US DOE sets $0.03/kWh target for utility-scale PV in 2030

Already well ahead of schedule on its 2020 cost-reduction targets for solar energy, the US Energy Department (DOE) has announced a new set of 2030 targets for its SunShot Initiative – including a $0.03/kWh goal for utility-scale solar in regions with average solar conditions.

In 2011 the DOE launched its SunShot initiative and associated funding programmes, with the aim of helping make solar competitive without subsidies by 2020 on a levelised cost of energy (LCOE) basis. To get there, it set LCOE targets of $0.06/kWh for utility-scale, $0.07/kWh for commercial, and $0.09/kWh for residential solar.

As of late 2016, the average LCOE from a new US utility-scale solar plant had reached $0.07/kWh, down from $0.27/kWh in 2010, meaning the sector is 90% of the way to meeting its 2020 target, DOE announced Monday.

The commercial and residential solar sectors are 70% of the way to meeting their own 2020 targets – with current costs averaging $0.13/kWh and $0.18/kWh, respectively (down from their 2011 levels of $0.34 and $0.42/kWh).

But DOE sees “clear pathways” for all three sectors to blow past their 2020 targets within the next three years.

Now, looking further down the road, DOE has unveiled a new set of targets for 2030: $0.03/kWh for utility scale; $0.04/kWh for commercial; and $0.05/kWh for residential rooftop systems.

For context, the average US homeowner paid about $0.13/kWh for power in August 2016, according to the US Energy Information Administration.

Meeting the 2030 SunShot target for utility-scale solar would mean lowering the cost from $0.07/kWh today down to $0.03/kWh by the end of next decade – or another nearly 60% drop.

The cost reduction will come in four areas: lower module costs; lower balance-of-system and soft costs; lower degradation rates; and lower O&M costs. The biggest chunk will likely come from cheaper modules, DOE says.

To help meet the new SunShot goals, DOE has begun accepting applications for up to $65m of new funding in areas including PV module design and helping utilities better forecast solar irradiance.