Opportunities for Improving Program Planning for Photovoltaic Research and Development

EMD-79-40: Published: Apr 19, 1979. Publicly Released: Apr 19, 1979.

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In a survey of the solar photovoltaic program of the Department of Energy (DOE), GAO attempted to identify ways to improve the development of photovoltaic devices. These devices, which convert sunlight directly to electricity, are at present too expensive to be of much help in solving the Nation's energy problems. Congress added new impetus to the program in 1978 by passing an act in support of a 10-year photovoltaic program and set specific objectives for the program. These objectives include: (1) reaching a total annual U.S. production of solar photovoltaic energy systems equivalent to 2 million peak kilowatts by fiscal year (FY) 1988; and (2) reducing the average cost of installed systems to $1 per peak watt by FY 1988.

Photovoltaic energy systems consist of more than photovoltaic arrays, or solar cells mounted on a backing. The price of a photovoltaic energy system includes also the following nonarray costs: (1) site preparation; (2) electrical equipment such as wiring and voltage regulator; (3) supporting structures; and (4) installation of the device. In addition, batteries used for energy storage are generally needed. These nonarray costs represent a substantial portion of a photovoltaic energy system's entire cost. A strategy has been developed for reducing nonarray components, but precise cost reduction goals for nonarray components are needed. To implement the test and application element of the program, DOE solicits ideas for using photovoltaic energy systems for industry and universities via Program Research and Development Announcements (PRDA). These PRDA are broad in scope in order to generate ideas for using photovoltaic devices, but they do not specify exactly what type of photovoltaic energy system DOE wants demonstrated. Since PRDA are limited to photovoltaic energy applications in the 20-500 kilowatt range, and the residential applications would require only about 10 kilowatts of power, most residential applications are automatically excluded from PRDA. GAO believes that demonstrating photovoltaic systems on residential housing is also important.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should require solar photovoltaic program officials to incorporate in the DOE plan for the photovoltaic program appropriate goals, strategies, and milestones for all components of installed photovoltaic systems, not just the solar cells, and undertake efforts to reach those goals. The solar photovoltaic program officials also should be directed to include a limited number of well-controlled experiments of photovoltaic energy systems for residential use in the test and application element of this program.

    Agency Affected:


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