Smart Grid

December 10, 2012

Friends in High Places: DOE Funds Plug-and-Play Rooftop Solar

If your anxiety about high electricity bills exceeds your fear of heights, there’s cause for celebration. The U.S. Department of Energy has announced $29 million in new SunShot investments—most of the funding to be directed toward “plug-and-play” solar photovoltaic (PV) systems that the “average Joe” can install on his own roof within one day.

Overall, the new solar projects will be aimed at improving grid connection and reducing installation costs through innovative do-it-yourself technologies and reliable solar power forecasts. 

"The price of solar panels has fallen dramatically in recent years, but we also need to reduce the cost and time required to actually install them in homes and businesses, and help utility companies better integrate renewable energy into the grid." said Energy Secretary Steven Chu. "Projects like these can help reduce the cost of solar power and make it easier for American families and businesses to access clean, affordable energy."

Plug-and-Play PV Systems

Over the next five years, the DOE will invest $21 million to design PV systems that can be purchased, installed and operational in one day. Plug-and-play PV systems will make the process of buying, installing and connecting solar energy systems faster, easier and less expensive for homeowners. This effort is part of the department’s broader initiative to bring down “soft” or non-module hardware costs, which now account for a majority of the total outlay for residential systems. 

Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Fraunhofer (News - Alert) USA’s Center for Sustainable Energy Systems will develop PV technologies that enable consumers to easily select the right solar system for their house and install, wire and connect to the grid.

In addition, Raleigh-based North Carolina State University will lead a project to create standard PV components and system designs that can be adapted without difficulty to any residential roof, and can be installed and connected to the grid quickly and efficiently. 

Reliable Solar Forecasting

The Energy Department also announced an $8 million investment in two projects that will help utilities and grid operators to more accurately forecast when, where, and how much solar power will be produced at U.S. solar energy plants. Enhanced solar forecasting technologies will help power system operators to integrate cost-competitive, reliable solar energy into the grid and provide clean, renewable energy to U.S. consumers. 

Through this initiative, the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, based in Boulder, Colorado, will research methods to understand cloud impact and develop short-term prediction techniques based on this work.

In Armonk, New York, the IBM (News - Alert) Thomas J. Watson Research Center will lead a new project based on the Watson computer system that uses big data processing and self-adjusting algorithms to integrate different prediction models and learning technologies.

These projects are working with the Energy Department and the National Oceanic (News - Alert) and Atmospheric Association to improve the accuracy of solar forecasts and share the results of this work with industry and academia. 

The SunShot Initiative is a collaborative national effort to make solar energy cost-competitive with other forms of energy by the end of the decade. Inspired by President Kennedy's "Moon Shot" program that put the first man on the moon, the SunShot Initiative has created new momentum for the solar industry by highlighting the need for American competitiveness in the clean energy race.

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Edited by Brooke Neuman