News and Events April 26, 2012
The Energy Department on April 23 announced that $9 million is available this year to help utilities and grid operators better forecast when, where, and how much solar power will be produced at U.S. solar energy plants. Enhanced solar forecasting will allow power system operators to integrate more solar energy into the grid and help ensure the economic and reliable delivery of renewable energy. The selected projects, part of DOE's SunShot Initiative, will last up to three years and will require more than 20% of the total funding from private and other sources.
Changes in weather conditions can cause variations in solar power production. Improved forecasting technologies will help utilities and power system operators better predict when clouds and other weather-related factors will reduce the intensity of incoming sunlight at solar facilities. This information will allow utilities and operators to more accurately anticipate changes in solar power production and take actions to ensure the stability of the national power grid. This can reduce the cost of integrating solar power plants into the grid.
DOE will competitively select one or two projects for this funding, potentially partnering with national laboratories, universities, and industry. Awardees will strive to improve the accuracy of solar forecasting in the sub-hourly, short-term (1–6 hours), and day-ahead timeframes. The Energy Department plans to fund projects that could improve advanced weather modeling, find breakthrough methods for accurately predicting solar energy output, work to incorporate solar energy forecasts into power system operations, and demonstrate the economic benefits and improved system reliability from more accurate forecasts. See the DOE Progress Alert, the full announcement on the Funding Opportunity Exchange, and the SunShot Initiative website.
The Energy Department on April 24 announced that up to $5 million is available this year to develop "plug-and-play" photovoltaic (PV) systems. These are off-the-shelf systems that can be purchased, installed, and operational in one day. This effort is part of the Energy Department's strategy to spur solar power deployment by reducing non-hardware, or "soft" costs, such as installation, permitting, and interconnection, which currently amount to more than half of the total cost of residential systems. The funding, part of the Energy Department's SunShot Initiative, will help drive innovations to fundamentally change the design and installation of residential PV systems, reducing costs for homeowners and simplifying installations and grid connectivity.
As the costs of solar PV modules continue to come down, soft costs and other non-module hardware costs, such as electronics and mounting hardware, now account for a majority of the total costs of systems. This offers significant opportunities to bring down costs through more efficient installation and permitting processes or new ways to affordably and effectively connect solar panels to the grid.
Plug-and-play solar energy systems will make the process of buying, installing, and connecting solar energy systems faster, easier, and less expensive, potentially unlocking major cost reductions in this area. Plug-and-play PV systems could be installed without special training or tools, and simply plugged into a PV-ready circuit. An automatic detection system would initiate communication between the solar energy system and the utility. Plug-and-play systems are already in wide use in the computer and automotive industries, and DOE believes that similar innovations can be made in the solar energy industry to reduce costs and simplify installations. As part of a planned five-year program, DOE will invest an initial $5 million this year for two projects that will develop innovative plug-and-play prototypes through partnerships with universities, industry, utilities, and other stakeholders. The Energy Department plans to make an additional request of $20 million to Congress over the next four years to support these efforts. See the DOE press release, the full funding opportunity announcement, and the SunShot Initiative website.
The Energy Department on April 9 announced that up to $9 million is available this year to fund about 50 small businesses to advance innovative energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies. This initiative will help businesses with promising ideas that could improve manufacturing processes, boost building efficiency, cut oil reliance, and generate renewable electricity.
DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) is offering the funding through the department's Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer programs. These allow federal agencies with large research and development budgets to set aside a fraction of their funding for competitions among small businesses. Small businesses that win awards in these programs keep the rights to any technologies they develop and they are encouraged to commercialize them.
This broad topic research solicitation gives small business broadly framed problems to work on and goals to achieve, and gives them the freedom to innovate. It also encourages small businesses with groundbreaking concepts to become part of the EERE programs' research teams. The funding opportunity includes 8 broad topics and 30 subtopics in areas including advanced manufacturing, energy-efficient buildings, biomass, hydrogen and fuel cells, solar energy, and wind and waterpower technologies. The Energy Department will fund selected small businesses with one-year awards of up to $150,000. Awardees with successful projects will have the opportunity to compete for more than $1 million in follow-on funding. See the EERE Progress Alert and the funding opportunity announcement on the Funding Opportunity Exchange website.
