In the ongoing effort to make renewables a more attractive alternative than traditional sources of power, cost continues to place them out of reach for the average American consumer. Policy-makers recognize this dilemma and have poured millions in tax credits, grants and other forms of funding into the process of making the technology more affordable.

Solar is no exception. In November, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced up to $7 million in funding to help reduce nonhardware costs. So-called “soft costs” include all aspects of solar power—except the photovoltaics themselves—such as installation, permitting, interconnection and inspection.

The funding is provided by the DOE’s SunShot Initiative Incubator Program, which has already invested $60 million into the development of solar since 2007. This new round of funding will be divided into two phases, or tiers. The first tier, including awards up to $500,000 with a 20 percent cost share, will be given to efforts that achieve innovation in nonhardware concepts. The second tier, including awards up to $5 million with a 50 percent cost share, will help accelerate the transition of these ideas to demonstration and deployment.

A primary objective of the SunShot Incubator Program is to launch start-up businesses and new business units within existing commercial entities.

The SunShot Initiative is a collaborative effort to reduce the cost of solar energy by about 75 percent by the end of the decade.

If reached, the goal will go a long way toward making solar power more accessible to the average consumer, as costs remain high despite advances in photovoltaics and the availability of creative financing mechanisms. According to DOE Secretary Steven Chu, “Even if you paid nothing for the hardware, you’d still pay thousands of dollars to install a residential solar power system.”