The DOE's SunShot initiative looks to reduce the total costs of photovoltaic solar energy systems by about 75 percent so that they are cost-competitive with other forms of energy without subsidies before 2020. Steve Chu, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy, is targeting $1 per watt for the total system, which he said corresponds to roughly 6 cents per kilowatt-hour.

When Chu announced the SunShot program, he said it would work to bring down the full cost of solar by focusing on four main pillars:

  • Technologies for solar cells and arrays
  • Power electronics that optimize the performance of the installation
  • Improvements in the efficiency of solar manufacturing processes
  • Installation, design, and permitting for solar energy systems


During the initiation of the SunShot program, Chu said that he sees the path to $1 per watt requiring disruptive rather incremental change. He spoke of 50-micron-thick solar cells and minimizing loss due to sawing, hence his interest in 1366 Technologies. Twin Creeks Solar and a number of other firms are working on disrupting the traditional silicon wafer thickness.

But hardware is just part of the picture.

Part of the SunShot vision is to lower costs of project finance, and the Department of Energy's upcoming SunShot Initiative Summit and Technology Forum on June 13 and 14 in Denver, Colorado includes the first in a series of Departmental Grand Challenges. The event will note the progress that SunShot has made over its two-year tenure and reassess the challenges moving forward. 

The SunShot Initiative is now calling on the public to submit ideas for a competition to be hosted at the Summit next week -- and the first topic is lowering the costs of project finance and cost of capital for large and small solar installations.

Ideas will be evaluated by the all-star panel of judges and the audience with topics including:

  • Financial instruments (securitization, bonds, equity pools)
  • Insurance on performance and payment
  • Ratings of projects and/or offtakers
  • Innovative business models for system hosts and utilities
  • Combining generation with other improvements


Submissions should be sent via email to [email protected], and may not exceed one page. Put "Finance pitch" in the e-mail subject line. After an evaluation by members of the SunShot team, finalists will be chosen and asked to present a 2- to 3-minute "elevator pitch" to the panel and audience for discussion at the Summit. Please submit ideas by Thursday, June 7 for inclusion in the Summit.

As the price of hardware declines, the other pieces of the solar puzzle -- such as permitting and financing -- become even more crucial. Here's a chance to start making an impact in those facets of solar.