The United States Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative has set cost-reduction targets of $1/watt for central-station solar technologies. We use SWITCH, a high-resolution electricity system planning model, to study the implications of achieving these targets for technology deployment and electricity costs in western North America, focusing on scenarios limiting carbon emissions to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. We find that achieving the SunShot target for solar photovoltaics would allow this technology to provide more than a third of electric power in the region, displacing natural gas in the medium term and reducing the need for nuclear and carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technologies, which face technological and cost uncertainties, by 2050. We demonstrate that a diverse portfolio of technological options can help integrate high levels of solar generation successfully and cost-effectively. The deployment of GW-scale storage plays a central role in facilitating solar deployment and the availability of flexible loads could increase the solar penetration level further. In the scenarios investigated, achieving the SunShot target can substantially mitigate the cost of implementing a carbon cap, decreasing power costs by up to 14% and saving up to $20 billion ($2010) annually by 2050 relative to scenarios with Reference solar costs.
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