SunShot, This Millennium's Long Shot 'Moon Shot'

Last Updated:
Wed, 2014-09-03 10:00

SunShot: A New Apollo Space Program For This Millennium’s Long Shot ‘Moon Shot’

In 1962 President Kennedy told the United States that they’d see a man on the moon by the end of the decade. He played to American’s sense of patriotism, hard work and competition. He reminded us that we do some things not because they are easy, but because they are hard.

The Apollo Project seemed like a long shot to most. Even a moon shot.

We all know that if we don’t go on a carbon diet soon we’re headed down a road as dark and dirty as, well, coal. Pursuing these clean technologies has long been considered admirable but unaffordable. And small-government proponents are loath to encourage subsidies.

We need a new Apollo Project that pours the whole of American innovation, ingenuity and research into making renewable technologies a real option to power the bright green future.

That’s why the United States Department of Energy brought us the SunShot Program, with the bold claim of making solar energy cost effective without subsidies by 2030. Sounds like a long shot. Or a sun shot.

Cost Competing With The Cheap and Dirty
The fundamental problem with alternative technologies is that they cost too much. Given the choice between doing the right thing and saving money, consumers always choose to save green rather than go green. The SunShot program reduces the cost of solar to $1 per watt. This translates to about $0.06 per kWh. By comparison, coal costs approximately $0.05 per kWh. Looks like cheap and dirty isn’t the clear winner after all.

SunShot promises to let consumers save green by going green. At the $1 per watt target, the price of retail electricity plummets 1-2% by 2050. This saves consumers $8-16 billion annually on utility bills.

Get A Job!
Kids born in the year 2000 – kids who are eleven years old now – don’t know a world without Google, cell phones or Facebook. Neither do they know a world without boarded up Ford factories, Made in China or dying manufacturing power.

PV demand is expected to create a global supply chain of $18 billion by 2012. SunShot wants to help the US reclaim its manufacturing strength and grab a piece of this $18 billion pie. In 1995, the US held 43% of the world’s solar market share. In 2007, they clinched 27% and in 2009 this fell to a mere 6%. Now countries like China and Malaysia manufacture technologies the US R&D developed.

Old time manufacturing towns like Detroit, Cleveland and Buffalo have the manufacturing capacity and the human capital. All that they need to get back on their feet and start cranking out the parts that turn the world is an investment in clean technology manufacturing.

Oh Yeah, And There’s That Whole Save The Planet Thing
But if the SunShot program succeeds, solar PV will supply 14% of the nation’s power by 2030. Sure beats the 1% currently offered by solar PV. A majority of this would come from utility-scale thermal solar plants (like the ones we see in the Nevada desert) and the rest would come from small-scale distributed solar (rooftop displays). And don’t forget, we get all this and still manage to pay 2% less for electricity.

Having Your Sun and Eating It Too
So this sounds great. But how does the DOE propose we achieve these lofty goals.

It’s really pretty simple. We create electricity by spinning a turbine to produce electricity. It’s the cost of spinning these turbines that determines the competitiveness of a particular energy source in the open market. Coal spins turbines cheaper because we’ve been refining the technologies to extract it and utilize it for hundreds of years.

Thus, SunShot seeks to rapidly accelerate R&D and play catch-up with carbon-based utilities. It will focus on photovoltaics, concentrated solar (CSP) and system Integrations like Smart Grids. It also seeks to transform the market by ensuring that there’s an educated and skilled workforce, an engaged utility industry and an informed local government sector at the ready when it comes time for the rubber to hit the road.

In a nutshell, SunShot focuses on the technologies that have the highest potential to reach cost competiveness with more traditional power sources. For example, Amonix 7700 developed a utility-scale thermal solar array that provides a turnkey solution to address utilities’ primary concerns about large-scale solar generation – installation time and size. For more examples of how SunShot will increase R&D and make solar competitive check out the SunShot Program Highlights.

The Forecast Is Sunny
SunShot seems like a long shot. But the concept is simple. We can’t get anywhere without a lot of hard work and investment of time and money. This is hard for the something-for-nothing generation to understand. Yet by investing in promising programs we can reclaim American manufacturing power, create jobs, save money and make green technology viable.

Just like we invested in the fledging and little understood NASA program back in the 1960’s, it’s time to invest in new technologies to power our future. SunShot promises to shine a light on the future.

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