Chu opens Solar Decathlon, announces $87M more in solar-targeted DOE awards


Using the opening of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon competition on the National Mall in Washington, DC, as backdrop, DOE Secretary Steven Chu announced the latest round of monies that have been awarded to “support the development of new solar energy technologies and the rapid deployment of available carbon-free solar energy systems.” Of the $87 million allocated, $50 million comes from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. 

The 47 projects receiving funds have been divided among four categories: Solar America Cities special projects, solar installer training, high-penetration solar deployment (which, at up to $37.5 million, will will get the largest award among the four), and research projects at DOE national labs.

The selected projects will help accelerate the commercialization of solar technologies in an effort to achieve cost-competitive solar electricity by 2015, in addition to developing advanced solar technologies for the future, according to DOE. The projects focus on both technology improvements and the elimination of market barriers to help make solar electricity accessible to a wide variety of consumers.

The projects selected for negotiation of awards are categorized as follows:

  • Solar America Cities special projects–As the load centers of energy use across the nation, cities play a strategic role in accelerating solar technology adoption at the local level. Sixteen cities have been selected for 40 projects that will address specific barriers to solar adoption in urban settings and support innovative approaches that can be widely replicated. Many cities will use this funding for multiple efforts.
  • Solar installer training–Nine colleges, universities, and local organizations have been selected to lead regional solar installation “train-the-trainer” programs. The projects will support a national ramp-up and coordinated network of training programs. This funding will help address the critical needs for qualified solar energy system installers.
  • High-penetration solar deployment–Seven projects will model, test, and evaluate the impact of large amounts of PV electricity on the reliability and stability of the electric power system. These projects will help pave the way for broader adoption and growth of grid-tied solar energy systems by improving understanding of the impact of PV electricity on the grid.
  • Research projects at DOE National Laboratories–Fifteen projects at six DOE national labs will seek to improve technologies, devices, and processes for both the PV and concentrating solar power industries. PV projects focus on development of next-generation devices and processes, as well as supply chain technologies for the entire PV system. CSP projects focus on improved energy storage technologies to enable consistent and reliable energy generation. The National Renewable Energy Lab will receive more than half of the alloted $17 million in project funds for this category.  

(For more info on these projects, including the list of selections, check the DOE Solar Energy Technologies Program home page.)

Meanwhile, the Solar Decathlon has kicked off, an international event in which DOE “challenges university teams to design and build homes that run entirely on solar energy.” This year’s competition (the fourth since 2002) features 20 teams–hailing from the U.S., Germany, Spain, Canada, and Puerto Rico–which have shipped their partially constructed homes to the National Mall and are assembling the structures there. Each home features a PV system or systems as a key part of its design.

The sides compete in 10 contests: architecture, engineering, market viability, communications, comfort, appliances, water heating, lighting, home entertainment, as well as a special two-part net metering competition, during which teams are not only rated on their energy production, but receive a bonus for producing more energy than their home consumes.

The event is open to the public Oct. 9-18 (except for Oct. 14), with the overall winner announced Oct. 16.

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