News and Events June 21, 2012
DOE’s SunShot Initiative has a new competition and investments making it easier and less expensive to deploy solar energy technologies.
Credit: Craig Miller Productions
As part of the Energy Department’s SunShot Initiative, the department announced on June 13 a new competition and investments to make it easier and less expensive to deploy solar energy technologies. The department is launching “America’s Most Affordable Rooftop Solar” competition to aggressively drive down the cost of rooftop solar energy systems. It also is awarding nearly $8 million to nine small businesses to lower the cost of financing, permitting, and other “soft costs,” which can amount to nearly half the cost of residential solar systems. To spur the use of low-cost residential and small commercial rooftop solar systems across the nation, the department is launching America’s Most Affordable Rooftop Solar competition to challenge U.S. teams to quickly lower the cost of installed rooftop photovoltaic (PV) systems. The competition offers a total of $10 million in prize money to the first three U.S. teams that can install 5,000 rooftop solar PV systems at an average price of $2 per watt. By setting an ambitious target, the competition aims to spur creative public-private partnerships, original business models, and innovative approaches to make solar energy affordable for millions of families and businesses. See the America’s Most Affordable Rooftop Solar competition Web page.
The Energy Department also awarded up to $8 million to support nine highly innovative startups in four states through the SunShot Incubator program. These companies, in California, Colorado, Massachusetts, and Minnesota, are developing transformative solutions to streamline solar installation processes such as financing, permitting, and inspection. See the list of projects.
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. See the DOE press release, and the SunShot Initiative website.
The Energy Department announced on June 13 its new investments in 21 projects designed to further advance cutting-edge concentrating solar power (CSP) technologies. The $56 million in awards span three years, subject to congressional appropriations, and cover 13 states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Vermont, and Washington. As part of the planned three-year initiative, Congress appropriated an initial $16.3 million in fiscal year 2011. The Energy Department plans to made additional requests totaling $39.7 million in fiscal years 2013 and 2014 to support these CSP projects.
The research projects—conducted in partnership with private industry, national laboratories, and universities—support the Energy Department’s SunShot Initiative, a collaborative national effort to make solar power cost-competitive with traditional energy sources by the end of the decade. For example, DOE’s Sandia National Laboratories will develop a falling particle receiver and heat exchanger system to increase efficiency and lower costs.
The awards will help speed innovations in new components to lower costs, increase operating temperatures, and improve the efficiency of CSP systems. The 3-year applied research projects will focus on achieving dramatic improvements in CSP performance while driving progress toward the SunShot goal of 75% cost reduction. CSP technologies use mirrors to reflect and concentrate sunlight to produce heat, which is then used to produce electricity. CSP systems are distinguished from other solar energy technologies by their ability to store energy as heat so that consumer demand can be met even when the sun is not shining, including during the night. See the DOE press release, the complete list of awards, and the SunShot Initiative website.
The Obama Administration announced on June 14 that six major U.S. companies are joining the Better Buildings Challenge, which encourages private sector leaders across the country to commit to reducing the energy use in their facilities by at least 20% by 2020. Starbucks Coffee Company, Staples, and the J.R. Simplot Company will upgrade more than 50 million square feet of combined commercial building space, including 15 manufacturing facilities. Financial allies Samas Capital and Greenwood Energy will make $200 million in financing available for energy efficiency upgrades through this national leadership initiative. And utility partner Pacific Gas and Electric has committed to offering expanded energy efficiency programs for its commercial customers, who are responsible for 30 million square feet of commercial building space.
The Better Buildings Challenge is part of a comprehensive strategy to improve the competitiveness of U.S. industry and business by helping companies save money by and reducing energy waste in commercial and industrial buildings. Under the challenge, private sector CEOs, university presidents, and state and local leaders commit to taking aggressive steps to reducing energy use in their facilities and sharing data and best practices with others around the country. With the addition of today’s partners and allies, nearly 70 organizations have now joined the Better Buildings Challenge. Together, these organizations account for more than 1.7 billion square feet of building space, including more than 300 manufacturing plants, and they have committed almost $2 billion to support energy efficiency improvements nationwide. See the DOE press release and the Better Buildings Challenge website.
