The Department of Energy (DOE) has announced the availability of more than $59 million in funding to support solar energy innovation. Of that total, $45 million is intended “to quickly move innovative solar manufacturing technologies to market” and more than $14 million is designated for 15 new projects to help communities develop multi-year solar deployment plans to install solar electricity in homes, businesses, and communities.

The announcement was made Jan. 29 and allocates the largest portion to the Technology to Market funding opportunity, part of the DOE’s Clean Energy Manufacturing Initiative, aimed at boosting American competitiveness and supporting a strong domestic, clean energy manufacturing sector. This funding opportunity combines three historically separate SunShot Initiative funding programs—Incubator, Solar Manufacturing Technology, and Scaling Up Nascent PV at Home—into one that the department says will “support projects with the potential to significantly reduce the costs for solar energy systems across a variety of technology areas. These tools, technologies and services could reduce the costs of technologies including photovoltaics and power electronics, and could also contribute to cutting balance of system and non-hardware costs through customer acquisition, permitting, financing, interconnection, and inspection.”

The 15 Solar Market Pathways projects announced by the White House earlier in the day pursue “various approaches to developing actionable solar deployment plans and strategies to promote deployment at residential, community, and commercial scales—from expanding shared or community solar programs and local financing mechanisms to integrating solar energy generation into communities’ emergency response plans.”

Aimed at cutting the non-hardware “soft costs” of solar—such as permitting, financing, and connecting to the electric grid—the case studies and lessons learned from these projects are intended to provide similar jurisdictions with examples that can be replicated. The awardees include not-for-profits, utilities, industry associations, universities, and state and local jurisdictions in California, Illinois, Minnesota, New York, Utah, Virginia, Vermont, Wisconsin and Washington, D.C.

Driving down soft costs has been a DOE effort since before the previous secretary, Dr. Steven Chu, made $29 million available in December 2012 for four projects devoted to that effort.

Gail Reitenbach, PhD, editor (@GailReit, @POWERmagazine)