Solar panel on an industrial rooftopSolar power continues along its firmly established downward cost curve and edges ever closer to achieving the historic milestone of grid parity. Today it just got a huge boost that will help it scale out in this country and will go a long way towards tipping the long term balance in favor of solar. In fact as the industry achieves scale it is cutting per unit costs down. This post outlines the announcement of a large DOE initiative to promote rooftop direct grid connected solar power in the US.

Perhaps it was just a coincidence, but on the very beginning of summer U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu today announced the offer of a conditional commitment to provide a partial guarantee for a $1.4 billion loan to support Project Amp, which aims to install solar panels on industrial buildings across the US and feed the electricity generated directly into the nation’s power grid. Usually rooftop solar has powered the buildings where they are installed, with surplus power being fed onto the grid — in grid connected systems — or typically charging deep cycle batteries in off grid systems.

Supported by funding from the Recovery Act, the solar generation project includes the installation of approximately 733 megawatts (MW) of photovoltaic (PV) solar panels, which is nearly equal to the total amount of PV installed in the U.S. in 2010. The project sponsor estimates Project Amp will create at least one thousand jobs over a four year period, which is an additional benefit to added capacity of renewable solar energy that will continue to pay dividends for decades and help increase the energy security of our country. Because of the strong US domestic sourcing requirements attached to these loans the US solar photovoltaic sector will receive a large boost that will help it maintain its global competitive position in the global economy.

“This unprecedented solar project will not only produce clean, renewable energy to power the grid in states across the country, but it will help us meet the SunShot goal of achieving cost competitive solar power with other forms of energy by the end of the decade,” said Secretary Chu. “In addition, Project Amp will create at least a thousand jobs across the U.S. and increase our global competitiveness in the clean energy race.” [See: DOE SunShot Initiative Aims for Cost Competitive Solar Energy by 2020].

Project Amp will enable a wide distribution of solar power over approximately 750 existing rooftops owned and managed by Prologis. Prologis is the leading global provider of industrial real estate, Its renewable energy division creates additional value from the company’s existing assets through the deployment of renewable energy installations.

NRG Energy is the lead investor for the first phase of the project, which includes a 15.4 MW installation in southern California. Phase 1 will utilize at least 90% U.S. sourced components. The power from Phase 1 will be sold to Southern California Edison. Additional installations will be built in up to 28 states and the District of Columbia.

NRG Energy is a Fortune 250 wholesale power generation company headquartered in Princeton, New Jersey. We own and operate one of the industry’s most diverse generation portfolios (including nuclear, wind and solar power) that provides nearly 26,000 megawatts of electric generating capacity, or enough to support nearly 21 million homes.

Project Amp is expected to produce up to one million megawatt hours annually, enough to power over 88,000 homes. At this level, the project is also expected to avoid approximately 580,000 tons of carbon pollution annually. Project Amp’s application was submitted by the lender-applicant, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, under the Financial Institution Partnership Program (FIPP).

See our related post: “Which Is Cheaper? Nuclear or Solar” to read more about how nuclear energy and other traditional energy supplies like fossil fuels cost are and will continue to rise and not likely ever go back down. Meanwhile, renewable energy has achieved a “downward cost curve” over the last decade, and they are likely to continue to fall in price.

© 2011, Chris de Morsella. All rights reserved. Do not republish.