The Energy Department announced on June 14 that NuMat Technologies from Northwestern University has won the first DOE National Clean Energy Business Plan Competition. The other finalists included teams from the University of Utah, University of Central Florida, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University, and Columbia University. The competition aims to inspire university teams across the country and promote entrepreneurship in clean energy technologies that will boost American competitiveness, bringing cutting-edge clean energy solutions to the market and strengthening our economic prosperity.
NuMat Technologies presented a plan to commercialize a nanomaterial that stores gases at lower pressure, reducing infrastructure costs and increasing design flexibility. One potential application for this innovation is in designing tanks to store natural gas more efficiently in motor vehicles. NuMat Technologies won based on its commercialization idea, go-to market strategy, team plan, environmental benefits, and potential impact on America’s clean energy economy. As the winning team, Northwestern University was awarded $180,000, which includes seed money for their business plan and additional prizes from sponsors, including technical, design, and legal assistance.
Six teams were invited to present their business ideas to a group of judges from industry and academia after successfully winning at regional level competitions earlier this year. Each team created a business plan around a promising clean energy technology they identified from a university or national lab. The plans detailed how they could bring that technology to market, including financing, product design, scaling up production, and marketing. Funded through DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, the university-led competition supports the next generation of energy leaders, who will boost American competitiveness. See the DOE press release.
The Energy Department and the U.S. Department of Commerce on June 19 announced selections for three Centers for Building Operations Excellence that will receive a total of $1.3 million. The centers will create and deploy programs aimed at training and expanding current and incoming building operators. The Centers are part of the Obama Administration’s Better Buildings Initiative, which is working to improve the energy efficiency of America’s commercial buildings 20% by 2020 and potentially reduce business’ energy bills by approximately $40 billion yearly.
The three Centers for Building Operations Excellence will work with universities, local community and technical colleges, trade associations, and the Energy Department’s national laboratories to build training programs that provide commercial building professionals with the critical skills they need to optimize building efficiency. The DOE and Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technologies’ Manufacturing Extension Partnership are jointly funding the centers. The centers, chosen through a competitive grants process, utilize multi-organization partnerships and support from local and state governments. The centers are: The Corporation for Manufacturing Excellence in California, partnering with Laney College and the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 39; the Delaware Valley Industrial Resource Center in Pennsylvania, partnering with Pennsylvania State University, Pennsylvania College of Technology, and Drexel University; and the New York State Department of Economic Development in New York, partnering with City University of New York and Rochester Institute of Technology. See the DOE press release and the Better Buildings Initiative website.
Total investment in renewable power and fuels last year increased by 17% to a record $257 billion, according to two new reports on renewable energy trends by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21). The Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2012 is the fifth edition of the UNEP report. It is based on data from Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Among the highlights is the fact that solar power generation passed wind power to become the renewable energy technology of choice for global investors in 2011. See the Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2012 report.
According to the REN21 Renewables 2012 Global Status Report, renewables continued to grow strongly in 2011 in all end-use sectors: power, heating and cooling, and transportation. Renewable sources have grown to supply 16.7% of global energy consumption. Of that, the share provided by traditional biomass has declined slightly while the share sourced from modern renewable technologies has risen. See the REN21 Renewables 2012 Global Status report.
In 2011, the United States closed the gap with China at the top of the renewables investment rankings. U.S. investments grew 57% to $51 billion. China, which has led the world for two years, recorded renewable energy investment of $52 billion, up 17%. The top seven countries for renewable electricity capacity excluding large hydropower—China, the United States, Germany, Spain, Italy, India, and Japan—accounted for about 70% of total non-hydro renewable capacity worldwide. By the end of 2011, total renewable power capacity worldwide exceeded 1,360 gigawatts (GW), up 8% over 2010; renewables comprised more than 25% of total global power-generating capacity (estimated at 5,360 GW in 2011) and supplied an estimated 20.3% of global electricity. See the UNEP press release.