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SunShot – Driving Toward the Dollar Watt

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Since 1995, the U.S. has seen the price of solar systems drop by 60% thanks to investments by government and private organizations in research, development, and deployment activities. Over the last decade alone, the U.S. Department of Energy has invested more than $1 billion into solar energy research and development – with a focus on how to drive these costs further down. But, the price of solar still remains too high to directly compete (in most U.S. markets) with fossil energy resources – and the Department of Energy wants to change this situation.

Earlier this year, Secretary of Energy Steve Chu announced details on the Department of Energy’s SunShot initiative, which is focussed on dropping the price of solar to bellow the “dollar watt.” In his February announcement, Secretary Chu discussed the final goal of SunShot – a 75% drop in the cost of utility scale solar systems, bringing it down to (roughly) $1 per watt by 2020. He also presented the four pillars that his Department would focus on to achieve that goal:

  1. Advancing technologies for the solar cells and systems that convert sunlight into energy;
  2. Optimizing the performance of solar installation;
  3. Improving the efficiency of the solar system manufacturing processes; and
  4. Improving the efficiency for installation, design and permitting for solar energy systems.

In the same announcement, the Secretary announced $27 million in awards for 9 solar projects that focused on improving the U.S. solar supply chain. In the words of Secretary Chu:

“America is in a world race to produce cost-effective, quality photovoltaics.  The SunShot initiative will spur American innovations to reduce the costs of solar energy and re-establish U.S. global leadership in this growing industry. These efforts will boost our economic competitiveness, rebuild our manufacturing industry and help reach the President’s goal of doubling our clean energy in the next 25 years.”

Photo Credit:

1. Photo of solar panel by Andreas Demmelbauer and used under this Creative Commons License.

Melissa C. Lott About the Author: An engineer and researcher who works at the intersection of energy, environment, technology, and policy. Follow on Twitter @mclott.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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