U.S. Invests $21 Million for 17 Projects to Speed Solar Adoption and Maximize Benefits

solar hero program

The U.S. Energy Department announced $21.4 million in funding for 17 new projects to help reduce the “soft costs” commonly found with solar energy, such as installation, permitting, and connecting to the grid. As more U.S. consumers turn toward renewable energy each year, nine of the awards will focus on how the solar industry can sustain and accelerate this growth by understanding the motivations and factors that influence the technology adoption process, particularly in low- and moderate-income communities. The other eight awards will focus on tackling solar market challenges at the state and regional levels through better strategic energy and economic planning.  

“Soft costs have been a pervasive barrier to widespread solar energy in the United States,” said Dr. Charlie Gay, Director of the Solar Energy Technologies Office. “Finding new ways to cut these costs remains critical in accelerating solar deployment nationwide and making solar affordable for all Americans.”

The projects announced today are funded by the Department’s SunShot Initiative  and support its ongoing work to enable the widespread deployment of safe, reliable, and cost-effective solar energy by developing strategies and solutions that directly reduce the costs and barriers to solar access and deployment. The projects are funded under two distinct topics:

SOLAR ENERGY EVOLUTION AND DIFFUSION STUDIES (SEEDS)

The SEEDS program leverages decisions based on science and solar datasets to improve our understanding of how and why homeowners and businesses choose solar energy. Nine of the 17 projects announced today will partner researchers with data and energy practitioners to create, analyze, and use solar data and other information in order to examine how solar technologies, the electric grid system, and the institutions that create the solar business marketplace support or inhibit the evolution and diffusion of solar technologies.

This second round of funding under SEEDS introduces two new areas of research interest: low- and moderate-income (LMI) solar adoption and institutional decision-making. Projects focusing on LMI communities will focus on identifying solar adoption barriers other than cost, while identifying ways to more effectively engage these communities in the growing solar marketplace. Projects examining institutional decision-making aim to reveal the factors driving change within institutions as they relate to solar, and how institutions within a given system—for example, one university within a state university system—can influence such change. View the list of awardees.

STATE ENERGY STRATEGIES (SES)

Through SunShot’s SES work project teams from state energy offices, regional energy providers, and their partners have the opportunity to gain the planning insights that can support their individual goals to maximize solar’s benefits within their various communities. Eight new projects announced today will help to better inform states how to more effectively adopt solar by providing technical and analytical assistance to help them meet their renewable energy goals. These projects will benefit states at two phases in the solar energy planning process: during the creation of solar deployment targets and identification of strategies to achieve these goals, and then during the implementation of these strategies. For instance, teams may seek technical and informational assistance from DOE to better understand system performance projections, transmission and distribution constraints, or the economic and environmental benefits of various solar programs and projects.

Teams participating in this program will work to support solar planning efforts in 17 states plus the District of Columbia: Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Idaho, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.

The Projects:

NATIONAL RENEWABLE ENERGY LABORATORY

Location: Golden, CO
SunShot Award Amount: $1,350,000
Awardee Cost Share: N/A
Project Summary: This project focuses on identifying novel, data-driven, and evidence-based strategies that could dramatically scale up solar adoption rates in low- and moderate-income (LMI) communities. The goal is to develop pathways for reaching parity in solar penetration rates across socioeconomic groups. This project serves a core need for developing objective tools and datasets for policymakers and identifying the barriers that have previously limited deployment. The primary focus of this project is to rate the technical solar potential of buildings in LMI communities across the country, develop predictive models to understand previous LMI deployment, and then work with a national nonprofit solar installation group to determine how communication about solar energy usage occurs within LMI communities.

YALE UNIVERSITY

Location: New Haven, CT
SunShot Award Amount: $1,350,000
Awardee Cost Share: N/A
Project Summary: This project is testing new messaging, financing, and shared solar approaches for enhancing the diffusion of solar energy in low- and moderate-income (LMI) populations. The project also quantifies the benefits to the electricity grid from programs that expedite and increase deployment of solar energy in areas where solar provides additional value to the grid. In addition, pilot projects within three states test the models developed under this work in the field with the intent to use lessons learned from messaging studies to encourage more LMI populations to go solar, particularly in areas of high grid congestion.

UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT AUSTIN

Location: Austin, TX
SunShot Award Amount: $1,250,000
Awardee Cost Share: N/A
Project Summary: This project studies the size and mechanism of knowledge spillovers in the solar industry, specifically how best practices related to solar soft cost issues are transferred. These best practices include installation processes, permitting processes, customer acquisition, and overhead costs. The project examines how important knowledge spillovers are, what types of knowledge are most likely to spill over, and how policies can be designed to address them.

SOLSTICE INITIATIVE

Location: Boston, MA
SunShot Award Amount: $816,090
Awardee Cost Share: N/A
Project Summary: This project gathers customer data to assess the assumption that metrics other than a traditional FICO score can and should be used to qualify customers for community solar. Using customer data on income, FICO score, and utility, rent, and cell phone repayment history, the project tests whether new qualifying metrics open up the community solar market to additional households. This new model is then tested by enrolling customers in community solar and comparing actual payment. This project identifies and tests better ways to finance and perform due diligence on solar purchases for nontraditional adopters.

VIRGINIA POLYTECHNIC INSTITUTE AND STATE UNIVERSITY

Location: Blacksburg, VA
SunShot Award Amount: $1,225,961
Awardee Cost Share: N/A
Project Summary: This project identifies social and behavioral factors that influence the adoption of solar in rural areas and incorporates that information into diffusion models using agent-based modeling technology and synthetic information systems. These diffusion models will integrate social, behavioral, financial, and demographic data. The project’s primary data collection area is in the state of Virginia, but the results are anticipated to inform rural communities throughout the country.

SRI INTERNATIONAL

Location: Arlington, VA
SunShot Award Amount: $699,940
Awardee Cost Share: N/A
Project Summary: This project creates a data-driven tool that describes the development of different solar technologies through the use of machine learning and text analytics. This tool identifies the types of variables, and the influencers that impact them, that enable a solar energy technology to transition across readiness levels using unique solar energy data sources. In doing so, the model helps explain prior technology transitions, as well as predicts the likelihood of a technology’s advancement to future readiness levels.

MASSACHUSETTS INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY

Location: Cambridge, MA
SunShot Award Amount: $1,275,000
Awardee Cost Share: N/A
Project Summary: This project evaluates the mechanisms driving photovoltaic (PV) system cost reductions, delving deeply into specific past technological innovations and policies, and prospectively assessing PV’s potential for future cost reduction. New datasets and advanced modeling frameworks are being developed, which provide a complete picture of how specific technology and policy developments led to the dramatic cost reduction in PV in recent decades. In addition, this project provides insights for policymakers, engineers, and other stakeholders that informs their research and development investments and policy designs in the future.

CENTER FOR SUSTAINABLE ENERGY

Location: Oakland, CA
SunShot Award Amount: $1,199,935
Awardee Cost Share: N/A
Project Summary: This project analyzes streamlined solar permitting (SSP) and the associated bundle of standardized ordinances, documents, and practices. The team studies different authorities having jurisdiction (AHJs) throughout California that have adopted SSP at different times in the recent past, as well as AHJs that still have not. By analyzing this diversity of jurisdictions, the team is able to scientifically design SSP packages that are ideally suited for other jurisdictions around the country, and will design such packages in at least two other states.

ARIZONA STATE UNIVERSITY

Location: Tempe, AZ
SunShot Award Amount: $729,995
Awardee Cost Share: N/A
Project Summary: This project identifies key socioeconomic factors and social values that enable and constrain solar adoption in low- and moderate-income (LMI) communities in Arizona. The team is developing an accessible and easy-to-understand database of social drivers for solar adoption and non-adoption in LMI communities. By closely studying the areas that represent a large portion of the state’s population, this project provides insights regarding LMI adoption patterns that will not be observed in larger-scale national studies. In addition to assessing Arizona, the project will begin to compile driving factors for adoption in select communities within Arkansas, Georgia, and Mississippi.

