Cost competitiveness has long been solar power’s biggest challenge. The industry has made great progress on this front and now may be looking beyond cost to other challenges that impede widespread adoption.

In September, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) released new research that shows the solar industry has achieved the 2020 utility-scale solar cost target set by the SunShot Initiative. The SunShot Initiative is a national effort sponsored by the DOE’s Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) to drive down the cost of solar electricity and support solar adoption. 

Largely due to rapid cost declines in solar photovoltaic (PV) hardware, the average price of utility-scale solar is now 6 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh).

With this success, DOE is looking beyond its SunShot 2020 goals and is setting its sights on an expanded 2030 vision for SETO.

The DOE reports that it will continue to support research with the goal of driving down costs; however, new funding programs will focus on a broader scope of priorities.

“With the impressive decline in solar prices, it is time to address additional emerging challenges," said Daniel Simmons, acting assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy.

Specifically, SETO will focus on the critical challenges of grid reliability, resilience and storage.

To further the new priorities, SETO also announced up to $82 million in early-stage research. The funding will be available for projects that fall into one of two areas. Up to $62 million will support advances in concentrated solar power technologies to enable on-demand solar energy. Up to $20 million will also be dedicated to early-stage projects to advance power electronics technologies. Power electronics support the critical link between solar arrays and the electric grid.

Awardees will be required to contribute 20 percent of the funds to their overall project budget, yielding total public and private spending of nearly $100 million.