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An Update on White House Solar Panels and Our Solar Program

June 20, 2011 - 6:11pm

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We cannot win the future without winning the clean energy race, which is why President Obama laid out a clear goal to increase our nation’s clean energy share and continue to build a 21st century clean energy economy. Last fall, to underscore the Obama Administration’s commitment to clean and renewable energy, Energy Secretary Steven Chu and CEQ Chair Nancy Sutley announced that the Energy Department would lead a project to install American solar photovoltaic panels and a solar hot water heater on the roof of the White House.

This project is one component of the Energy Department’s larger, ambitious SunShot Initiative to reduce the total installed cost of solar energy systems by about 75 percent before the end of the decade. The initiative will make solar energy cost-competitive, without subsidies, with any other form of energy.

By rebalancing our research and development portfolio and launching new, targeted programs, the Energy Department is on a path to achieve the SunShot goal. Earlier this month, the Department challenged cities and counties nationwide to cut the red tape that can push up price tags on solar projects. The Rooftop Solar Challenge  lets teams of local and regional governments compete for funds to streamline, standardize, and digitize administrative processes, making it quicker, easier, and cheaper to install solar systems.

The Energy Department remains on the path to complete the White House solar demonstration project, in keeping with our commitment, and we look forward to sharing more information -- including additional details on the timing of this project -- after the competitive procurement process is completed.

The Department is also capitalizing on prior federal investments in solar. Through the SunShot Incubator, we're investing in innovative solar companies that develop novel, cost-effective manufacturing process and solar technologies. The Incubator is a proving ground for solar companies that need to bridge the gap from “great idea” to a point where venture capitalists and others are willing to invest in businesses. Since 2007, $50 million of strategic, competitive funding has attracted $1.2 billion in private investment, delivering a 24-to-1 private-to-public investment ratio for the American taxpayer.

To help start-up solar companies scale up, the Department also offers loan guarantees to accelerate the time it takes for a technology to come to market.  Just last week, we offered a conditional commitment for a $150 million loan guarantee for 1366 Technologies to manufacture its breakthrough solar process domestically, which will create jobs here at home. Another Incubator “graduate,” Calisolar, also received an offer for a conditional loan guarantee last week to manufacture silicon in Ohio.  Calisolar’s process will cost less than half the cost of traditional polysilicon purification processes and is expected to generate up to 1,000 construction jobs in addition to nearly 1,100 permanent jobs. In all, the Department has committed more than $12 billion in financing to 16 solar manufacturing and generation projects through loan guarantees since 2009.  The projects are estimated to produce enough electricity to power nearly 570,000 homes and expected to create or save 19,000 construction and permanent jobs throughout the country.

These investments also include a $1.6 billion loan guarantee finalized in April for a project in California. Once finished, it will be one of the world’s largest solar thermal plants. The project will create 1,000 jobs and is estimated to avoid 640,000 tons of CO2 annually.

As the Energy Department aggressively pursues the SunShot cost-targets, it will not only invest in the technologies of tomorrow, but will also focus on ensuring that the technologies invented in America are made in America, bringing high-paying jobs to the U.S. In April, the Department took a first step with the SunShot Advanced Manufacturing Partnerships, which are investing in manufacturing processes that will make it more efficient and cheap to produce cutting-edge solar technology here in the United States.

Solar energy holds massive potential to help the United States win the future. And the Obama Administration is committed to helping advance the solar industry as an important part of its broad clean energy portfolio. Inspired by President Kennedy’s “moon shot” -- the America-driven technological innovation that led to entire new industries and won the space race -- SunShot is one way this Administration’s initiatives will drive clean energy innovation and create the 21st century industries that will help us secure our energy future.

Ramamoorthy Ramesh is the Director of the SunShot Initiative and Solar Energy Technologies Program.

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