PV Insider speaks with Mike Cliggett of the US Department of Energy’s Sunshot Program on PV balance of systems, market shake-outs and what he would do to change the PV sector for the better.
Q: Firstly, could you let readers know what your role and contribution to the Department of Energy's Sunshot Program is in terms of projects, funding and contests for 2012?
A: I am currently focusing on the nine projects funded in the area of PV balance of system hardware R&D. Known as the BOS-X awardees, these companies kicked off their projects in December of last year and will spend most of 2012 completing their Phase 1 proof of concept activities.
A. Raymond Tinnerman, Cascade Engineering, GE Global Research, and Zep Solar are engaged in the development of innovative components that simplify and reduce the cost of both the mechanical and electrical portions of the installation.
Dow Chemical, a partner team of Solexel and Owens Corning, and Carlisle Construction Materials are developing low-cost, high-efficiency, BIPV modules for the residential as well as commercial markets.
Georgia Tech Applied Research Corporation is completing work in the area of re-engineered, whole-system designs to include module mounting (roof and ground), integration, materials, and wire management; and finally, Amonix is developing new dual-axis tracking systems specifically for concentrating PV systems.
Expected funding for the BOS-X activity is $42 million over the next three years.
Q: I personally see a big future in hybrid renewable energy plants and even a mix of traditional and renewable sources. You must come across some brilliant ideas in this area, so could you give us an example of a hybrid PV project that really caught your attention and why?
A: I am certainly enthusiastic about the opportunities that could exist in this space however, based on my area of focus, I have yet to cross paths with some of the designs that are out there.
Q: The SunShot program seems to have a very fresh outlook on PV sector technologies and project opportunities, but the PV sector, namely the thin film sector, is experiencing a market shake-out due to cell and module price fluctuations and over supply. Is the program addressing this in any way?
A: Back in April of last year the SunShot Initiative awarded $63m over five years for the U.S. Photovoltaic Manufacturing Consortium (PVMC).
The consortium is charged with coordinating an industry-driven research and development initiative to accelerate the development, manufacturing, and commercialization of next-generation CIGS thin film manufacturing technologies with an end goal of driving down the cost and risk of bringing these technologies to the marketplace.
In the next year, the PVMC will be establishing manufacturing development facilities that PV companies and researchers can use for a number of activities to include product prototyping, demonstration, and pilot‐scale manufacturing in order to evaluate and validate CIGS thin film as well as other PV manufacturing technologies.
The major partners for the PVMC are Sematech and the The College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering at the State University of New York at Albany. The PVMC will also work with The University of Central Florida to develop cost-effective in-line measurement and inspection tools to enable increased PV manufacturing yield.
I should also mention that the program is looking hard at areas that will remove non-technical barriers to the sale that can ultimately drive more business to the sector.
A number of my colleagues in SunShot have recently launched activities to streamline building codes, zoning laws, permitting rules, and business processes for installing solar systems.
Just last month, SunShot Rooftop Solar Challenge awardees kicked off their project activities. Twenty-two teams from across the country are taking part in the Challenge to make installing rooftop solar (PV) easier, faster, and cheaper for homeowners and businesses.
The teams are made up of local and state governments, utilities, installers, non-governmental organizations, and others. The SunShot initiative will fund $12m over the next year towards this effort.
Q: If you could change one thing about the PV sector what would it be?
A: I continue to stress that we all need to pay closer attention to how the solar customer is interpreting the data in the value proposition. Like it or not, the roof-top solar buyer (both residential and commercial) has a tendency to interpret module efficiency as representative of module quality when reviewing a system proposal.
Representatives in the industry will tell you that estimated material cost savings (up front) continue to carry more weight with buyers than estimated labor cost savings (over the course of the project build).
And finally, I would echo the folks who continue to push for updated, region-specific metrics for module bankability and a more standardized method for communicating this data in the value proposition.