The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Solar Energy Technologies Office Lab Call FY2022-24 funding program funds projects that are examining innovative strategies to reduce land-use conflicts, expedite installation, and lower land costs for solar energy use, as well as addressing needs related to datasets, analysis, tools, and models to improve and facilitate soft cost reductions.

As part of this funding program, the national labs will also conduct research in systems integration, photovoltaics, and concentrating solar-thermal power.

Approach

Soft costs projects in this program are separated into two topics, the first of which is Siting and Land-Use Innovation. Projects in this topic will lower barriers for innovative siting strategies that can reduce land-use conflicts, expedite installation, and cut siting costs for solar energy. These innovative siting approaches will reduce site costs and timelines, as well as be more responsive to community concerns compared to traditional siting approaches. The second topic is Data, Analysis, and Tools to Reduce Solar Soft Costs. Projects in this topic will disseminate data standards and study the characteristics and impact of gaps in the solar data ecosystem, analyze technical and economic potential for solar energy where it is under-utilized, and create new tools and models or improve existing ones that assist stakeholders in solar energy planning.

Objectives

These projects will enable the geographic expansion of solar energy and will enable stakeholders to solve solar-related challenges and expand access to solar energy. The dissemination of unique strategies and technologies will allow for better, more informed approaches to solar technology. 

Projects

Topic: Siting and Land-Use Innovation for Solar Energy

Project Name: Solar Siting and Land Use in Decarbonized Energy Systems
Lab: National Renewable Energy Laboratory
Location: Golden, CO
Principal Investigator: Wesley Cole
Project Summary: The solar energy needed to decarbonize the electricity sector will require the use of millions of acres of land, but current modeling does not account for land use in a detailed way. The goal of this project is to better understand how various land uses or restrictions on solar deployment could impact the cost of decarbonizing the power sector. The team will compile data on the effects of future infrastructure development, climate change, and urbanization on the availability of land for solar installations. The data sets, modeling tools, and scenarios will be publicly available so researchers and the energy industry can generate future energy scenarios.

Project Name: Community-Centered Solar Development: Exploring the Key Enabling Community Factors, Impacts and Opportunities for Large-Scale Solar Projects
Lab: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Location: Berkeley, CA
Principal Investigator: Ben Hoen
Project Summary: This project is developing tools and resources that can help communities create large-scale solar projects that meet their specific needs. Researchers will collect data on large-scale solar projects across the country and conduct surveys and focus-group interviews to better understand community impacts and stakeholder concerns. The team will collect information on solar projects of various sizes and locations, including those on brownfield and greenfield sites, co-located with agriculture, and near underserved communities. Results will be used to guide development of community-centered solar projects and publish a guidebook, checklist, and educational materials for communities across the country.

Project Name: AquaPV: Foundational Analysis and Industry Guidance on Floating PV for Reservoirs and Estuaries
Lab: Idaho National Laboratory
Location: Idaho Falls, ID
Principal Investigator: Thomas Mosier
Project Summary: This project is developing a tool called AquaPV to analyze proposed floating photovoltaics (PV) projects for hydropower dams, reservoirs, and estuaries. The project team will build computer models of floating PV systems, and collect data on real systems, to evaluate how these installations perform economically and how they affect the local environment. AquaPV will optimize the economic and environmental value of floating PV systems.

Topic: Data, Analysis, and Tools to Reduce Solar Soft Costs

Project Name: Smart Meter Data: A Gateway for Reducing Solar Soft Costs with Model-Free Hosting Capacity Maps
Lab: Sandia National Laboratories
Location: Albuquerque, NM
Principal Investigator: Matthew Reno
Project Summary: Current methods for generating public-facing solar hosting capacity (HC) maps, which show the maximum amount of solar energy that can be installed at a location without adverse effects, require detailed grid models and time-consuming simulations that limit both their accuracy and scalability. Today, only a handful out of almost 2,000 utilities provide these maps. Leveraging recent large-scale investments in smart meter infrastructure, this project is developing data-driven algorithms for calculating solar hosting capacity at any smart meter location without the need of detailed grid models or simulations. The algorithms will be validated on utility datasets and incorporated as a beta version into NRECA’s Open Modeling Framework (OMF.coop).

