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Energy Dept. Funding Solar Manufacturing Development

Technicians in front solar panel array (NREL)

(National Renewable Energy Laboratory)

The Department of Energy has awarded three sets of grants to promote development of advanced solar photovoltaic (PV)-related manufacturing processes in the U.S. The $112.5 million awards over five years are part of the department’s SunShot Initiative that aims to make large-scale solar energy systems cost competitive without subsidies by the end of the decade.

The grants aim to accelerate the development of new PV solar technologies, and find ways to increase the volume of production, speed the products to market, and bring down the costs of solar energy systems. The program, modeled on the SEMATECH initiative for semiconductors in the 1980s, also seeks to revitalize the solar energy industry in the U.S. that has lost market share to foreign competitors.

More than half of the funding — $62.5 million — goes to the U.S. Photovoltaic Manufacturing Consortium (PVMC) that will oversee research to accelerate the development, manufacturing, and commercialization of copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) thin film PV manufacturing technologies. CIGS has the capability of raising the efficiency of solar panels, as much as 20 percent.

PVMC, with its partner the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering at the State University of New York at Albany, will establish manufacturing development facilities that PV companies and researchers can use for product prototyping, demonstration, and pilot-scale manufacturing to evaluate and validate CIGS thin film and other PV manufacturing technologies. University of Central Florida in Orlando will receive funding from this grant to develop in-line measurement and inspection tools to help increase PV manufacturing yield.

PVMC will also offer its own programs to foster new PV technologies and firms, and to develop the U.S. PV workforce. The proposed project is expected to attract industry funds for every $1.00 of DoE spending.

The remaining $50 million will be divided equally between two San Francisco Bay area recipients. Bay Area PV Consortium, managed by Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley, will received $25 million to develop and test the new materials, device structures, and fabrication processes to achieve less expensive PV modules in high volume production.

The research, open to all universities, is expected to advance technologies that bring down manufacturing costs and improve device performance characteristics to help achieve SunShot’s price targets — about 6 cents per kilowatt hour. A panel of representatives from PV companies will determine R&D topics to keep them aligned with industry and manufacturing needs.

SVTC Technologies in San Jose, California will receive $25 million to create a manufacturing development facility to help PV companies in the industry supply chain eliminate a big part of their up-front capital and operating costs during product development and pilot production. This facility, which will collect fees from its clients, is expected to accelerate product development and reduce time to market by 12 to 15 months.

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