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Progress Report: Advancing Solar Energy Across America

February 12, 2014 - 11:00am

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The U.S. solar industry is growing at a record-breaking pace, while becoming more affordable and accessible than ever before. The industry’s forward progress comes in part thanks to support from the Energy Department’s SunShot Initiative.

Set up in 2011 to re-establish U.S. leadership in the solar marketplace, SunShot partners with industry, universities, local communities and the Department’s National Laboratories to aggressively drive down the cost of solar-powered electricity generation across America.

To achieve this goal, SunShot works to lower the price of solar electricity to $0.06 per kilowatt hour (KWh) -- a cost target that will make solar-generated power to be fully cost-competitive with traditional energy sources by the end of the decade.

Just three years into the initiative, SunShot is making significant headway. Today, the Energy Department announced that the U.S. solar industry is more than 60 percent of the way to achieving cost-competitive utility-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) electricity. In many parts of the country, solar electricity is already cost-competitive with traditional energy sources, including California, Hawaii and Minnesota. Here are a few more ways SunShot is making an impact.

Creating New Industries: Utility-Scale PV

Within the past few years, utility-scale PV has risen from a relative newcomer to the solar market to the fastest growing sector of the industry. These projects feature large, centralized PV systems that feed power directly to the grid. While the operating history of utility-scale PV is brief, it is expected to dominate the overall PV market through 2016, helping create new jobs, support domestic manufacturing and boost economic growth as it expands.

Beyond the industry’s explosive growth, the price of utility-scale PV is falling dramatically. Since SunShot’s inception, the average price per kWh of a utility-scale PV project has dropped from about $0.21 to $0.11. Take a look at the interactive graph above, breaking down the falling cost of utility-scale PV over the past three years.

Supporting Double-Digit Job Growth: The Solar Workforce

One of the biggest benefits of our expanding solar industry is its impact on the U.S. job market. The Solar Foundation’s National Solar Jobs Census 2013 finds solar jobs increased nearly 20 percent since the fall of 2012 -- 10 times the national average job growth rate. There are more than 140,000 solar workers in the United States, up from about 119,000 in 2012. Not only did the industry exceed growth expectations, the pace of hiring has quickened, producing new hires at a rate 50 percent higher than last year.

Keeping America Competitive: Solar Manufacturing

Supporting America’s continued leadership in the global solar market, the Energy Department is investing $25 million to strengthen U.S. solar manufacturing for both PV and concentrating solar power technologies. These investments will support innovative projects aiming to improve manufacturing processes in ways that save time and money. View the related press release to learn more about SunShot’s new solar manufacturing funding opportunity.

Note: Reductions in the cost of electricity are based on estimates of the levelized cost of electricity (LCOE). The LCOE is a measure of the national average of electricity cost based on certain assumptions regarding financing costs and generation availability projected over the life of a generating asset. The LCOE model provides a benchmark for measuring relative changes in electricity costs. 

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