US Department of Energy commissions MIT research on declining cost of solar


The US Department of Energy has commissioned the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) research to understand why the cost of solar has decreased so dramatically in the past decades and how this trend can continue in the future.

The MIT will analyse material and mechanical features of PV devices, as well as public policies and private sector efforts that have determined the price decline. The project will help the government, academic and business sectors develop investment and policy strategies to bring costs further down.

The research is supported by a grant of nearly USD 1.3 million awarded though the Department of Energy SunShot Initiative, a programme which is funding 17 projects with a total of USD 21.4 million. Its aim is to promote innovation and drive the cost of solar down to USD 0.06 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) by 2020, making this technology fully competitive with other energy sources. Although PV cell prices have decreased significantly in the past decades, the US still has some of the highest costs for installed PV among developed countries (some USD 3.5-4 per Watt in 2015).

“In this project we will study the reasons for photovoltaics’ cost decline, from materials and device development to manufacturing improvements and public policy design,” said lead investigator Jessika Trancik, associate professor at MIT’s Institute for Data, Systems and Society (IDSS). “I expect that the most impactful aspects of this work will be the reasons we uncover for photovoltaics’ exceptionally rapid cost decline and how to bring cost down further, as well as the general insights on why technologies improve and how engineering design and policy can support that process.”

The project “Modelling photovoltaics innovation and deployment dynamics” will build on previous work which allowed to decompose cost reduction in technologies, finding out why crystalline silicon module price fell so quickly. In this new study, researchers will deepen the methodology and apply it to all PV system components across different locations.

The study is carried out as part of the MIT Energy Initiative, which has a mission to develop low carbon solutions to meet efficiently global energy needs and tackle climate change.

Claudia Delpero

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