Fed Foots the Bill for Some Solar Projects

May 14, 2008

Although the numbers are generally modest compared to the money the US Department of Energy spends on energy sources such as coal, oil, natural gas, and nuclear, the agency is funding a number of solar energy projects. Several of these have a local angle that may be of interest to your audience, or you can use this information as part of a story on regional, national, or international solar issues.

The overall umbrella under which many of these DoE projects are occurring is called the Solar America Initiative. The general thrust of this program is to provide seed money, information, and other resources that can spur development of solar energy, especially photovoltaics, in the private, local government, and R&D sectors.

One element of the Initiative is called Solar America Cities. DoE has provided seed money in 2007 and 2008 for 25 cities to facilitate development of solar energy, through measures such as improved local ordinances, consultation with experts on locally appropriate equipment, support for low-interest loans, assistance for startup companies, and development of solar education courses. The 13 cities that have been operating for more than a year on their DoE funding include:

  • Ann Arbor, MI
  • Austin, TX
  • Berkeley, CA
  • Boston, MA
  • Madison, WI
  • New Orleans, LA
  • New York City, NY
  • Pittsburgh, PA
  • Portland, OR
  • Salt Lake City, UT
  • San Diego, CA
  • San Francisco, CA
  • Tucson, AZ

The 12 cities that were announced as winners in March 2008 include:

  • Denver, CO
  • Houston, TX
  • Knoxville, TN
  • Milwaukee, WI
  • Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN
  • Orlando, FL
  • Philadelphia, PA
  • Sacramento, CA
  • San Antonio, TX
  • San Jose, CA
  • Santa Rosa, CA
  • Seattle, WA

Links to a summary of the projects and organizations involved in the first 13 cities are included on the Solar America Cities page. Information on the newest 12 cities is included in a March 28, 2008, DoE press release. Sandia National Laboratories' take on this project, in which it is participating, is discussed in its April 30, 2008, press release that came shortly after a conference at which the 25 cities shared information.

Additional localizable solar angles were included in a March 12, 2008, announcement by DoE that it was funding 11 university-led photovoltaic research projects. The universities involved include:

  • AZ (Tempe): Arizona State University
  • CA (Pasadena): California Institute of Technology
  • DE (Newark): University of Delaware Institute of Energy Conversion, and a separate project at the University of Delaware
  • FL (Gainesville): University of Florida
  • GA (Atlanta): Georgia Institute of Technology
  • MA (Cambridge): Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • NC (Raleigh): North Carolina State University
  • OH (Toledo): University of Toledo (2 projects, with different partners)
  • PA (University Park): Pennsylvania State University

For details on who is partnering with these schools, and the emphasis of each project, see the March 12, 2008, DoE press release.

Other solar projects were mentioned in a June 20, 2007, DoE press release that announced funding for technology incubator projects expected to expedite large-scale production of photovoltaics. These 18-month projects may be nearing completion, and likely are worth exploring to see how much bang the feds are getting for their bucks. The companies involved are:

  • CA (Fremont): Solaria
  • CA (Menlo Park): CaliSolar
  • CA (Milpitas): SoloPower
  • CA (Palo Alto): SolFocus
  • CA (Sunnyvale): EnFocus Engineering
  • CO (Fort Collins): AVA Solar
  • CO (Golden): PrimeStar Solar
  • IL (Niles): MicroLink Devices
  • MD (North East): Blue Square Energy
  • PA (Pittsburgh): Plextronics

DoE says the federal government made a small dent in its utility bills by installing solar electric and solar thermal systems at more than 2,000 of its 500,000 buildings by the year 2000. Its stated goal is to get that number up to 20,000 buildings in the next two years, an ambitious effort that is worth checking to see how much progress has been made during the Bush administration, and to see if the target is within reach for the next administration. For a little more information, see the "Leading by Example" section.

Along with photovoltaic-related efforts, DoE is dipping its toe into another form of solar energy production that is gaining popularity, called concentrating solar. The agency announced April 30, 2008, a $60 million funding program to spur development in this field. According to proponents, concentrating solar power can generate energy in an efficient manner, and use storage techniques to save it for later use. Applications are due July 10, 2008. For more information, see the April 30, 2008, DoE press release.

A good starting point for scores of other companies and organizations involved with solar energy is the Solar 2008 conference held May 3-8, in San Diego that was presented by the American Solar Energy Society and four California organizations.