A New Strategy to Drive Down the "Soft Costs" of Solar

Earlier this month, President Obama announced that more than 300 organizations in the public and private sector have made commitments to advance the deployment of solar power and invest in energy efficiency. At the same time, recognizing that solar power is an increasingly important building block toward a clean energy future, the White House offered a behind the scenes look at its own rooftop solar panels, which are generating clean renewable energy from the sun, helping to lower the energy bill of our nation’s most historic home while also serving as a symbol that American solar energy technology is ready for millions of other homeowners across the country today.

Over the course of the Obama Administration, we have increased U.S. solar electricity generation by ten-fold and, in the last year alone added more than 23,600 new jobs in solar.

But there is more to do before solar energy can be effectively harnessed by every American. That’s why, last week, at the annual DOE SunShot Grand Challenge Summit in California, the Administration announced an even more aggressive strategy to address the hidden, non-hardware “soft costs” associated with solar deployments on residential rooftops. These soft costs make up over half of the total system cost of deploying solar and include things such as paperwork to apply for a permit, and cumbersome rules around installation.

In 2012, the DOE ran a Rooftop Solar Challenge which brought together local officials, utilities, private industry, non-profits, and other stakeholders in 22 communities across the Nation to simplify the solar installation process and succeeded in reducing permitting time by 40 percent and fees by over 10 percent – opening the door to make it faster and easier for more than 47 million Americans to go solar.

Moving forward, DOE will expand on these early efforts with a focus on connecting citizens with the data, tools, and skills they need to make solar more accessible. So last week, the DOE SunShot Initiative launched a new four part strategy of the following activities:

  • Empowering state and local decision-makers through timely and actionable resources, peer networks, and technical assistance;
  • Harnessing big data, analysis and technical solutions to support the many stakeholders involved in solar deployment;
  • Training an innovative solar workforce to enable the solar industry to meet growing demand; and
  • Developing solar finance and business solutions to expand access to capital and accelerate market growth.

The first deliverable of this ambitious new strategy is the SunShot Catalyst prize—a new open-innovation program with more than $500,000 in available prizes to help identify and launch cutting-edge data and software startups that are leveraging tools already established by the DOE national laboratories. The submission deadline for the Catalyst ideation contest is June 20, 2014.

Find out more here and stay tuned for a series of new programs to address “soft costs” as we continue the momentum to help more Americans go solar.

Cyrus Wadia is the Assistant Director for Clean Energy and Materials R&D at the White House OSTP and Elaine Ulrich is the Program Manager for Balance of Systems-Soft Costs at the DOE SunShot Initiative.

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