Obama continues push for clean energy access

The US President has announced more than $1bn to advance clean energy technology.

President Barack Obama wants Americans to have more control over how their electricity is produced.

From the National Clean Energy Summit in Las Vegas on Monday evening, Obama announced a new initiative as part of the Clean Power Plan authorising the Department of Energy's Loan Programmes Office (LPO) to make up to $1 billion in loan guarantees to support commercial-scale distributed solar energy projects including rooftop solar with storage and smart grid technology.

“As long as I'm President, the federal government is going to do its part, beyond the investments that we've already made to promote this issue,” Obama declared. “Last month we introduced an initiative to make it easier for businesses and low-income households to install solar, and today we're announcing new public and private sector commitments that will add solar capacity on more than 40 military bases. That's an investment that will create jobs, save taxpayer dollars and reduce emissions.” 

“The Department of Energy is announcing a new push to employ innovative distributed energy resources like microgrids or rooftop solar with energy storage, and will offer loan guarantees for projects like these. And we're going to make it even easier for individual homeowners to put solar panels on their roof with no upfront cost,” the President said.

In addition to the $1 billion LPO authorisation, DOE will award $24 million in funding for 11 high-performance solar power projects aimed at lowering the cost and improving the performance of solar photovoltaic (PV) power systems through the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy's (ARPA-E) Micro-scale Optimised Solar-cell Arrays with Integrated Concentration (MOSAIC) programme.  

“The announcements made today will help spur innovative clean energy technologies that will be central to the president's Clean Power Plan and combat climate change,” said US Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz in a release circulated prior to the president's announcement. “The Clean Power Plan is a tremendous opportunity for American businesses to be global leaders in solar and distributed energy technologies. This will help shepherd in a new era of clean energy jobs and a low-carbon economy that will deliver affordable and reliable power to America's homes and businesses.” 

The aim of the president's new programme is to make it easier for home and business owners to invest in green energy improvements that were previously too costly compared to traditional grid energy.

The $1 billion in new loan availability will be split for use between “advanced fossil energy projects” and the “renewable energy & efficient energy projects” solicitations and will be accessible following a 45-day congressional notification period.

The administration believes that by issuing large loan guarantees, it can circumvent the issue of small transactional costs that can be associated with distributed energy projects by allowing aggregation of installations and facilities and permitting a borrower to access financing under a single arrangement for multiple installations, according to DOE documents. 

The new loan guarantees could be utilised to finance up to 80 percent of total project costs, with the additional 20 percent of costs arising from equity investors and developers. 

State-affiliated financial entities, including state green banks, are authorised to submit applications for eligible projects including distributed energy projects. The loan guarantees, however, will not be extended for re-lending, for capitalisation of state green banks, for low-cost financing of proven commercial technologies such as standard energy efficiency technology or for multiple unrelated technologies (“projects must have a clear master business plan”). 

Of the 11 projects selected for ARPA-E funding, three are focused on high direct normal incident (HDNI) solar radiation technologies, six on low direct normal incident (DNI) technologies, one on partial solutions, and another on small business innovation research. The aim of the research projects is to further develop micro-scale Concentrated Solar Power (CPV) optical devices that concentrate sunlight into smaller, high-efficiency solar PV receivers in order to reduce the footprint of conventional solar panels, which are often too large and as a result inefficient or too costly for some homes, businesses and utility companies. 

Participating ARPA-E project teams hail from Panasonic Boston Laboratory in Newton, Massachusetts; Pennsylvania State University in University Park, Pennsylvania; University of Rochester in Rochester, New York; California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California; Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts; Semiprius in Durham, North Carolina; Sharp Laboratories of America in Camas, Washington; Texas A&M University Engineering Experiment Station in College Station, Texas; Palo Alto Research Center in Palo Alto, California; and finally, Glint Photonics in Burlingame, California.