U.S. Department of Energy: Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

Energy Department Announces Solar "Plug-and-Play" Funding Solar

April 25, 2012

Photo of people looking at a house with solar panels.

A new SunShot Initiative effort is supporting plug-and-play photovoltaic for homes.
Credit: MSB Energy Associates

The Energy Department on April 24 announced that up to $5 million is available this year to develop "plug-and-play" photovoltaic (PV) systems. These are off-the-shelf systems that can be purchased, installed, and operational in one day. This effort is part of the Energy Department's strategy to spur solar power deployment by reducing non-hardware, or "soft" costs, such as installation, permitting, and interconnection, which currently amount to more than half of the total cost of residential systems. The funding, part of the Energy Department's SunShot Initiative, will help drive innovations to fundamentally change the design and installation of residential PV systems, reducing costs for homeowners and simplifying installations and grid connectivity.

As the costs of solar PV modules continue to come down, soft costs and other non-module hardware costs, such as electronics and mounting hardware, now account for a majority of the total costs of systems. This offers significant opportunities to bring down costs through more efficient installation and permitting processes or new ways to affordably and effectively connect solar panels to the grid.

Plug-and-play solar energy systems will make the process of buying, installing, and connecting solar energy systems faster, easier, and less expensive, potentially unlocking major cost reductions in this area. Plug-and-play PV systems could be installed without special training or tools, and simply plugged into a PV-ready circuit. An automatic detection system would initiate communication between the solar energy system and the utility. Plug-and-play systems are already in wide use in the computer and automotive industries, and DOE believes that similar innovations can be made in the solar energy industry to reduce costs and simplify installations. As part of a planned five-year program, DOE will invest an initial $5 million this year for two projects that will develop innovative plug-and-play prototypes through partnerships with universities, industry, utilities, and other stakeholders. The Energy Department plans to make an additional request of $20 million to Congress over the next four years to support these efforts. See the DOE press release, the full funding opportunity announcement, and the SunShot Initiative website.