Connecticut wins grant for solar panel research

Gov. Dannel Malloy announced Thursday that the state won a federal grant to research methods of reducing solar panel installation costs.
Gov. Dannel Malloy announced Thursday that the state won a federal grant to research methods of reducing solar panel installation costs. Photo by Creative Commons.

The U.S. Department of Energy is giving Connecticut over $480,000 to improve rooftop solar panel installation through research.

Last Thursday, Gov. Dannel Malloy announced the $481,473 grant, which Connecticut’s Clean Energy Finance and Investment Authority (CEFIA) will use to research methods of reducing rooftop solar costs in future applications, said CEFIA spokesman David Goldberg. Connecticut’s grant, Goldberg added, was one of 22 awarded nationwide as part of the Department of Energy’s “SunShot Initiative,” which aims to lower installed solar energy system costs by about 75 percent by the end of the decade.

The initial stages of the state’s effort, Goldberg said, involve researching the process of obtaining permits for rooftop solar panels in 12 Connecticut municipalities, including New Haven, to streamline the processes associated with developing rooftop solar panel systems and ultimately to drive down overall costs. If CEFIA is successful in researching and developing a more efficient process, he added, Connecticut will be eligible for a second grant that would be used to conduct a pilot program throughout the state and New England.

While the money will not cover equipment or installation expenses, Goldberg said CEFIA plans to implement initiatives to reduce non-hardware costs, which can account for up to 20 percent of the total amount needed to finance a solar panel system. He added that CEFIA plans to develop a task force to analyze current market conditions and existing infrastructure in partnering communities to standardize the process of obtaining a permit to install solar panels, lowering costs for developers and consumers.

Bill Leahy, chief executive director for operations at the Institute for Sustainable Energy at Eastern Connecticut State University, said developing standardized processes for solar rooftop installations is a good idea following the mixed success of older programs. He added that he supports the use of more “creative financing” for solar panels so interested parties would not have to finance sustainable technology themselves.

“For the state of Connecticut, it’s a significant achievement that shows the federal government’s commitment to renewable energy,” said Christine Eppstein Tang, director of the New Haven Office of Sustainability. Although she said she had not heard of the grant, Eppstein Tang said the initiative will contribute to the development of a renewable energy sector in Connecticut.

The 12 municipal partners, which include towns and cities of varying populations and income brackets, were selected due to their demonstrated leadership in the clean energy markets, Goldberg said. He added that CEFIA plans to implement the initiatives covered by the grant as soon as possible, and has created various stages during which their progress will be evaluated and reworked as necessary. CEFIA’s ultimate objective, he said, is to complete the streamlining process by the end of the year.

Solar energy installations in the United States increased by 109 percent in 2011, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

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