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.

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