Energy Secretary Steven Chu gives the keynote address at the SunShot Grand Challenge Summit in Denver, Colorado. | Photo by Dennis Schroeder/NREL.

The SunShot Grand Challenge: Summit and Technology Forum kicked off in Denver, Colorado, this morning with Energy Secretary Steven Chu addressing more than 600 of the brightest minds in the solar energy industry. Secretary Chu lauded recent progress in driving down the cost of solar with efficiency improvements, but emphasized the need for the United States to regain its competitive edge in the global clean energy race.

Because boosting the efficiency of solar cells alone is not enough, Secretary Chu announced two efforts that will support the SunShot Initiative’s goal to make solar cost-competitive with other forms of electricity by the end of the decade. Today’s announcements highlighted the broad range of SunShot efforts -- from providing seed funding to startup companies so they can cultivate ground-breaking solutions to rewarding established industry players that are able to push the boundaries of today’s marketplace.

At one end of this spectrum, the Energy Department selected nine small businesses to turn revolutionary ideas into proof-of-concept demonstrations through the SunShot Incubator program. In the sixth round of this successful program, the selected awardees will tackle the hidden costs that drive up the price of owning and installing a photovoltaic (PV) system.

Most people don’t realize that the PV module itself makes up less than half of the total price of a rooftop solar installation. To lower associated costs such as customer acquisition, site assessments, and maintenance, these solar startups will implement a range of novel approaches. For example, one awardee is using remotely sensed data to provide a suitability score for rooftop solar installations, while another is building an online marketplace for local companies to bid on PV system repair jobs.

At the other end of the spectrum, the Energy Department is launching America’s Most Affordable Rooftop Solar for installers across the nation to compete for a total of $10 million in cash prizes. This race to the top encourages companies to evolve their business models so that home owners and businesses can install small-scale rooftop solar systems at an average cost of $2 per watt (W).

The price of a residential PV system was about $6/W in 2010 according to the SunShot Vision Study. Through this competition, the Energy Department challenges installers to do their part in breaking a significant price barrier along the way to reaching SunShot cost targets for small-scale solar PV systems.

During his address, Secretary Chu played a clip from President Kennedy’s moon shot speech in 1962. “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.”

By pushing the boundaries of innovation and implementation, the SunShot Initiative is playing to win in the global clean energy race.