Looking Into the Future With Alternative Energy

The U.S Department of Energy has interest in promoting alternative energy, like wind, solar, and water-based energy sources that will allow for a decrease in reliance on oil. Reliance on crude oil, which is an energy source with limited quantity, is also known to contribute to climate change in a major way. This is why having the Department of Energy and the federal government award federal grant dollars to projects that would fund alternative energy sources is of interest. These renewable energy projects can also help lower the cost to the consumer so that everyone can enjoy the benefits of using an alternative source of energy, which in the case of North Carolina State and it’s partners, involves solar panels. 

The U.S Department of Energy has awarded a grant to North Carolina State University and it’s partners in a move that is said to make installing rooftop solar energy systems much less time consuming and significantly less expensive. 

Researchers will utilize this five-year, $9 million dollar grant from the Department of Energy,  in order to design solar energy systems. Some of the funding will also go to designing installation and connection procedures that will require little or no customization by homeowners or any other installers. These systems would be able to be set up quite easily and connected to the power grid. The systems would also be able to meet all building and electrical codes.  

Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and director of the FREEDM Systems Center at NC State, and lead researcher Dr. Alex Huang, had this to say about receiving this grant: “The high cost and hassle associated with installing home solar energy systems is a major barrier to their widespread adoption. By developing standardized and easy-to-use technologies, we can significantly reduce the cost of these systems for homeowners, who would be able to install the systems themselves”. 

Researchers receiving the grant funding will use the funds to develop universal panel mounting systems, amongst other cost-cutting technologies. They will work with solar installers and local authorities to take on real life challenges currently being face by the people performing this type of work directly hands on.

Some of the benefits of developing these kinds of systems include lowering the actual cost to the consumer installing these panels. Most of what consumers spend on installing solar panels comes from supplier overhead, inspections, permitting, installations, and other similar cost structures. The Department of Energy estimates these costs at around $2.50 a watt, which can really add up when you consider that these systems typically power several thousand watts of power. 

These anticipated “plug-and-play” systems would significantly lower the cost to under a dollar per watt. For example, this would mean that a typical homeowner powering over $5,000 watts of energy would save $7900 in soft-costs. 

This grant is part of the Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative, which seeks to make solar power cost-competitive with other forms of energy by 2020. 

By Lianne Hikind

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