US hands out $231m for renewable energy research

New project said to cut production costs in half, while wind and thermal projects also receive Federal fundingThe US stepped up its funding for renewable energy yesterday by handing out a total of $231m to support the development of solar…

New project said to cut production costs in half, while wind and thermal projects also receive Federal fundingThe US stepped up its funding for renewable energy yesterday by handing out a total of $231m to support the development of solar wafer technology, offshore wind innovations and geothermal energy.

The largest award saw Massachusetts-based 1366 Technologies receive $150m to develop a technology to manufacture multicrystalline solar wafers at half the cost of current production methods.

The project will be capable of producing approximately 700MW to 1,000MW of silicon-based wafers each year using the company’s Direct Wafer manufacturing process, which cuts production from three days to 25 seconds and requires 90 per cent less energy.

1366 Technologies was awarded$3m of funding from the Department of Energy (DoE) in February and a $4m grant from the Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Solar production costs have been on the government’s agenda following last month’s high-profile bankruptcies of Solyndra, which received more than $535m in loan guarantees, and Evergreen Solar.

The situation is of such concern to Democrat Senator Ron Wyden that he wrote to President Obama yesterday, calling on him to restrict cheaper solar panel imports from China, which are subsidised by state loans that attract as little as one per cent or even zero interest.

Wyden said Chinese imports were set to increase 240 per cent this year and grew 1,593 per cent between 2006 and 2010. He urged the president to pursue litigation at the World Trade Organisation to force China to discontinue the loans.

“The American solar industry is facing unparalleled challenges and without the leadership of your administration this industry may disappear, leaving behind additional workers without employment,” the letter reads. “Letting that happen is unacceptable.”

Meanwhile, the DoE also awarded $43m to 41 wind energy projects looking to accelerate the development and deployment of offshore wind energy systems, and $38m for 32 geothermal projects.

The wind projects will advance wind turbine design, improve information about the country’s offshore wind resources, and remove market barriers holding up development, the department said in a statement.

It added that the geothermal schemes would locate new resources and improve drilling and other techniques that would advance geothermal energy, so it could play a role in achieving the president’s goal of generating 80 per cent of US electricity from clean energy sources by 2035.

The awards come the day after the US handed out $344m in loan guarantees to install up to 160,000 rooftop solar systems on military housing developments.