Fraunhofer aims to slash US solar costs with ‘plug and play’ system

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The Fraunhofer Center for Sustainable Energy Systems (CSE) in the US has installed its first ‘plug and play’ rooftop solar system in Boston, kicking off its bid to help slash the installed cost of PV to US$1.50 per watt.

At a demonstration at the end of last week, Fraunhofer CSE, a subsidiary of the Fraunhofer USA arm, installed and connected the first of its new systems, which it hopes will offer a solution to the relatively high costs of installing solar in the US.

The system has been funded through the Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative, one of whose objectives is to cut the so-called soft costs of installing solar in the US, which have remained stubbornly higher than other countries such as Germany and Australia. The objective of the Plug and Play system is to cut per-watt installation costs from US$4 to US$1.50 by 2020.

To achieve this Fraunhofer said the system it had developed embodied a “holistic” solution that combined technological innovation with measures to simplify the interconnection, permitting and inspection. These are all factors that have been cited for adding to the overall costs of solar in the US.

Dr. Christian Hoepfner, director of Fraunhofer CSE and principal investigator on the Plug and Play PV project, said: “What is particularly unique about this project is that it doesn't just stop at technology development but is a comprehensive approach, including integration with the utilities and jurisdictions.

“Fraunhofer CSE and its partners are particularly well-positioned to tackle this challenge because of our integrated expertise across solar PV, building and grid technologies. As an applied R&D organisation, our focus is on getting technologies – especially those that will impact society and drive clean energy adoption – into the hands of consumers.”

Once the concept has been proved and the system commercialised, Fraunhofer said it would be available to buy in local building supply stores. It claimed the system would be possible to install within 10 hours “as easily as installing a washer/dryer combination”, according to the organisation.

Fraunhofer CSE said it had been working with a number of commercialisation partners and other stakeholders, including the City of Boston, local Massachusetts jurisdictions (including the towns of Dartmouth and Falmouth), and New England utilities including Northeast Utilities, National Grid and Green Mountain Power.

“We at Northeast Utilities see this programme as incredibly important because it not only addresses installation barriers, but also simplifies the interconnection process,” said Penni Conner, senior vice president and chief customer officer at Northeast Utilities. “These systems make solar adoption a less complicated and time-consuming process for our customers and easier for us to bring new solar onto our systems. Our customers are going to have easier access to solar, helping us support a more sustainable energy future.”

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