September 21, 2011

News and Events

U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2011 Set to Begin

Photo of construction on a lawn near the National Mall with Arlington, Virginia,in the background.Solar homes for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon 2011 are being assembled in Washington, D.C.
Credit: Stefano Paltera, U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

The U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2011 is taking shape as teams work around the clock to assemble 19 solar homes on the National Mall’s West Potomac Park in Washington, D.C., in time for the 10 a.m. September 23 opening. The Solar Decathlon is an international DOE competition that offers university teams a chance to design and build homes that run entirely on solar energy. Teams ship their structures to the site, assemble them, and then compete in ten contests. The biennial event, launched in 2002 and organized by DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, is free to the public. The Decathlon runs through October 2. See the kick-off Energy Blog post and the Solar Decathlon website.

This year, 19 teams came from universities in California, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, Vermont, and Virginia, as well as Belgium, Canada, China, and New Zealand. For this sixth running of the Solar Decathlon, each home will once again be monitored for its performance in five areas relating to performance and livability: comfort (maintaining comfortable temperature and humidity in the home), hot water (producing a sufficient quantity for washing and bathing), appliances (such as keeping refrigerated items at the right temperature), home entertainment (running lights, computers, and other devices), and energy balance. For the energy balance portion, homes must even out energy consumption and generation so that they use zero net energy over the course of a week. Other contests use experts to rate the teams for their communications with the public, as well as the affordability, architecture, engineering, and market appeal of their homes. The winner of the competition, to be announced on October 1, is the team that best blends affordability, consumer appeal, and design excellence with optimal energy production and maximum efficiency. See the list of contests.

In 2009, the Solar Decathlon provided 307,502 house visits to the public over 10 days on the National Mall, while offering 32 public workshops onsite and holding a dedicated day of workshops for builders and industry professionals. The event also partnered with the National Education Association, which broadcasted daily educational programming to classrooms around the nation. In its new location in West Potomac Park, the Solar Decathlon is scheduled to be open 10 a.m.–2 p.m. EDT on weekdays, and from 10 a.m.–5:30 p.m. EDT on weekends. See 2009 Solar Decathlon coverage in EERE Network News.

Installed Cost of Solar PV Systems in the U.S. Declined: DOE Lab Report

Photo of a house with solar panels.The cost of installing solar photovoltaic systems like this one declined in 2010 and the first half of 2011, an LBNL report says.
Credit: LBNL

The installed cost of solar photovoltaic (PV) power systems in the United States fell substantially in 2010 and into the first half of 2011, according to a report released on September 15 by DOE’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL). The average installed cost of residential and commercial PV systems completed in 2010 fell by roughly 17% from 2009, and by an additional 11% within the first six months of 2011. The reductions reflect the drop in both the cost of PV modules as well as non-module costs such as installation labor, marketing, overhead, inverters, and the balance of systems. According to the report, “Tracking the Sun IV: An Historical Summary of the Installed Cost of Photovoltaics in the United States from 1998 to 2010,” average non-module costs for residential and commercial systems declined by roughly 18% from 2009 to 2010.

Regarding utility-sector PV, costs varied widely for systems installed in 2010, with the cost of systems greater than 5,000 kilowatts (kW) ranging from $2.90 per Watt (W) to $6.20/W, reflecting differences in project size and system configuration. Consistent with continued cost reductions, current benchmarks for the installed cost of prototypical, large utility-scale PV projects generally range from $3.80/W to $4.40/W. The study, which examined more than 115,000 residential, commercial, and utility-sector PV systems installed between 1998 and 2010 across 42 states, describes trends in the installed cost of PV in the United States.

The study also highlights differences in installed costs by region and by system size and installation type. Across states, for example, the average cost of PV systems installed in 2010 that were less than 10 kW ranged from $6.30/W to $8.40/W depending on the state. The report also found that residential PV systems installed on new homes had significantly lower average installed costs than did those installed as retrofits to existing homes. The LBNL noted that the average size of direct cash incentives provided through state and utility PV incentive programs has declined steadily since their peak in 2002. The research was supported by funding from DOE and the Clean Energy States Alliance, a national nonprofit coalition of leading state clean energy programs. See the LBNL press release and the reportPDF.

DOE-Backed Advanced Batteries Plant Opens in Florida

DOE and Saft America celebrated the September 16 grand opening of the company’s advanced lithium-ion battery factory in Jacksonville, Florida. The batteries will power electric vehicles (EV). The factory, which is supported partly by DOE investments, is expected to produce 370 megawatt hours of battery power per year, enough to supply more than 37,000 electric-drive vehicles. Saft said the project has created or preserved an estimated 300 construction jobs.

