DoE to invest $50 Million to advance solar manufacturing in the U.S.

The U.S. Department of Energy announced a new program where $50 million will be invested over two years for the SUNPATH program, aimed to help the nation reclaim its competitive edge in solar manufacturing.

The U.S. Department of Energy announced a new program where $50 million will be invested over two years for the SUNPATH program, aimed to help the nation reclaim its competitive edge in solar manufacturing. SUNPATH, which stands for Scaling Up Nascent PV At Home, represents the second solar Photovoltaic Manufacturing Initiative (PVMI) supporting the Department of Energy?s SunShot Initiative.

Through a new Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA), The Department of Energy is seeking applicants with industrial-scale demonstrations of PV modules, cells, or substrates that offer lower-cost solutions in line with the SunShot goal. Applications are due by October 28, 2011.  

?This investment provides a necessary boost to domestic solar manufacturing businesses, encouraging them to keep jobs here and establish America?s leadership in the world’s growing clean energy economy,? said DoE Secretary Stephen Chu. ?In addition to invigorating clean energy manufacturing, this program will help achieve the SunShot goal of making unsubsidized utility-scale solar cost-competitive with other forms of energy by the end of the decade.?

In February of 2011 the DoE launched its “SunShot” initiative to improve solar PV systems, pledging $27M to support nine solar projects, including material and tool suppliers, as well as a $7M PV Incubator program. In April, it pledged another $112.5M over five years to support more solar energy projects under its SunShot initiative.

As recently as 1995, the United States maintained a dominant global solar market share, manufacturing 43 percent of the world’s PV panels. In steady decline, U.S. market share shrank to 27 percent by 2000 and to 7 percent by 2010 (mostly due to stiff competition from China).

To reverse that trend, the DoE has a two part program known as the PV Manufacturing Initiative (PVMI). Part 1, announced last year, is focused on manufacturing partnerships. The initiative is designed to create a robust, domestic PV manufacturing base and develop a workforce with the critical skills required to deliver reliable, affordable, clean energy. PVMI Part I: Advanced Manufacturing Partnerships has already resulted in the selection of $110 million in projects to three industry and academic consortia.

The newly announced PVMI Part II: SUNPATH seeks to increase domestic manufacturing through investments that have sustainable, competitive cost and performance advantages. ?SUNPATH will help companies with pilot-scale commercial production scale up their manufacturing capabilities, enabling them to overcome a funding gap that often curtails domestic business at a critical stage,? according to a DoE press release.  

To ensure that these technologies are manufactured domestically, PVMI Part II: SUNPATH will support an initial ramp up to high volume manufacturing. DOE?s national laboratories are stepping up their validation facilities to ensure that the technologies developed and manufactured in Parts I and II are tested at scale in multiple locations and climates in the United States. 

In the new Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA), the DoE is seeking applicants with industrial-scale demonstrations of PV modules, cells, or substrates that offer lower-cost solutions in line with the SunShot goal. According to the DoE?s website, the FOA seeks to develop transformational manufacturing and materials technologies to provide pathways that enable a doubling of energy productivity in U.S. industry.  This may include innovative manufacturing and novel materials concepts that address manufacturing energy productivity.

Also read Paula Mint’s column on Sunshot.

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