DOE seeks to invest in technologies to make solar energy more cost-effective.
The Department of Energy (DOE) recently announced that it would invest $10 million to fund research projects that would improve concentrating solar power (CSP) technology, which use mirrors to direct sunlight onto receivers and convert it into heat energy. The investment will fund two projects led by UCLA and the University of Arizona that focus on improving heat transfer fluids.
The announcement came as part of President Obama’s “all-of-the-above” energy strategy and the DOE’s SunShot Initiative, a national effort to make solar energy cost-effective by the end of the decade. The initiative aims to improve the U.S.’s position in the global clean energy race and decrease the cost of solar electricity by 75 percent before 2020. According to the DOE, this cost reduction would enable solar power to account for 15-18 percent of America’s electricity generation by 2030.
The research projects aim to be interdisciplinary, bringing together research teams from industry, universities, and national labs. In promoting collaboration between outside research teams and those at the Scientific User Facilities, the DOE seeks to advance their facilities’ capacity to conduct advanced solar energy research. In addition, by promoting cross-sector partnerships through its funding of high-risk projects, the DOE hopes to leverage national resources and expertise, and sharing risks.
For instance, one of the projects to receive funding is a partnership between company Plant PV and DOE facility Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s Molecular Foundry to develop 3D mapping tools for higher performing thin film solar material. In another case, Stanford University will partner with DOE facility SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory to research inexpensive ways to print solar cells.
The Obama Administration’s policy of directly funding renewable energy projects has drawn criticism from the Republicans and has revealed a key distinction between the parties’ energy policies. GOP candidate Mitt Romney has described such investments as “time and money wasted” and has pledged to achieve energy independence by 2020 through increased production of domestic oil, coal, and natural gas. Investment in developing renewable energy, he argues, should come from the private sector, not government, which should instead focus on streamlining regulations and permit-granting processes.