Obama-era solar power program reaches goal early

Published: Sept. 13, 2017 at 6:11 AM

Daniel J. Graeber

Sept. 13 (UPI) -- A U.S. solar power initiative enacted by former President Barack Obama reached a goal for cost competitiveness three years early, the government said.

The U.S. Energy Department's National Renewable Energy Laboratory said in a report that the cost to install solar power during the first quarter of the year reached a record low because of higher efficiencies, lower labor costs and the decline in the price for photovoltaic components.

For utility-scale projects, those supplying energy to the nation's grid, the costs are down about 30 percent when compared with first quarter 2016.

"These results suggest that the DOE's SunShot Initiative, which was launched in 2011 to make solar cost-competitive with other forms of energy, has met its 2020 cost target for utility-scale solar systems three years early," NREL's summary read.

For commercial-scale and residential units, the department said the solar power sector is more than 85 percent of the way toward its 2020 goal.

U.S. President Barack Obama laid out clean-energy targets during his State of the Union address in 2011. The so-called SunShot initiative was modeled after U.S. President John F. Kennedy's lunar ambitions.

The United States had a dominant position in the solar energy sector in 1995, manufacturing 43 percent of the world's solar panels. As of 2015, six of the top 10 leaders for the global market share of solar modules were Chinese. First Solar was the only U.S. company to make the top 10 list that year.

Nevertheless, while President Donald Trump has focused his energy policies on fossil fuels like oil and coal, renewables have organic momentum. The department's Energy Information Administration estimated about 22 gigawatts of solar power capacity was installed at the utility level at the end of last year. That should increase by about 30 percent this year.

"The rapid system capital cost decline of solar photovoltaic systems, driven by lower module prices and higher market competition this year, demonstrates the continuing economic competitiveness of solar photovoltaic in today's energy investment portfolio," Ran Fu, lead author of NREL's report, said in a statement.

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