SunShot: $50 Million Closer to Cheap Solar Power and Green Jobs, Too

SUNPATH, a new program of the SunShot initiative, to manufacture solar panels in U.S.The Obama administration has been focusing on federal solar energy policies that create new green jobs, and the new SunShot initiative could turn out to be a major twofer for U.S. businesses. First, the program is designed to advance solar technology research that will make clean solar energy as cheap as, or cheaper than, fossil fuels within a few short years.  This will help more companies manage their utility bills with a source of renewable energy that is not vulnerable to market spikes.

Second, SunsShot is focused on creating new green jobs in domestic manufacturing as well as in research and development. Let’s face it, anything that puts more money in consumers’ pockets is a welcome relief these days. The latest program out of SunShot is called SUNPATH. It focuses on the green jobs manufacturing goal, most recently with $50 million in new Department of Energy funding over the next two years devoted to developing promising low cost solar technologies into commercial scale.

Solar Panel Manufacturing in the U.S.

When you think about the decline in U.S. manufacturing, the auto industry may be the first thing that comes to mind, but the solar energy sector also provides a textbook case of a powerhouse domestic industry losing its grip on the global market. According to the Department of Energy, the U.S. dominated the world in photovoltaic panel manufacturing until the mid-1990’s, when it peaked at a whopping 43% of global market share. The figure right now is a dismal 7%.

The SunShot Initiative and Space Exploration

President Obama launched SunShot earlier this year and the reference to NASA’s Moonshot program of generations ago is no accident. Moonshot called upon the public to support space research as a reaction to the success of Russia’s space program. The idea was that private industry could not muster the resources to compete globally without a strong federal program that deployed public funding to push research forward, raised public awareness to recruit innovators into the industry, and provided a stable, predictable legislative framework. The rest is history: within a few short years Neil Armstrong was on the moon.

A Boost for Domestic Photovoltaic Manufacturing

SUNPATH’s Photovoltaic Manufacturing Initiative kicked off with Part I, which provided $110 million in funding to set up three research and development partnerships, aimed at reducing the cost of manufacturing photovoltaic modules. For Part II, the latest $50 million round of funding aims to scale the operations up to high volumes. Want to get in on the action? If you have an industrial-scale demo of low cost photovoltaic modules or related gear, apply to the Department of Energy.

Image Credit: Solar Panels by Living off the Grid on flickr.com.

Tina is a career public information specialist and former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She writes frequently on sustainable tech issues for Triple Pundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, and she is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Follow Tina on twitter, @TinaMCasey https://twitter.com/#!/TinaMCasey.