by 4300% deserves some attention.  How'd we do it?

The Department of Energy played an important role. In 2011, they initiated a program called The SunShot Initiative. They set targets for the years 2020 and 2030, by which times generating solar power would have become more affordable. More affordable on a utility scale, more affordable on a commercial scale, and more affordable on a residential scale. Thus far, they've succeeded in hitting the 2020 goal for utility-scale generation. Needless to mention, they reached that goal three years early. The goals, it should be mentioned, don't take subsidies into account. It's the technology, in the case of utilities, that's become more cost effective. Photovoltaic hardware has become cheaper, module efficiency has increased, and labor costs have declined.

How are the goals tested? Cost estimates are based on systems installed in an "average" solar location: Kansas City, Mo. The targets agreed upon for 2020 are 6 cents /kWh for utilities, 8 cents/
kWh for businesses, and 10 cents/kWh for residences. The 6 cents/kWh target has been achieved. Because wholesale power prices have been very nearly flat, and even declined, from 2010 to 2017, the utility goal was not adjusted for inflation. What's the 2030 goal for utility-scale generation? Three cents/kWh. Commercial and residential targets are 4 cents and 5 cents, respectively.

If longer-range goals can be achieved (grid integration, two-way power flow, increased demand response, optimal charging of electric vehicles), and combined with low-cost battery storage, solar power could be deployed nationwide. A a new energy balance among distinct energy sources emerges, the ability to integrate them will be key.

First, however, the slower decline in residential and commercial costs needs to be taken into account. Soft costs like sales taxes and overhead continue to drive up the cost of residential installations. The Department of Energy has said these expenses will be halved in the future. The biggest obstacle? Converting DC solar power to AC network power, known as inversion.  Without reliable inverter technology, as much as 50 percent of power is lost during inversion.

We're just a few inventions away from the new solar reality.

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