The Energy Department’s national laboratory system has been a key partner in accelerating and achieving progress towards the goals of the SunShot Initiative. The SunShot National Laboratory Multiyear Partnership (SuNLaMP) funding program allows the national labs to continue to address the most critical barriers that remain to achieving a total installed cost of solar energy systems to $.06 per kilowatt-hour by 2020. SuNLaMP projects address all five of SunShot’s subprograms in fiscal years 2016 through 2018.

APPROACH

SuNLaMP projects target high-impact problems, make a significant difference in research areas, focus on broad problems with new approaches, and have a significant return on investment. Projects under this $230 million funding program must meet agreed-upon objectives, deliver on milestones, yield valuable results, and remain relevant to the current research and development needs of the technology and the solar marketplace.

SUBPROGRAM OBJECTIVES

Photovoltaics (PV) projects aim to lower material and process costs, increase efficiency, and improve the reliability and durability of PV modules. Learn more about PV SuNLaMP awards.

Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) projects support research and development into technologies that have the potential for lower cost, higher efficiency, and more reliable performance than existing commercial and near-commercial CSP systems. Learn more about CSP SuNLaMP awards.

Systems Integration projects address potential challenges of integrating hundreds of gigawatts of solar energy onto the grid by focusing on grid performance and reliability, dispatchability, power electronics, and communications. Learn more about Systems Integration SuNLaMP awards.

Soft Costs projects focus on analysis, education, and outreach, and support soft cost reductions, expanding access to solar energy, and accelerate solar deployment. Learn more about Soft Costs SuNLaMP awards.

The Technology to Market project provides strategic cost and competitiveness analysis in the commercial sphere with respect to new technology development, scale-up, and domestic competitiveness. Learn more about the Technology to Market SuNLaMP award.

National Lab Success Stories

EERE Success Story—Putting Solar Panels to the Test

This solar photovoltaic (PV) array is being tested in hot, humid weather at the Cocoa, Florida Regional Test Center.

Mother Nature can be unpredictable. Sometimes she sends hail; other times, damaging winds; and if you live in a cold climate, she loves to send snow in the winter. When you choose to install solar panels on your rooftop, how do you know if they will hold up in severe weather?

Enter the Regional Test Center (RTC) program, established by the SunShot Initiative and managed by Sandia National Laboratories (Sandia) and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). The RTC program, which is funded by a $12 million award, created five sites in strategically-selected locations with diverse climates: Albuquerque, New Mexico; Cocoa, Florida; Golden, Colorado; Henderson, Nevada; and Williston, Vermont. Each location represents a range of irradiance, temperature, and precipitation conditions.

Sandia and NREL currently collaborate with 20 industry partners, ranging from start-ups to multinational corporations, to measure the performance of their new photovoltaic (PV) technologies at each of the five locations. The RTC program has established a comprehensive data collection infrastructure and is customized to meet the needs of each industry partner, typically involving a three- to five-year field study. Data collection and analysis activities are underway on multiple PV systems at each RTC site, currently representing more than 300 kilowatts (kW) of installed PV capacity, with hundreds of kW more in the pipeline.

The rigorous testing performed in data collection validates module performance and identifies ways to improve quality. It’s important data for the U.S. solar industry because it helps speed up the commercialization of innovative products and build investor confidence, allowing U.S. companies to satisfy customer needs for affordability, efficiency, and reliability.

“We value the federally-funded Regional Test Center program for its support of manufacturers as they strive to provide exactly the renewable energy products that consumers want,” said Mukesh Dulani, U.S. president of SolarWorld. “We look forward to applying the resulting data and analysis in our factories in Oregon.”

Chet Farris, president and CEO of Stion, agrees.

“As a company committed to the U.S.'s ability to compete globally through innovative technology and streamlined processes, Stion is excited to work with Sandia and the DOE to monitor performance of its U.S.-made high-efficiency framed and frameless CIGS thin-film PV modules in a variety of climates,” Farris said.

This partnership with the national labs is helping U.S. companies carve out an advantage in the increasingly aggressive PV market space. The RTC program and technical support provided by the national labs helped them to improve performance and bankability for their products, which will ultimately benefit the U.S. solar energy industry and consumers alike.

The SunShot Initiative recently issued a Request for Information to gain insights into the degradation rates and service lifetimes of PV modules. The Department of Energy is also currently looking to transition the RTC site in Aurora, Colorado to external management. 

The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) success stories highlight the positive impact of its work with businesses, industry partners, universities, research labs, and other entities.

