Race to the Rooftops is a Contest Aimed at Reducing Solar Installation Costs, in Michigan and the other 49 states

Rooftop Solar Energy System InstallationWhile solar panels have dropped in price significantly, rooftop installations can still be too big of an expense for homeowners due to non-hardware costs such as interconnection, inspection, and permitting. The federal government has recognized this as being a hindrance to greater solar growth. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is currently sponsoring a competition called SunShot Prize: Race to the Rooftops which awards up to $10 million in cash for the first three teams that consistently demonstrate that they can make solar installations with an average cost of $1 per watt (W) for non-hardware costs, such as those mentioned above.

In spite of the recent, unprecedented, and substantial cost reductions for solar photovoltaic (PV) panels, the price to get solar plugged in can be as much as half of the total cost for residential as well as small commercial PV systems. The greatest challenge to achieving competitiveness for solar installations by 2020 is enabling dramatic reductions in “soft costs” or non-hardware costs of solar systems.

The SunShot Prize aims to direct the attention and efforts of solar inventors and innovators at solving this challenge of steep soft costs. The winning teams will achieve non-hardware costs averaging $1 per watt in the installation of 2 to 15 kilowatt rooftop PV systems during Phase 1 of the competition. The second phase of the competition aims to assess business sustainability of the winning teams and calls for an additional 1,000 qualifying systems to be installed.

Among the solar panel manufacturers interested in winning the $10 million prize are some in Michigan, where making a profit on the installation of panels remains a challenge. Some of the hindrances they are trying to overcome include:

  • Many people in Michigan don’t seem to realize that there is enough sunshine in the state to make solar power a worthwhile investment.
  • The utility companies in Michigan provide sharp limits to how much power can be bought back from solar power systems that are privately owned.
  • No state solar tax incentives are offered.
  • Permitting standards for solar technology are frequently unknown to local officials.
  • Being a winner of the SunShot Prize will mean charging no more than $2,000 for soft costs for a $2,000-watt (2 kW) solar PV system, no more than $10,000 for a 10-kw system, and so on.

Expanding Solar PV System InstallationsWhat the Department of Energy is hoping will come of this competition is that new subsidy-free ways will be found to cut the following costs related to the installation of a solar PV system:

  • Labor
  • Permitting
  • Local inspection
  • Utility connection
  • System design
  • Marketing costs
  • Sales commission

Contestants are encouraged to work with utility companies, communities, local agencies, and installers to make installation, permitting, and interconnection a more streamlined process.

An overarching goal of the SunShot Initiative is ultimately to make solar power a competitive form of electricity by 2020. When the contest is over in late 2015, the plan is to discover, adopt, and broadcast the best methods for reducing by more than 65% the soft costs associated with installing solar PV systems.

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