California: SunShot-Supported Technology Maximizes Taxpayer's Investment

Project Overview
Positive Impact: Zep Solar equipment will help reduce install costs significantly and cut installation time in half, making it faster, easier, and cheaper for more Americans to go solar.
Location: San Rafael, California
Partner: Zep Solar
EERE Investment: $100,000
Clean Energy Sector: Renewable Electricity GenerationPDF

Zep Solar was founded in 2009 and quickly gained notice for its first-generation residential and commercial designs for rooftop mounting equipment. In September 2011, under the first round of awards for the just-launched SunShot Initiative (the Extreme Balance of System Hardware Cost Reduction, commonly referred to as BOS-X), EERE committed to fund Zep Solar just under $1 million over three years to carry its design forward in the commercial and utility-scale markets, and the company was able to successfully complete its phase 1 proof of concept at almost 50% under budget. 

Zep Solar showcased its designs at the SunShot Grand Challenge in July 2012, and it debuted the BOS-X-funded “Aero-5” at Solar Power International in late 2012. EERE elected to down-select Zep Solar from the BOS-X program after phase 1 was complete, as it was experiencing exponential growth and future federal funding was not critical. On October 9, 2013, Zep Solar was acquired by SolarCity for approximately $158 million in stock. Zep Solar modeled that the systems kickstarted under BOS-X would shave $0.28 per watt off of the benchmark total installed price when deployed at scale. The savings are driven by reduced mounting hardware costs and labor costs, and given SolarCity's success with Zep Solar's existing residential and commercial product line, these savings appear very realistic.

While EERE’s final funding outlay was low, SunShot made a well-publicized, sizable commitment to a higher-risk startup in the photovoltaic, balance-of-system space. EERE actively managed the effort and pulled back when future funding would be at diminishing returns to the taxpayer. EERE worked hard to maximize the taxpayer’s return on investment, while working to fulfill SunShot and DOE objectives.

The Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) focuses on achieving the goals of the SunShot Initiative, which seeks to make solar energy cost-competitive with other forms of electricity by the end of the decade.

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