SUNPATH Program Will Boost American Competitiveness, Lower Cost of Solar Power

U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced a $50 million investment over two years for the SUNPATH program, aimed to help the nation reclaim its competitive edge in solar energy manufacturing. SUNPATH, which stands for Scaling Up Nascent Photovoltaic At Home, represents the second solar Photovoltaic Manufacturing Initiative (PVMI) supporting the Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative.

"This investment provides a necessary boost to domestic solar manufacturing businesses, encouraging them to keep jobs here and establish America’s leadership in the world’s growing clean energy economy," said Secretary Chu. "In addition to invigorating clean energy manufacturing, this program will help achieve the SunShot goal of making unsubsidized utility-scale solar cost-competitive with other forms of energy by the end of the decade."

As recently as 1995, the United States maintained a dominant global solar market share, manufacturing 43 percent of the world’s PV panels. In steady decline, U.S. market share shrank to 27 percent by 2000 and to 7 percent by 2010. SUNPATH will help return the United States to the forefront, driving innovation and assuring continued leadership in the 21st century clean energy economy.

PVMI Part II: SUNPATH seeks to increase domestic manufacturing through investments that have sustainable, competitive cost and performance advantages. SUNPATH will help companies with pilot-scale commercial production scale up their manufacturing capabilities, enabling them to overcome a funding gap that often curtails domestic business at a critical stage. By bridging this gap, SUNPATH will help ensure that innovative, low-cost solar technologies are manufactured in the United States.

The PV Manufacturing Initiative accelerates the cost reduction and commercialization of solar technologies by coordinating solutions across industry. The initiative will help create a robust, domestic PV manufacturing base and develop a workforce with the critical skills required to deliver reliable, affordable, clean energy.

PVMI Part I: Advanced Manufacturing Partnerships has resulted in the selection of $110 million in projects to three industry and academic consortia to enable substantial cost reductions in PV module production. To ensure that these technologies are manufactured domestically, PVMI Part II: SUNPATH will support an initial ramp up to high volume manufacturing. DOE’s national laboratories are stepping up their validation facilities to ensure that the technologies developed and manufactured in Parts I and II are tested at scale in multiple locations and climates in the United States.

The Department of Energy is seeking applicants with industrial-scale demonstrations of PV modules, cells, or substrates that offer lower-cost solutions in line with the SunShot goal. Applications are due by October 28, 2011.

The DOE SunShot Initiative is a collaborative national initiative to make solar energy technologies cost-competitive with other forms of energy by reducing the cost of solar energy systems by about 75% before 2020. Reducing the total installed cost for utility-scale solar electricity to roughly 6 cents per kilowatt hour without subsidies will result in rapid, large-scale adoption of solar electricity across the United States. Reaching this goal will re-establish American technological leadership, improve the nation’s energy security, and strengthen U.S. economic competitiveness in the global clean energy race.