The federal Energy Department has announced it will invest $29 million in projects that promote clean energy. The move supports the department's SunShot Initiative, which aims to make solar power prices competitive with other energy sources, such as coal and natural gas, before 2020. The Energy Department will designate $21 million over the course of five years to the design of plug-and-play photovoltaic systems. These new plug-and-play systems could be installed and up and running in just one day, making solar energy more accessible and less expensive for consumers. Fraunhofer USA's Center for Sustainable Energy Systems and North Carolina State University will create PV technology and components under this initiative, which is part of a wider effort by the Energy Department to bring down "non-module hardware" costs.
The other $8 million will go toward two projects that will increase reliable solar power forecasting at U.S. solar plants. The University Corporation for Atmospheric Research will study cloud impact and create short-term solar prediction methods, while the IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center will focus on data processing and algorithms. Both projects will help the Energy Department and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association in their solar 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 in a statement. "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."