The Energy Department on April 16 announced the opening of an electric vehicle (EV) component manufacturing facility in Grand Blanc Township, Michigan. The Magna E-Car Systems plant received $40 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 funding from the Energy Department. The facility will provide components for EV systems, including those in the 2012 Ford Focus EV. It helps support the department's EV-Everywhere Challenge, a broad initiative to make EVs more affordable and convenient to own than today's gasoline-powered vehicles within the next 10 years.
The 50,000-square-foot-production facility will be able to manufacture a variety of EV components in high volume under one roof, and next year it will be able to produce 500,000 EV components. Production has already started, and at full production, the plant will be able to manufacture electric motors, power electronics, battery chargers, and vehicle controllers, enabling it to assemble complete electric vehicle drivetrains. The Magna E-Car Systems plant is one of 30 advanced battery and electric drive manufacturing facilities supported by the Recovery Act. See the DOE press release and the DOE Vehicle Technologies Program website.
The Energy Department and Ameresco, Inc. marked the successful operational startup of a new $795 million biomass-fueled cogeneration facility at DOE's Savannah River Site (SRS) in Aiken, South Carolina, on March 12. The 20-megawatt project created an estimated 800 jobs, and when fully operational, the plant will employ 25 fulltime jobs onsite and support the local logging community. The facility replaced a deteriorating and inefficient 1950s-era coal powerhouse and oil-fired boilers and will generate an estimated $944 million in savings in fuel costs and operation and maintenance costs over the next 20 years. Biomass, consisting of local forest residue and wood chips, and bio-derived fuels will be the primary fuel source for the high-tech renewable energy facility, which has the capacity to combust 385,000 tons of forest residue annually. The projects also was the "Renewable Recipient" of the 2012 Renewable Energy World Excellence in Renewable Energy Award for Biomass Project of the Year. SRS is a key DOE industrial complex dedicated to environmental management and cleanup, nuclear weapons stockpile stewardship, and nuclear materials disposition in support of the U.S. nuclear non-proliferation efforts.
The project is also the single largest renewable energy savings performance contract (ESPC) in U.S. history. DOE signed a 20-year fixed-price contract with Ameresco, a leading energy efficiency and renewable energy company, in 2009 to finance, design, construct, operate, maintain, and fuel the new biomass site. ESPCs are contracts in which private companies finance, install, and maintain new energy- and water-efficient equipment at federal facilities. The government pays no up-front costs, and the company's investment is repaid over time by the agency from the cost savings generated by the new equipment. This allows the government to use the private sector to purchase more energy-efficient systems and improve the energy performance of their facilities at no extra cost to the agency or taxpayers. See the SRS press release.
Harvesting the Sun at the West Tennessee Solar Farm
The West Tennessee Solar Farm (WTSF) is now open for business!
Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel Poneman attended the WTSF's ribbon cutting recently. At a capacity of five megawatts, the WTSF is the largest photovoltaic installation in the state of Tennessee and the seven-state Tennessee Valley Authority region. Located off I-40 in Haywood County, the WTSF is projected to produce enough energy to power 500 homes and offset 250 tons of coal per month. With $31 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 funds from the Energy Department, the WTSF is the largest funded project under DOE's State Energy Program.
Over 100,000 hours of work were required to install 21,434 solar panels and connect the WTSF to the grid. Proceeds from the power sales will be used to operate, maintain, and expand the array, as well as fund education and demonstration related activities. The Tennessee Department of Transportation will soon begin construction on an Information and Welcome Center at the WTSF. The center, which will house an interactive educational display, is expected to be completed in 2013. Read the complete story on the Energy Department Blog.