CREDIT: AP Photo / Bob Leverone
It’ll soon take just one day to get a solar permit in Chicago, thanks to a $750,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy.
That’s down from the 30-day wait that Chicagoans had to endure previously if they wanted to install small-scale solar projects on their homes or businesses. The grant will also help the city cut fees for solar panel installations by 25 percent, to $275.
Chicago’s grant is just one of $60 million worth of solar grants announced this week by the Department of Energy. The grants are housed under the Energy Department’s SunShot Initiative, a program announced in 2011 with the goal of reducing the cost of solar energy by 75 percent. The grants announced this week will go toward initiatives including increasing diversity in the solar industry, making installing solar cheaper and easier for Americans, and helping kickstart solar businesses.
Here are a few of the initiatives the new SunShot grants will be funding:
— Funding for 17 Solar Startups: The Energy Department is awarding $16 million to 17 solar startup businesses whose main goals are to reduce the coast of solar power. The price of solar panels have dropped dramatically in recent years, a development which has turned the solar industry’s sights to reducing the “soft costs” of solar power. This refers to the permitting, inspection, and technical, legal, and procedural requirements that go along with solar installation — costs that can account for up to 40 percent of a solar installation’s total cost. Many of the companies that received the grants — like Clean Power Research and kWh Analytics — are focusing on reducing these soft costs of solar.
— Increasing diversity in the solar industry: Delaware State University and the University of Texas San Antonio are both receiving grants to ramp up their solar programs and ensure that people who are typically underrepresented in the solar industry have a chance to succeed in it. Delaware State, a historically black university, will use its $326,000 to implement a new research project that will develop thin-film photovoltaic solar technology — technology that will make it possible for solar cells to be printed or sprayed onto surfaces.
— Expanding solar research and education: The Missouri University of Science and Technology is using its $4.3 million grant to launch the Mid-America Regional Microgrid Education and Training Consortium, which will help develop curriculum for microgrid engineering studies. This and several other grants will help train a workforce of educated solar professionals.
— Advancing solar cell efficiency: Four universities are receiving grants to research ways to drive up the efficiency of solar cells. Arizona State University, in partnership with several other institutions, is researching ultra-thin solar cells — something Georgia Tech is also looking into, hoping to drive the efficiency of ultra-thin crystalline silicon cells past 26.5 percent.
Solar has made major strides in the past several years — the cost of solar cells has dropped 99 percent since 1977, and just last month, German researchers developed a solar cell that’s 44.7 percent efficient, a new record for efficiency in the industry. This year, the U.S. will install more solar than wind for the first time in history. If the DoE’s SunShot program reaches its goal of reducing solar’s costs by 75 percent, solar installations in the U.S. are likely to only increase.