Project Name: Energy Resilience Cost and Performance Tool: The Value of Solar Energy
Lab: National Renewable Energy Laboratory
Location: Golden, CO
Principal Investigator: Jeffrey Marqusee
Project Summary: This project is developing a tool that determines the ability of behind-the-meter solar energy plus storage systems to provide resilient backup power. The tool will be integrated into NREL’s techno-economic decision-support platform, REopt Lite, which optimizes energy systems for buildings, campuses, and microgrids and is publicly available online. This new capability will enable stakeholders to quantitatively compare life-cycle costs, system-level reliability, and resilience performance between behind-the-meter system configurations (solar+storage, fossil-fuel backup generators, and a mixture of the two) and quantitatively compare their life cycle costs, system level reliability, and resilience performance.

Project Name: Low Income–Solar Data Platform, Funding, and Benefits Allocation
Lab: National Renewable Energy Laboratory
Location: Golden, CO
Principal Investigator: Jenny Heeter
Project Summary: Solar PV can be used to reduce the energy burden of low-income customers, but to date, these customers have not adopted solar at the same rate as other income groups. This project will create a data platform capability, funding pathways, and benefit allocation frameworks to expand solar access for low- and medium-income (LMI) households. First, it will create a solar data access platform within EERE’s SLOPE tool to enable users to assess and compare solar access and LMI adoption options. Second, it will examine the feasibility and barriers to using weatherization and LIHEAP funds for rooftop and community solar in combination with cost-effective energy efficiency measures. Third, it will define and pilot benefit allocation frameworks from utility-scale PV. These three activities will enable local analysis of LMI solar adoption, and study and test mechanisms for delivering cost savings from utility-scale PV directly to LMI consumers.

Project Name: Preparing Southeast Markets for Reliable and Affordable Integration of Solar into Operations and Planning
Lab: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Location: Berkeley, CA
Principal Investigator: Natalie Mims Frick
Project Summary: This project is researching opportunities for utilities to increase solar and solar-plus-storage integration and coordination across the Southeast. The Southeast electricity market is not organized under a regional transmission organization or independent system operator the way it is in other parts of the country, but Southeast grid operators are considering options for increased coordination. This research will inform decisions about increased market coordination, greater adoption of solar energy technologies, and the best ways to ensure the reliability of the electric grid.

Project Name: Resilient Planning for DERs: Data Standards and Multi-DER Evaluation
Lab: National Renewable Energy Laboratory
Location: Golden, CO
Principal Investigator: Paritosh Das
Project Summary: This project works to advance and standardize data, methods, and tools to incorporate distributed energy resources (DERs) like solar into planning at the distribution and transmission scales. The team will define data standards for multiple DER models, calibrate and build multi-DER models and forecasts, develop integrated multi-DER forecasts, and enhance the dGen tool—which simulates customer adoption of DER for residential, commercial, and industrial entities—by developing a graphical user interface and linking it with other DOE-funded tools, such as SAM and ReOPT. Additionally, this project will help stakeholders incorporate adoption forecasts into long-term grid planning and operational decisions.

Project Name: Enhanced Simulation Tools for Scheduling Solar-Plus-Storage Power Plants
Lab: National Renewable Energy Laboratory
Location: Golden, CO
Principal Investigator: Sourabh Dalvi
Project Summary: One of the most significant challenges of maximizing the value of stored solar energy is scheduling the charging and discharging of this energy, particularly at high penetrations of variable generation. Current tools can look ahead only one or two days to make schedules, which is not enough to schedule storage that can supply 8-24 hours of electricity. This project is developing new methodologies for more accurately representing commitment and dispatch decision-making under realistic near- and mid-term forecast uncertainty at high variable renewable energy penetrations. The new methodologies will be disseminated in easily utilized formats for two separate modeling capabilities: PLEXOS, a commercially available simulation software designed for energy market analysis, and the Scalable Integrated Infrastructure Planning (SIIP), an open-source platform for simulating power systems. These open-source tools will be made available for utilities and energy planners.

Project Name: Evaluating the Potential for Distributed Solar PV and Energy Storage Systems in Backup Power Applications
Lab: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Location: Berkeley, CA
Principal Investigator: Galen Barbose
Project Summary: This project is studying the capabilities and value of distributed solar photovoltaics (PV) and energy storage systems (PVESS) as backup power for homes and buildings that receive electricity directly from solar energy systems. The team will investigate the interactions between PVESS and other distributed energy resources, such as energy efficiency, electric vehicles, building electrification, and load management. In addition, they will analyze trade-offs between backup power and competing value streams, including utility-bill cost management, demand-response programs, and direct participation in wholesale markets. The team will publish studies and release resources and tools to inform decision-making by analysts, installers and developers, utilities, planners, regulators, and end-use customers.

