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On the Horizon: Deeper Wind, Faster Solar

Offshore wind technology is striving to reach new depths while the solar industry is facing a challenge to make rooftop installation easier than ever. Both announcements this week are structured to clear some of the fundamental hurdles facing the wind and the solar industries.

Ahead of an international clean energy conference this week in London, the U.K.’s Department of Energy and Climate Change said it is working with the U.S. Department of Energy on a plan to develop floating wind technology that will give turbines access to the strong, consistent resources currently out of reach of current wind farms.

On Tuesday, the DOE announced that it is making $5 million available this year toward the development of “plug-and-play” solar rooftop installations with the guiding principle that a system should be purchased, installed and made operational in one day.

Floating Wind Technology

U.K. Energy Secretary Edward Davey and U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu will co-chair the Clean Energy Ministerial, which brings energy officials from 23 leading economies to London on Wednesday and Thursday.

The collaborative deal between the United States and Britain is among the many that are expected to be struck during the talks. According to the initial agreement, the nations will work to develop floating wind technology designed to generate power in deep waters currently off limits to conventional turbines.

Britain has in recent years emerged as the world leader in offshore wind development, though none of it has come in the deep waters that require floating turbine technology. Meanwhile, the U.S. has what experts consider a world class wind resource off of both the Atlantic and Pacific Coasts, as well as the Gulf Coast and the Great Lakes region. Yet, the country has yet to install an offshore turbine even in shallow coastal waters.

“Floating wind turbines will allow us to exploit more of the our wind resource, potentially more cheaply,” said Davey. “Turbines will be able to locate in ever deeper waters where the wind is stronger but without the expense of foundations down to the seabed or having to undertake major repairs out at sea. The U.K. and U.S. are both making funding available for this technology and we’re determined to work together to capitalise on this shared intent.”

Solar will be put up faster

As the costs of PV modules continue to fall, an increasing emphasis is being placed on reducing costs beyond the panel. “Soft” costs, such as installation, hardware, permitting and interconnection, now make up more than half the total costs of residential systems.

According to the DOE, the goal of the funding is to drive the innovation that will fundamentally change how residential PV systems are designed and installed. The systems, says the DOE, “could be installed without special training or tools, and simply plugged into a PV-ready circuit, through which an automatic detection system would initiate communication between the solar energy system and the utility.”

As part of its SunShot Initiative, the DOE will invest $5 million this year for two prototype projects through partnerships with universities, industry, utilities and other stakeholders. The Department plans to request from Congress $20 million over the next four years.

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