The Trump administration announced Tuesday that it has met former President Barack Obama's price goals for solar energy power plants three years ahead of schedule.
The Energy Department announced that the Obama-era Sun Shot program's 2020 price-reduction goals for solar energy have been met by big, utility-scale solar power plant projects, shrinking the cost from 28 cents per kilowatt hour in 2010 to 6 cents.
The Sun Shot Initiative was ramped up by the Obama administration to make solar energy cost competitive with fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas used to produce electricity. The program focuses on cost reductions across all main categories of solar technologies, including rooftop and residential solar panels as well as large solar thermal power plants and arrays owned by utility companies.
It appears the utility-scale projects are making the most progress, although the cost of producing electricity has been dropping dramatically across all types of solar because of dramatic reductions in component costs, such as for photovoltaic cells that make up solar panels.
Energy Secretary Rick Perry intends to focus on continuing those advancements by refocusing the program on research and development that strengthens the electric grid by making solar energy more reliable, according to the Energy Department.
"With the impressive decline in solar prices, it is time to address additional emerging challenges," said Daniel Simmons, acting assistant secretary for renewable energy. "As we look to the future, DOE will focus new solar [research and development] on the secretary's priorities, which include strengthening the reliability and resilience of the electric grid while integrating solar energy."
The Energy Department also doled out $82 million Tuesday to get the ball rolling on the administration's new priorities for solar energy technology.
The bulk of the money will go to "concentrated solar power" technologies that use hundreds of mirrors to reflect sunlight onto a tower to convert heat into electricity. A similar power plant in California had been a target of Republicans, who said it acted as a "death ray" by singeing birds in mid-flight. They also said running the facility hasn't been cost effective.
The Trump administration, however, pointed out that the utility-scale project has one key advantage over small, nonutility solar projects. The plants are able to store thermal energy "to produce electricity when the sun is not shining or integrated into other applications, such as producing fresh water," according to the agency.
The remaining $20 million will go to early stage projects to advance power electronics technologies for connecting photovoltaic solar panels to the grid.