Cutting the cost of solar power isn't all about a better solar cell.
General Electric today announced two research projects to make installation of solar panels easier by standardizing the components, such as racking systems for solar panels. The $5.9 million in research is part of the Department of Energy's SunShot Initiative to dramatically cut the cost of solar photovoltaics.
The price of solar electric panels has steadily gone down and is poised to fall more in the face of a global price war in solar. But as much as half of the cost of solar is tied up in the installation and permitting, what the industry calls "balance of system" costs.
GE's researchers in New York will seek to develop a simpler and standardized racking system for putting up solar panels on residential rooftops. A separate $3 million program will create prewired and preconfigured equipment for commercial roofs.
Earlier this month, GE announced plans to build a large, 400-megawatt solar panel factory in Colorado. The company's panels will use thin film solar cell material which is cheaper than solar-grade silicon and is relatively efficient at converting sunlight to electricity.
In a statement, GE Research's solar energy programs manager Charlie Korman said GE intends to lower the cost from about $6.50 per watt, or $32,500 now, to the range of $3 per watt installed in residential systems. With better racking equipment, installing solar panels "should be as routine as putting a new roof on your home."
Lowering component and installation costs also aids companies which offer solar financing because it allows them to offer leases and power purchase agreements in more states. Rather than purchase the panels, the homeowners or business pays a monthly fee and spends less on monthly electricity bills.