Newsletter: Don’t bet against solar cost declines

The DOE is back with an update to its wildly successful solar cost challenge.

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The Department of Energy is re-upping its SunShot program, which proved wildly successful at pushing down solar power costs over the last decade.

The original 2011 goal was to cut large solar plant costs 75 percent by 2020.

The resounding feedback we got from the industry was…that we were crazy,” said Minh Le, who managed the initiative at the DOE, in the latest story from Emma Foehringer Merchant.

But the industry hit that target three years early, exposing the limits of predicting future solar deployment based on the past.

If the last 20 years have taught us anything, it’s [to] never bet against any cost goals as too ambitious,” Ravi Manghani, head of solar research at Wood Mackenzie.

Now the DOE wants to cut large-scale solar costs by another 60 percent by 2030, to $20 per megawatt-hour without incentives. That’s lower than current analyst projections for where the industry is headed.

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Getting there will require wide-ranging improvements such as:

  • Clearing up trade barriers and complex tax credit financing.
  • Lowering costs of inverters and racking.
  • Increasing module efficiency through new materials or by layering materials to form tandem” solar cells.
  • Extending the life span of solar plants.
  • Maintaining demand as solar penetration increases, by adapting the resource to the changing needs of the grid.

I highly recommend you read Emma’s full story. It captures the recent history of solar success and the challenges in the decade to come. If you have friends or family who ask you, When’s solar going to be competitive?” — send them this article.

And if you crave a different flavor of energy in your morning media diet, Jeff St. John profiles Mainspring Energy, which just raised $95 million to scale linear generators.”

Those devices work differently than typical generators, so they can provide onsite power and backup power without the NOx emissions. They’re also capable of switching from natural gas to biofuels or hydrogen, which enticed clean energy juggernaut NextEra Energy Resources to sign a $150 million deal with Mainspring.

Happy Wednesday, y’all.

(Image Credit: Dept of Energy Solar Decathlon is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0)

Julian Spector is senior reporter at Canary Media.