STATE ENERGY STRATEGIES (SES)
WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

Location: Olympia, WA
SunShot Award Amount: $2,050,000
Awardee Cost Share: $525,885
Project Summary: This project focuses on how to deploy smart, equitable solar in both Washington and Oregon to achieve broader system benefits and societal goals. The project aims to triple the solar capacities of both states, reduce installed costs for rooftop solar by almost half, and double the solar-related employment in the Pacific Northwest by leveraging the technical, social, and economic benefits of solar. The three main areas of focus are solar energy equity, community solar, and the overall social and economic value of solar.

PENNSYLVANIA DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION

Location: Harrisburg, PA
SunShot Award Amount: $550,000
Awardee Cost Share: $168,975
Project Summary: This project uses detailed scenario modeling to analyze current solar development and legislation and determine how they will be applied in 2030 under a scenario where up to 10 percent of electricity sales are from solar generation. The project will inform strategies that help meet state energy goals, develop environmental compliance plans, contribute to Pennsylvania’s compliance of the Clean Power Plan, and increase grid resiliency. This work will result in a well-informed solar deployment plan that will be available to policymakers, regulators, industry, investors, and consumers. This project is expected to help lower the costs, increase the speed, and lower the barriers to solar market expansion in Pennsylvania.

CLEAN ENERGY STATES ALLIANCE

Location: Montpelier, VT
SunShot Award Amount: $1,730,000
Awardee Cost Share: $471,000
Project Summary: This project focuses on empowering Connecticut, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, and the District of Columbia to develop and implement strategies for expanding the amount of solar available to low- and moderate-income (LMI) residents and communities. Each participating state is developing goals and a plan of action that matches its programmatic needs, demographic profile, solar potential, and financial resources.

NHU ENERGY, INC.

Location: Tallahassee, FL
SunShot Award Amount: $1,750,000
Awardee Cost Share: $437,500
Project Summary: This project conducts analysis and planning activities in Florida to increase solar deployment and maximize the benefits of solar, including combining solar with other distributed energy resources like energy storage and demand response. This project will lay the foundation to enable Florida municipal and cooperative utilities to reach 10% of solar in their electricity capacity in less than 10 years.

MINNESOTA DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

Location: St. Paul, MN
SunShot Award Amount: $1,999,964
Awardee Cost Share: $855,224
Project Summary: This project uses a scenario-based tool to examine the potential for key technologies and management approaches – such as demand management strategies, storage, and synergy with wind – to overcome grid integration challenges with increased solar penetration. This project identifies barriers to deployment while laying a technical foundation to understand how much solar capacity potential exists across Minnesota. In addition, it tackles grid management approaches to overcoming solar integration challenges.

NORTH CAROLINA CLEAN ENERGY TECHNOLOGY CENTER

Location: Raleigh, NC
SunShot Award Amount: $1,000,000
Awardee Cost Share: $257,250
Project Summary: This project makes solar more affordable and accessible through shared solar projects developed by cooperative and municipal utilities across the Southeast. The North Carolina Clean Energy Technology Center (NCCETC) leads a stakeholder process with rural cooperative and municipal electric utilities, which can influence many states within the Southeast region. The project is expected to result in a dramatic increase of shared and community solar projects in the Southeast.

MONTANA STATE ENERGY OFFICE

Location: Helena, MT
SunShot Award Amount: $380,000
Awardee Cost Share: $95,000
Project Summary: This project is developing a cost-effective, community solar energy strategy for Montana that will expand access to solar energy. The project aims to develop model community solar projects that will be promoted across the state in a manner to meet the needs of interested consumers and communities, as well as electric utilities or cooperatives.

WESTERN INTERSTATE ENERGY BOARD

Location: Denver, CO
SunShot Award Amount: $2,020,000
Awardee Cost Share: $505,000
Project Summary: This project with the Western Interstate Energy Board, an organization of 11 western states that provides the instruments and framework for cooperative state efforts on energy, focuses on removing or reducing the impact of barriers to distributed solar photovoltaic (PV) deployment in the Western Interconnection. If successful, the project will result in greater deployment of distributed solar PV in the Western Interconnection than is currently predicted.

 

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