The Biden administration on Thursday set a goal to cut the cost of solar energy by 60% over the next decade as part of an ambitious plan to decarbonize the United States’ power sector by 2035.
The U.S. Department of Energy said the goal accelerates its previous utility-scale solar cost target by five years. For the U.S. power grid to run entirely on clean energy within 15 years, a key pillar of President Joe Biden’s climate change agenda, solar energy will need to be installed as much as five times faster than it is today, DOE said.
To get there, the agency committed to spending $128 million on technologies including perovskite solar cells, which are regarded as a promising cheap alternative to the silicon cells that dominate the market. Funds will also support research on cadmium telluride and concentrating solar technologies.
Part of the funding will also seek to extend the lifetime of existing photovoltaic solar plants by improving components like inverters, cables and racks.
“This first burst of funding will help us add even more affordable clean energy to the grid, jobs to communities across the country, and will put us on the fast track toward President Biden’s goal of 100% clean electricity by 2035,” Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said in a statement.
The cost of generating power from the sun has dropped more than 80% in the last decade, making it competitive with plants powered by fossil fuels like coal and natural gas. Solar energy now accounts for the largest share of annual new generating capacity in the United States, according to government data.
DOE has set ambitious targets for solar in the past. In 2017, the agency said the cost had hit its goal three years ahead of schedule due to a drop in the cost of solar panels tied to expanded production in China.
These investments support the Biden-Harris Administration’s climate goals and will pave the way for affordable decarbonization of the energy system and a robust clean energy economy.
“In many parts of the country, solar is already cheaper than coal and other fossil fuels, and with more innovation we can cut the cost again by more than half within the decade,” said Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm, in a press release. “This first burst of funding will help us add even more affordable clean energy to the grid, jobs to communities across the country, and will put us on the fast track toward President Biden’s goal of 100% clean electricity by 2035.”
Lowering the cost of solar energy is essential to accelerating deployment and achieving President Biden’s goal of a 100% clean electricity grid by 2035. To reach that goal in the next 15 years, the country will need to add hundreds of gigawatts of solar energy to the grid at a pace as much as five times faster than current installation rates. To that end, DOE is accelerating its utility-scale solar 2030 cost target by five years—setting a new goal of driving down the current cost of 4.6 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) to 3 cents/kWh by 2025 and 2 cents/kWh by 2030.
Traditional solar panels convert sunlight into electrical energy using photovoltaic (PV) solar technologies, which by 2035 could represent between 30% and 50% of electricity supply in a decarbonized electricity sector. Funding announced today through DOE’s Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) will support advancing two materials used to make solar cells: perovskites and cadmium telluride (CdTe) thin films.
- $40 million for perovskite R&D: Perovskites are a family of emerging solar materials that have potential to make highly efficient thin-film solar cells with very low production costs. DOE is awarding $40 million to 22 projects that will advance perovskite PV device and manufacturing research and development—as well as performance through the formation of a new $14 million testing center to provide neutral, independent validation of the performance of new perovskite devices.
- $3 million Perovskite Startup Prize: This new prize competition will speed entrepreneurs’ path to commercializing perovskite technologies by providing seed capital for their newly formed companies.
- $20 million for CdTe thin films: The National Renewable Energy Laboratory will set up a consortium to advance cheaper CdTe thin-film solar technologies, which were developed in the United States and make up 20% of the modules installed in this country. This consortium will advance low-cost manufacturing techniques and domestic research capabilities, increasing opportunities for U.S. workers and entrepreneurs to capture a larger portion of the $60 billion global solar manufacturing sector.
In addition, the DOE announced $7 million as part of a new funding opportunity for projects to increase the lifetime of silicon-based PV systems from about 30 years to 50 years, lowering the cost of energy and reducing waste. The aim is to improve PV system components, such as inverters, connectors, cables, racks, and trackers.
Today’s announcement also supports several concentrating solar-thermal power (CSP) projects. Unlike PV technologies that directly convert sunlight into electricity, CSP captures heat from sunlight and uses that thermal energy to spin a turbine or power an engine that then generates electricity.
- $33 million for CSP advances: The new funding opportunity also includes funding for improvements to the reliability and performance of CSP plants, which can dispatch solar energy whenever it is needed; identifies new solar applications for industrial processes, which contribute 20% of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions; and advances long-duration thermal-energy storage devices. Long-duration energy storage is critical to decarbonizing the electricity sector and couples well with CSP plants, but the cost must fall by a factor of two to unlock deployment.
- $25 million to demonstrate a next-generation CSP power plant: Sandia National Laboratories will receive funding to build a facility where researchers, developers, and manufacturers can test next-generation CSP components and systems and advance toward DOE’s 2030 cost target of 5 cents/kWh for CSP plants.
Consistent with the DOE’s commitment to ensuring the benefits of federal funding reach diverse communities, applicants to the Perovskite Startup Prize and the PV/CSP funding opportunity must submit a Diversity and Inclusion Plan and propose measurable actions to increase the participation of underrepresented groups on their teams, in their research, and in the broader community.