Less than three years in, the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) solar cost reduction initiative has risen far above expectations.
The DOE announced the SunShot Initiative in February 2011 with the goal of encouraging a price drop for utility scale installations by 75 percent by 2020. So far, the federal department has achieved about 60 percent.
"We are three years into a ten year mission, so we are 30 percent of the way through the time and 60 percent of the way there and going twice as fast as we need to," Minh Le, SunShot director, told London-based PV-Tech. "I would attach a caveat to that because the first half is always the easiest, that's the low hanging fruit. The second half will be really hard."
The DOE set out to cut utility scale installations to $1 a watt or about 6 cents per kilowatt-hour in order to broadly deploy solar energy systems around the nation. The department has been working with governmental, private and academic partners on sunlight-to-energy conversion solar cell technologies, solar manufacturing efficiency and more to make its dream a reality.
"The costs have come down dramatically," Le said. "Utility scale solar is less than $2 per watt. When we started in 2011, our 2010 benchmark was $3.80 per watt, so it has come down by half. The price of utility scale solar has halved compared to what it was two years ago.
"Our goal is $1 per watt, so we really only have one more dollar to go but it will be the hardest dollar to get."
Le pointed to hardware and software costs to help in saving that dollar.
"We still need innovation in hardware, not just the modules where there are still clearly exciting opportunities in improving the efficiency of cells," he said. "There are other opportunities elsewhere and many of these can be exported. Our incubator is funding one company called Brittmore that is automating the installation of panels in the field, QBotix is using robots to do two-axis tracking. This is already being exported elsewhere in the world."
The SunShot Initiative awarded a total of $60 million to various companies, businesses and universities for solar research and manufacturing. Awardees ranged from the University of California, San Diego to the Electric Power Research Institute in Knoxville, TN, which is an example of a regional training consortium to support the 119,000-employee solar industry.
“The tremendous growth in the U.S. solar industry over the past few years is helping to pave the way to a cleaner, more sustainable energy future that protects our air and water and provides affordable clean energy to more and more Americans,” Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said at the time.
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theDOCK aims to innovate the Israeli maritime sector. Pexels<p>The UN hopes that new investments in ocean science and technology will help turn the tide for the oceans. As such, this year kicked off the <a href="https://www.oceandecade.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030)</a> to galvanize massive support for the blue economy.</p><p>According to the World Bank, the blue economy is the "sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of ocean ecosystem," <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412019338255#b0245" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Science Direct</a> reported. It represents this new sector for investments and innovations that work in tandem with the oceans rather than in exploitation of them.</p><p>As recently as Aug. 2020, <a href="https://www.reutersevents.com/sustainability/esg-investors-slow-make-waves-25tn-ocean-economy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Reuters</a> noted that ESG Investors, those looking to invest in opportunities that have a positive impact in environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, have been interested in "blue finance" but slow to invest.</p><p>"It is a hugely under-invested economic opportunity that is crucial to the way we have to address living on one planet," Simon Dent, director of blue investments at Mirova Natural Capital, told Reuters.</p><p>Even with slow investment, the blue economy is still expected to expand at twice the rate of the mainstream economy by 2030, Reuters reported. It already contributes $2.5tn a year in economic output, the report noted.</p><p>Current, upward <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/-innovation-blue-economy-2646147405.html" target="_self">shifts in blue economy investments are being driven by innovation</a>, a trend the UN hopes will continue globally for the benefit of all oceans and people.</p><p>In Israel, this push has successfully translated into investment in and innovation of global ports, shipping, logistics and offshore sectors. The "Startup Nation," as Israel is often called, has seen its maritime tech ecosystem grow "significantly" in recent years and expects that growth to "accelerate dramatically," <a href="https://itrade.gov.il/belgium-english/how-israel-is-becoming-a-port-of-call-for-maritime-innovation/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">iTrade</a> reported.</p><p>Driving this wave of momentum has been rising Israeli venture capital hub <a href="https://www.thedockinnovation.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">theDOCK</a>. Founded by Israeli Navy veterans in 2017, theDOCK works with early-stage companies in the maritime space to bring their solutions to market. The hub's pioneering efforts ignited Israel's maritime technology sector, and now, with their new fund, theDOCK is motivating these high-tech solutions to also address ESG criteria.</p><p>"While ESG has always been on theDOCK's agenda, this theme has become even more of a priority," Nir Gartzman, theDOCK's managing partner, told EcoWatch. "80 percent of the startups in our portfolio (for theDOCK's Navigator II fund) will have a primary or secondary contribution to environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria."</p><p>In a company presentation, theDOCK called contribution to the ESG agenda a "hot discussion topic" for traditional players in the space and their boards, many of whom are looking to adopt new technologies with a positive impact on the planet. The focus is on reducing carbon emissions and protecting the environment, the presentation outlines. As such, theDOCK also explicitly screens candidate investments by ESG criteria as well.</p><p>Within the maritime space, environmental innovations could include measures like increased fuel and energy efficiency, better monitoring of potential pollution sources, improved waste and air emissions management and processing of marine debris/trash into reusable materials, theDOCK's presentation noted.</p>
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