Saft America Incorporated’s Industrial Battery Group won a $95.5 million DOE grant under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009 and provided an additional $95.5 million in cost share to build the new 235,000-square-foot battery factory. The facility is capable of manufacturing high quantities of lithium-ion cells, modules, and batteries. The project is part of the Recovery Act’s $2 billion investments in battery and electric drive component manufacturing, supporting 20 battery and 10 component-manufacturing factories. At full scale, these investments will support factories with the capacity to supply more than 500,000 electric drive vehicles. These factories are helping build a domestic electric-drive vehicle industry, and by the end of 2012, it is estimated that the United States could produce 20% of the world’s advanced vehicle batteries. These factories are also lowering costs and could cut the cost in half by 2013. See the DOE press release.

USDA Boosts Smart Grid, Transmission System Improvements in 14 States

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced on August 29 that rural electric cooperative utilities will receive funding for Smart Grid technologies and improvements to generation and transmission facilities. The $900 million in loans are provided by USDA Rural Development’s Rural Utilities Service, and they will benefit more than 19,000 rural consumers in 14 states.

Among the rural electric cooperative utilities that will receive funding are Hoosier Energy Rural Electric Cooperative, Inc., which serves Indiana and parts of Illinois. Hoosier received a $462.5 million loan to fund system projects to improve reliability and comply with environmental requirements. The loan will also finance Smart Grid technologies and transmission line improvements. Also, Northeast Oklahoma Electric Cooperative, Inc. received a $23.5 million loan to build or improve nearly 250 miles of distribution line and to make other system improvements. The loan includes $1.2 million for automated metering. See the USDA press release for a list of rural utilities that were selected to receive funding, which is contingent upon the recipient meeting the terms of the loan agreement.

Innovation Ecosystems Spur Rapid Growth for Startups, Entrepreneurs

Startups are engines of job creation. It is entrepreneurs in innovative fields like clean energy who will build the new industries of the 21st century. To accelerate high-growth entrepreneurship across the nation and move cutting-edge clean energy technologies from the lab to the marketplace, DOE launched the Innovation Ecosystem Initiative a year ago.

As part of this initiative, five projects led by universities and nonprofits in five distinct geographic regions across the United States were awarded a total of $5.3 million over three years to encourage rapid market penetration of innovative clean energy research and development activities. One of the selected projects leading the way is Clean Energy Trust. The Chicago-based nonprofit connects entrepreneurs, researchers, and early stage clean energy businesses across the Midwest with expertise and capital. See the Energy Blog post.

Green Racing Marks Its 25th Competition

The Green Racing program, a motorsports competition geared toward raising awareness of fuel efficiency, alternative fuels and advanced vehicle technologies, hit a major milestone as the state of Wisconsin played host to the 25th race in the Michelin Green X Challenge. It was the latest in a series of American Le Mans Series (ALMS) races in which teams are rewarded not only for the speed in which they complete the race but also for the efficiency and emissions reduction that their vehicles display.

The 25th challenge occurred on August 17 at the Wisconsin Road Race Showcase. The results were tremendous, with vehicles using 48% less petroleum-based fuel than conventional racecars—a new record for Green Racing. The race itself hit near-record television viewership with more than 900,000 households watching, raising awareness of clean alternative fuels across the country.

The celebration continued in Washington, D.C., with a National Press Club event and vehicle display, at which DOE’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency Kathleen Hogan spoke about the Department’s role in Green Racing, along with leaders from EPA, ALMS, General Motors, Mazda, and Highcroft Racing. Participants were treated to an impressive vehicle display, including a Dyson Racing Mazda Lola that runs on isobutanol (a liquid alcohol similar to ethanol) and a Chevrolet Corvette Racing C6.R that runs on cellulosic ethanol. The Green Racing Simulator, created by DOE and DOE’s Argonne National Laboratory, also allowed attendees to learn about alternative fuels and advanced technologies while playing a high-energy racing game. See the Energy Blog post.

GovEnergy 2011 Offers Energy Professionals Strategies for Reducing Energy Use

As President Obama has said, we in the federal government are the largest energy consumer in the United States, and as such, we have “a responsibility to American citizens to reduce our energy use and become more efficient. Our goal is to lower costs, reduce pollution, and shift federal energy expenses away from oil and towards local, clean energy.”

That’s why over 4,000 federal, private sector, and military energy professionals participated in GovEnergy last month in August—an annual trade show held in Cincinnati, Ohio, cosponsored by DOE along with several other government agencies. Reflecting the Administration’s priority of government playing a lead role in securing a cleaner, safer, more secure energy future, the conference is designed to help federal employees meet their sustainability, energy security, and energy assurance goals for federal facilities. See the Energy Blog post.

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