Solar Together: A Proposal

Solar Together: A Proposal

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National governments spend more than $10 billion per year on clean energy R&D. These amounts will grow significantly under Mission Innovation, an initiative to double clean energy R&D budgets in five years launched by 20 countries at the opening of the Paris climate conference in November 2015. This new funding could help significantly to cut carbon emissions and energy poverty, although more money alone will not necessarily deliver better results. To realize the full promise of Mission Innovation, research spending must be well targeted and research results must find their way to market.

In this paper, Center Inaugural Fellow David Sandalow and co-author Colin McCormick review the solar PV R&D programs in four countries (the United States, Japan, Germany and South Korea) and propose a new program -- Solar Together -- to improve national solar R&D programs and speed commercialization of their research results.  

The executive summary is below and the full document is available as a PDF.

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Solar Together: A Proposal

by Colin McCormick and David Sandalow
April 2016

National governments spend more than $10 billion per year on clean energy R&D. These amounts will grow signi cantly under Mission Innovation, an initiative to double clean energy R&D budgets in ve years launched by 20 countries at the opening of the Paris climate conference in November 2015. This new funding could help signi cantly to cut carbon emissions and energy poverty, although more money alone will not necessarily deliver better results. To realize the full promise of Mission Innovation, research spending must be well targeted and research results must nd their way to market.

One way to help channel funds to the most promising research topics is to improve understanding of related work around the world. Although information sharing among government R&D programs can be dif cult, governments have demonstrated a willingness to work together on clean energy R&D in several fora including the International Energy Agency’s Technology Collaboration Programs.

For clean energy R&D programs to have impact, their results must be commercialized. This is often dif cult or impossible with existing funding mechanisms, resulting in a “Valley of Death” that leaves many technically successful innovations on the shelf. The Breakthrough Energy Coalition, a group of 27 billionaires also launched in November 2015, is in part intended to address this problem.

Solar power is an especially important area of clean energy R&D. Although solar power costs are falling and deployments increasing, the industry is still young. R&D on topics such as transparent solar cells and perovskite materials could signi cantly accelerate cost reductions. National governments spend more than $900 million annually on solar PV R&D programs.

Our review of the solar PV R&D programs in four countries (the United States, Japan, Germany and South Korea) reveals important similarities: 

     - Each program focuses on cutting the cost and improving the ef ciency of PV cells and modules.

     - Each supports research on silicon PV technology (the dominant technology in the industry today), as well as on advanced concept materials such as cadmium telluride (CdTe), copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) and perovskites. 

     - Each addresses integration of solar power into electric grids. 

At the same time, the emphases of these programs differ. More information on these and other programs could help avoid duplication and improve allocation of funding.

We propose Solar Together—a program to bring national solar PV R&D programs together with each other and members of the Breakthrough Energy Coalition for annual meetings to review research results and discuss research plans. 

     - Solar Together would improve R&D results from national programs by improving information available to program managers and researchers.

     - Solar Together would facilitate commercialization of government R&D results by establishing a structure that leading investors could use to identify and evaluate the most promising R&D results from many countries.

     - Solar Together would be launched as a Clean Energy Ministerial initiative, a program of the International Solar Alliance or both. Its initial home would be the Photovoltaic Power Systems Programme of the International Energy Agency. The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) could also provide support. 

The program could serve as a model for similar programs in other clean energy technology areas as well.