Core Capability Projects

Project Name: System Advisory Model
Lab: National Renewable Energy Laboratory
Location: Golden, CO
Principal Investigator: Janine Keith
Project Summary:  This project leverages DOE’s past investment in system modeling capabilities and platforms to continue providing valuable and extensible photovoltaic (PV), battery, and financial modeling resources to the larger solar community. The research team is pursuing multiple avenues: software maintenance and technical support that are foundational to the continued usability of the System Advisor Model (SAM) and PVWatts software suite; platform and PV+battery model improvements and stakeholder engagement activities that are core to the continued relevance of the platforms; and open source activities to foster the continued creation of a vibrant open-source community around the SAM and PVWatts tools, which opens up new avenues for the industry to interact with the tool.

Project Name: Analysis of Solar Energy Markets
Lab: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Location: Berkeley, CA
Principal Investigator: Ryan Wiser
Project Summary: This project maintains and expands publicly available datasets, conducts in-depth analysis, and provides institutional support on a broad range of issues critical to the continuing development of solar energy technologies and markets. Specifically, the project team will collect, synthesize, and publish large and varied datasets of solar technology, cost, value, performance, and demographics, covering both distributed and utility-scale solar. This includes continuing and expanding the data assets related to the Tracking the Sun, Utility-Scale Solar, and Solar-Adopter Demographics reports. Researchers will also conduct high-impact analyses of solar technology costs and markets, solar access and adoption, and solar valuation in electricity markets. The project team will conduct outreach and provide institutional support to ensure external stakeholders benefit from the work.

Project Name: Open Energy Data Initiative
Lab: National Renewable Energy Laboratory
Location: Golden, CO
Principal Investigator: Michael Rossol
Project Summary: This project aims to advance DOE’s approach to open data in an effort to better support data access, scientific analysis, and innovation across the public, academic, and private sector. To date, Open Energy Data Initiative (OEDI) has managed to increase the amount of DOE data available to the public by over 2,000%. OEDI will expand its presence to major cloud vendors, which will ensure democratization of DOE’s data by providing users choice in the environment through which they access the data. Furthermore, this effort will help reduce “vendor lock-in” risks, increase data access redundancy, and expand OEDI’s data dissemination efforts. Lastly, OEDI is focused on helping promote use-cases that combine multiple datasets, models, and algorithms.

Project Name: Techno-Economic Analysis of Solar Energy Technologies
Lab: National Renewable Energy Laboratory       
Location: Golden, CO    
Principal Investigator: Robert Margolis
Project Summary: This project provides core support to the DOE Solar Energy Technologies Office through a bottom-up analysis of solar costs. Using inputs and validation from both industry sources and academic papers, the team will estimate the current state of solar technologies and system costs, as well as future industry progress toward the cost targets, set by the Solar Energy Technologies Office.

Project Name: Strategic and Programmatic Analysis to Support DOE
Lab: National Renewable Energy Laboratory       
Location: Golden, CO    
Principal Investigator: Robert Margolis
Project Summary: This project directly supports leadership in the DOE Solar Energy Technologies Office with versatile, on-call analysis of the technical and economic performance of solar technologies. To grant the core support required to address market feasibility and other issues related to solar, this project may range from providing quick data or model results to longer-term research leading to published papers.

Project Name: InSPIRE 3.0
Lab: National Renewable Energy Laboratory
Location: Golden, CO
Principal Investigator: Jordan Macknick
Project Summary: Co-locating solar projects with agricultural land uses such as grazing, crop production, and ecologically beneficial vegetation can potentially provide benefits to farmers, the solar industry, and to ecosystems. Prior InSPIRE 1.0 and 2.0 projects demonstrated the feasibility of these novel configurations and designs at multiple test sites around the country. InSPIRE 3.0 builds on this work by (1) continuing to engage the research community; (2) developing standard research protocols and a research roadmap; and (3) undertaking targeted field-based research projects that evaluate crop production, ecosystem services, PV performance, soil quality, and sheep grazing.


Learn more about other projects in the FY2022-24 Lab Call.