Soft costs research in the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) addresses challenges associated with reducing non-hardware cost components of solar energy systems. These costs include design, siting, permitting, installation, interconnection, and financing. They also include the sales, general, and administrative expenses solar companies incur for customer acquisition, workforce training and certification, supply chain and inventory control, decommissioning and end-of-life management of solar systems, and operating overhead. Learn more about soft costs.
As solar hardware costs continue to decline, lowering soft costs becomes an even more important part of lowering the total cost of a solar energy system. The soft costs for residential solar energy systems declined by approximately 50 percent between 2010 and 2020 according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, but these costs need to fall an additional 60-70 percent to achieve SETO’s cost targets and to make unsubsidized residential solar a more affordable electricity option across the country.
In September 2021, DOE released the Solar Futures Study, a report that explores the role of solar energy in achieving these goals as part of a decarbonized U.S. electric grid. Learn more about SETO’s goals.
Soft costs projects funded by SETO quantify cost-reduction opportunities, develop data and tools to improve information access and market transparency, and identify successful and efficient models and processes that can be more widely used. This work supports the development and sharing of data and best practices throughout the solar life cycle and prioritizes the dissemination and replication of results so solutions can be widely adopted.
Within SETO’s soft costs research area, efforts are focused on several topics. Learn more about them below.
SETO’s soft costs portfolio addresses a wide array of costs and barriers to solar energy deployment. Projects are working to improve market transparency of solar system costs, prices, and adoption trends; enable equitable access to solar through innovative financing and community solar; reduce costs for permitting, inspection, and interconnection; improve bulk power system and distribution system planning for larger amounts of grid-connected solar; reduce land use competition for siting solar projects; enable solar installations in new construction and with roof replacements; improve the compatibility of solar with wildlife and local ecosystems; and improve planning for the retirement of solar panels.
Additionally, projects develop training materials and programs to help supply a skilled workforce to meet the solar industry’s growing human resource needs, prepare those in the utility industry to manage a modern grid, and help relevant professions keep up with these rapidly emerging and advancing technologies.
In order to ensure that the best information gets to the people that need it, SETO also has several technical assistance programs that work to improve solar access.
Projects in this research area are managed by the strategic analysis and institutional support team. Learn more about SETO’s funding programs and current funding opportunities. Reports resulting from research projects can be found on the Office of Science and Technical Information (OSTI) website.
In addition to funding research projects, SETO also funds several initiatives that help improve solar access and lower soft costs.
- i2X: Interconnection Innovation e-Xchange
- National Community Solar Partnership
- Renewable Energy Siting through Technical Engagement and Planning (R-STEP)
- Solar Energy Innovation Network
- Solar Ready Vets Network