The goal of the Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) is to accelerate the development and deployment of solar technology to support an equitable transition to a decarbonized electricity system by 2035 and decarbonized energy sector by 2050. Achieving this goal will support the nationwide effort to meet the threat of climate change and ensure that all Americans benefit from the transition to a clean energy economy.
SETO supports solar energy research, development, demonstration and technical assistance in five areas—photovoltaics (PV), concentrating solar-thermal power (CSP), systems integration, manufacturing and competitiveness, and soft costs—to improve the affordability, reliability, and domestic benefit of solar technologies on the electric grid. Learn more about SETO’s research areas.
In May 2021, SETO released its Multi-Year Program Plan, which describes the office’s activities and specific goals for 2025. Download the plan.
Reducing the cost of solar is essential to accelerating solar deployment and affordably decarbonizing the grid.
SETO is committed to reaching cost targets that support greater energy affordability by cutting the cost of solar electricity 50% between 2020 and 2030. The 2030 benchmark targets are:
- $0.05 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) for residential PV
- $0.04 per kWh for commercial PV
- $0.02 per kWh hour for utility-scale PV
On March 25, 2021, SETO announced it is accelerating the timeline for achieving utility-scale PV cost reductions.
Concentrating Solar-Thermal Power
SETO’s 2030 targets for concentrating solar-thermal power (CSP) enable the technology to be competitive with other dispatchable power generators. Combining CSP with thermal energy storage directly addresses grid integration challenges related to the variability of solar energy and allows solar-generated heat to be stored until electricity is needed, even well after the sun sets. Reflecting this increased value of dispatchable solar, the benchmark target for CSP peaker plants, which have no more than six hours of energy storage, is $0.10 per kWh; the target for CSP baseload plants, which have a minimum of 12 hours of energy storage, is $0.05 per kWh.
These targets are discussed in depth in the CSP 2030 Report released by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in January 2019.
Safe and Reliable Grid Integration
For solar technology to provide a reliable source of electricity for the national power grid, solar power plants must support power quality, stability, and cybersecurity. SETO is working to address these challenges by studying the integration of solar with energy storage, load control, and other distributed energy resources. PV and storage can work together to help the grid rapidly recover from a cyberattack or physical disruption.
Modern CSP plants can also contribute to a reliable power grid because of their built-in thermal energy storage. To help improve grid reliability, SETO aims to identify cost-effective long-duration thermal energy storage (TES) configurations for CSP plants and develop pumped TES systems having a round-trip energy efficiency greater than 50%.
Such advances, in combination with reductions in the cost of energy storage, could enable economically competitive solar to be widely deployed across the country while contributing to the reliability and resilience of the electricity grid. Learn more about our systems integration research.
Rapid Solar Deployment
Decarbonizing the energy sector will require clean energy technology that can be deployed quickly. Rapid deployment must be responsive to the needs of underserved communities, the solar industry and workers, and the environment. To accomplish this, SETO has set the following 2025 goals:
- A solar workforce of at least 300,000 diverse employees
- 1 gigawatt per year of new U.S. PV manufacturing capacity installed, based on technology that was not yet commercialized in 2020
- Installed solar hardware that has at least 40% domestic value
- Reduce the environmental impact of PV technologies at the end of their useful life by using new materials, designs, and practices, based on a life-cycle impacts benchmark
- Open new solar markets by ensuring that 1 GWAC of PV installed in 2025 is combined with another use, such as agriculture or building surfaces
Expanding Access to Solar
SETO works to create a more equitable clean energy future by addressing the barriers that low- and moderate-income households face in accessing the benefits of solar through innovations in financing, community solar, and workforce development. To this end, the office has set a goal for 2025 that would enable 100% of U.S. energy consumers to choose residential solar or community solar that does not increase their electricity cost. Learn more about equitable access to solar energy.
How We Measure
SETO’s cost targets are measured in “levelized cost of energy” (LCOE), which determines the cost for electricity produced by solar energy systems. LCOE is based upon the sum of the upfront installation price and the present value of the lifetime operational expenses ($) divided by the net present value of the power produced (kWh). The assumptions that underlie the LCOE estimates for PV are based on systems installed in an average solar resource location for the United States (as represented by Kansas City, Missouri) and do not include the federal investment tax credit (ITC) or state or local incentives. The LCOE values are currently presented in terms of 2019 cents per kWh.
The LCOE benchmarks and targets are derived from models developed by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). The details related to installation price are published in NREL’s Annual U.S. Solar Photovoltaic System Cost Benchmark report. The additional details and models needed for the full LCOE calculations have been published in the peer-reviewed journal Progress in Photovoltaics, and as part of the On the Path to SunShot series.
To measure progress toward the goal of 100% solar accessibility, SETO will track the national fraction of households that have the option to participate in community solar programs or to install rooftop solar that does not increase electricity cost over the life of the solar installation.
In 2011, SETO launched the SunShot Initiative to lower the cost of solar-generated electricity by 75% to enable utility-scale solar costing approximately $1 per watt or $0.06 per kWh by 2020, which was achieved three years ahead of schedule. Learn more about the SunShot Initiative.
Learn more about SETO, its research areas, and current funding opportunities.