EERE Success Story—SunShot Funding Spurs Standardized Testing for “Smart” Solar Inverters

Caption: Inverters allow for the electricity produced by solar panels to be converted into electricity. Licensed photo courtesy of Lauren Wellicome.

Solar inverters are one of the most important components of a solar energy system. These power electronic devices convert the direct current produced by photovoltaic panels into alternating current – the type of electricity used by all of the appliances in your home. New technologies enable inverters to have advanced (smart) functions that serve to ensure the stability and reliability of the grid. The SunShot Initiative has helped develop “smart” solar inverters through funding and support for foundational work to ensure that inverters live up to the highest standard.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) — which establishes standards and testing protocols for electrical and electronic components, including solar inverters — recently passed amendment 1547.1a, which standardizes inverter testing protocols and procedures for three advanced inverter functionalities: regulating voltage, riding through abnormalities of grid voltage, and providing modulated power output in response to abnormal grid frequency. It also created two new type tests to assess response to abnormal frequency conditions and capability for voltage regulation. These developments are significant for the solar industry. Manufacturers of advanced inverters for solar applications now have industry-accepted standard test protocols to guarantee their products, and utilities can now turn to these advanced inverters as additional options for stability and reliability of the electric grid.

The SunShot Initiative’s Systems Integration subprogram funded the technical work that helped IEEE established these standards. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory led the IEEE 1547.1a working group and coordinated the research with private industry and universities. Sandia National Laboratories developed and validated test procedures for grid interoperability, tested protocols for advanced inverter functionality, and provided validated measurement capabilities to distributed energy resource communities.

IEEE’s 1547.1a amendment is a significant milestone that will enable the solar industry to benefit from the additional grid resilience that advanced inverters provide, while ensuring that all grid-connected inverters meet defined standards for safety and reliability. Ultimately, it will allow for high levels of solar energy to be integrated into the nation’s power system in a safe, reliable, and cost effective manner. Learn more about IEEE’s 1547.1a amendment and the SunShot Systems Integration subprogram.

The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) success stories highlight the positive impact of its work with businesses, industry partners, universities, research labs, and other entities.

EERE Success Story—Uncle Sam Turns to SAM for Solar Modeling

When it comes to making performance predictions and cost-of-energy estimates for grid-connected power projects, you can trust SAM to make it happen. SAM, or the System Advisor Model, is a performance and financial analysis tool funded by the SunShot Initiative that was built based on computer models developed at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories, and other organizations.

SAM is designed to assist decision making for people in the renewable energy industry. SAM’s user interface makes it possible to build a model of a renewable energy project, and to make cost and performance projections based on the results. SAM’s ease of use and comprehensive analysis framework came in handy for the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which set out to examine the possible effects on utility-scale renewable electricity generation projects of actual and planned reductions in the value of the Investment Tax Credit (ITC) and the Production Tax Credit (PTC). These tax credits can account for a large portion of the total after-tax returns from investments in renewable energy projects.

The GAO used SAM’s analysis as the basis of a recently published report “ELECTRICITY GENERATION PROJECTS: Additional Data Could Improve Understanding of the Effectiveness of Tax Expenditures.” Using SAM, the GAO estimated that reducing or eliminating the value of these tax credits increases the required revenues provided through power purchase agreements by approximately 20 to 25 % for the ITC and approximately 30 to 60 % for the PTC. This suggests that the contributions of the tax credits to total after-tax returns are substantial.

GAO’s use of SAM is another example of the impact of technologies and tools that are powered by SunShot investments, whether in the private or public sector. Learn more about SAM and read the GAO report.

The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) success stories highlight the positive impact of its work with businesses, industry partners, universities, research labs, and other entities.

EERE Success Story—Raising the Bar for Quality PV Modules

As photovoltaics (PV) markets expand across the United States the manufacture of safe, reliable, and high-quality PV modules is critical to achieve cost competitive solar energy. Since the development and codification of testing standards for PV modules requires a lengthy multiyear process, Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative and National Renewable Energy Laboratory worked together on an accelerated schedule for 9 months in 2013 to develop a voluntary standard that goes beyond current test protocols to qualify superior PV modules.

This voluntary standard called, Qualification Plus, recommends testing beyond the current International Electrotechnical Commission standard 61215, which is not adequate to predict quality and lifetime. The new standard is based on the latest scientific knowledge and goes further than the required initial performance tests to assess—quality, reliability, performance and durability—of modules in the field.

