The Department of Energy on Tuesday announced a $50 million investment over two years for the SUNPATH program, an initiative that seeks to help the U.S. reclaim a competitive edge in solar technology manufacturing.

The DOE is also seeking applicants with industrial-scale demonstrations of PV modules, cells, or substrates that offer lower-cost solutions in line with the SunShot goal. Applications are due by October 28, 2011.

SUNPATH (Scaling Up Nascent PV At Home) is the second solar Photovoltaic Manufacturing Initiative (PVMI) supporting the DOE’s SunShot Initiative. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said investment in the programs would help make “unsubsidized utility-scale solar cost-competitive with other forms of energy by the end of the decade.”

The DOE claims that as early as 1995, the U.S. maintained a dominant global solar market share, making 43% of the world’s PV panels. Market share had shrunk by 27% by 2000 and to just 7% by 2010.

“PVMI Part II: SUNPATH seeks to increase domestic manufacturing through investments that have sustainable, competitive cost and performance advantages,” it said in a press release. “SUNPATH will help companies with pilot-scale commercial production scale up their manufacturing capabilities, enabling them to overcome a funding gap that often curtails domestic business at a critical stage.”

So far, the first PVMI (PVMI Part I: Advanced Manufacturing Partnerships) has resulted in the selection of $110 million worth of projects to three industry and academic consortia to enable substantial cost reductions in PV module production. To ensure that these technologies are manufactured domestically, PVMI Part II: SUNPATH is expected to support an initial ramp up to high-volume manufacturing. The DOE’s national laboratories are reportedly stepping up their validation facilities to ensure that the technologies developed and manufactured in Parts I and II are tested at scale in multiple locations and climates in the U.S.

More information on the funding opportunity and application requirements can be found at the Funding Opportunity Exchange (FOA number DE-FOA-0000566).

Sources: POWERnews, DOE