Challenging Solar Installers to Do Better!As I mentioned in other posts, a large portion of the cost of solar PV doesn't come from the panels themselves, but from their installation. This problem has become a lot more important in the past few years because the cost of the panels themselves has gone down a huge amount, making installation costs balloon up as a percentage of total costs.
To spur innovation and help make solar power even more competitive with dirty sources, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has created the SunShot Prize, offering $10 million to the first three teams that can "repeatedly demonstrate that non-hardware costs, or price to plug in, can be as low as $1 per watt (W) for small-scale photovoltaic (PV) systems on American homes and businesses. This ambitious target represents a decrease in the "soft costs" of solar energy systems—including permitting, licensing, connecting to the grid and other non-hardware costs—by more than 65%."
While solar hardware prices have fallen 400% in the past four years, the soft costs of installing solar energy systems remain stubbornly high. The SunShot Prize is meant to inspire innovative, sustainable, and verifiable business practices that reduce these soft costs to $1/W. Achieving this target will bring the SunShot goal of $0.60/W for residential system soft costs within reach by the end of the decade.
During Phase I of the competition, winning teams will successfully deploy 5,000 small-scale (2-15 kilowatt) rooftop PV systems with non-hardware costs averaging $1/W. Phase II, which is intended to assess the business sustainability of the winning teams, calls for the installation of an additional 1,000 qualifying systems. The competition will run through 2015. The first-place winner will receive $7 million, second place will receive $2 million, and third place will receive $1 million for successfully achieving these goals. In addition to the cash award, the first-place team will officially become The Winner of America's Most Affordable Rooftop Solar prize. (source)
As with the various initiatives of the X-Prize Foundation, this is a very clever way to focus attention on a pressing problem and leverage resources into probably more research than you could get for just the prize amount. I certainly hope that the SunShot Prize is granted soon, and that after that they create another even more ambitious one!