Qualification Plus includes three new parts:

  • New or revised accelerated tests for components and modules including tests applying
    • System-voltage bias
    • Ultra-violet light
    • Mechanical stress, which have been developed and agreed upon by international standards groups.
  • Revised sampling procedures, including the requirement of random sampling from the production line
  • Required audit of the quality management system

Manufacturers that choose to test their products to this new voluntary standard will be able to better screen for module failures. Higher quality PV modules will help U.S. based manufacturers compete against their international counterparts and attract more financiers to the growing PV market.

Qualification Plus has been endorsed by industry co-authors and more than 20 peer reviewers. The standard is in the process of being implemented by major standards testing labs in the United States—e.g., TUV, Intertek—and in a few states.

The Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) focuses on achieving the goals of the SunShot Initiative, which seeks to make solar energy cost-competitive with other forms of electricity by the end of the decade.

The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) success stories highlight the positive impact of its work with businesses, industry partners, universities, research labs, and other entities.

<h5>Positive Impact</h5><p>Since the development and codification of testing standards for PV modules requires a lengthy multiyear process, Department of Energy&rsquo;s SunShot Initiative and National Renewable Energy Laboratory worked together on an accelerated schedule for 9 months in 2013 to develop a voluntary standard that goes beyond current test protocols to qualify superior PV modules.</p><h5>Locations</h5><p>Golden, Colorado</p><h5>Partners</h5><p>National Renewable Energy Laboratory</p><h5>Clean Energy Sector</h5><p><a href="/node/767746">Renewable electricity generation</a></p>

EERE Success Story—Milestone for Regional Test Center in Vermont

Together with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories, EERE helped establish five regional test centers across the United States. The regional test center in Williston, Vermont, recently achieved a major milestone with the installation of a 66-kW solar energy research system, which will focus on analyzing performance data and supporting collaborative research related to the integration of PV technologies into Vermont's electrical grid. Sandia oversees the center, which is located on IBM property.

These centers provide industry leaders and other stakeholders with each site’s grid integration capability, large-scale testing and data monitoring needed to validate photovoltaic (PV) system performance; verify models used to predict performance; collect detailed operations and maintenance data; assess PV module quality, degradation rates, and system reliability; and investigate the role of environmental factors—reliability, durability, and safety of PV technologies.

The Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) focuses on achieving the goals of the SunShot Initiative, which seeks to make solar energy cost-competitive with other forms of electricity by the end of the decade.

The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) success stories highlight the positive impact of its work with businesses, industry partners, universities, research labs, and other entities.

<h5>Positive Impact</h5><p>The installation of a 66-kW solar energy research system will focus on analyzing performance data and supporting collaborative research related to the integration of PV technologies into Vermont&#39;s electrical grid.</p><h5>Location</h5><p>Williston, Vermont</p><h5>Partners</h5><p>National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories and IBM</p><h5>Clean Energy Sector</h5><p><a href="/node/767746">Renewable Electricity Generation</a></p>

EERE Success Story—Washington: When Life Gives You Solar, Make Syngas

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) is developing a new method for combining solar energy with modified natural gas power plants. This concentrating solar power (CSP) system harnesses sunlight to produce syngas, which is a fuel capable of driving a standard heat engine to produce electricity. In addition to offsetting the need for fossil fuels in traditional power plants, PNNL’s approach offers an affordable pathway to solar-generated electricity that is available round-the-clock.

The PNNL research team achieved a world-record 63% (+/-4%) solar-to-chemical energy conversion efficiency during a 2011 demonstration test supported by a 2009 DOE CSP American Recovery and Reinvestment Act award. Through a 2012 SunShot CSP Research and Development award, the team is pushing the efficiency of the system higher as it moves from proof-of-concept to validated prototype. This project could impact the market in as few as three years as the core technology, micro- and meso-channel reactors and heat exchangers, has already received several years of development at PNNL in projects for the US Department of Energy, the US Department of Defense, and the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration.  Discussions with potential commercial partners are already underway.

The Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) focuses on achieving the goals of the SunShot Initiative, which seeks to make solar energy cost-competitive with other forms of electricity by the end of the decade.

The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) success stories highlight the positive impact of its work with businesses, industry partners, universities, research labs, and other entities.

<h5>Positive Impact</h5><p>World record solar-to-chemical energy conversion efficiency achieved.&nbsp;</p><h5>Location</h5><p>Richland, Washington</p><h5>Partner</h5><p>Pacific Northwest National Laboratory</p><h5>EERE Investment</h5><p>$3.5M</p><h5>Clean Energy Sector</h5><p><a href="/node/767746">Renewable Electricity Generation</a></p>