Win funding and access to grow your concept in this DOE American innovation competition

Intersolar 2018 coverage (42)

Elaine Ulrich, Senior Advisor, Solar Energy Technologies Office, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Department of Energy, explains the contest at Intersolar 2018 in San Francisco last week.

There are more effective ways for the government to boost U.S.-based innovation and manufacturing without tariffs. Example: The Department of Energy’s American Made Challenge Solar Prize competition is awarding $3 million in prizes as well as support from the DOE’s robust U.S.-based network to help build business plans, prototypes and funding sources for labs and innovators. Additional cash prizes are then awarded to the most viable concepts.

“What role does DOE want to have? To focus on early stage research and forge strong partnerships with the private sector,” said Elaine Ulrich, Senior Advisor, Solar Energy Technologies Office, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Department of Energy, at Intersolar 2018 in San Francisco last week. “We know this is the cornerstone of our success, so a new way we speed innovation is through prize competitions.”

And speed it, it does. This isn’t a laborious grant application process, but a series of contests. Record a 90 second video with a strong pitch and answer four questions: What’s the problem? What’s the solution? Who is on the team? What’s the plan?

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How to win

Participants must identify an impactful solution that addresses critical challenges related to American solar competitiveness, create a proof of concept, and secure a committed partner to test a prototype. Competitors will also participate in demo days, where they will pitch their idea to a team of expert reviewers, who will evaluate competitors based on the quality of their solution and the progress made during the contest period.

The $3 million in funding from the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) will be distributed through a series of three contests:

Ready! Contest (up to $50,000 prize per winner): Winners will be selected after identifying an impactful idea or solution addressing a critical need in America’s solar industry.

Set! Contest (up to $200,000 prize per winner): Competitors will work to substantially advance their technology solution toward a viable and promising proof of concept.

Go! Contest ($500,000 prize per winner): Competitors will work to substantially advance their solution from proof of concept to a refined prototype and find a partner to perform a pilot test of the prototype.

“Within six months, you could have $750,000 in cash and $150,000 in facility vouchers and tapped into a full network,” Ulrich said. “This is just the first, of hopefully many of these contests.”

Participants in this program can be entrepreneurial individuals, representatives of a company, university students or professors, small business owners, or researchers at a national laboratory, as long as they are based in the U.S. and have the desire to bring an impactful solution to advance U.S. solar competitiveness.

Quit reading this and send in your video. Deadline is Oct. 5.

— Solar Builder magazine

Total clean energy disruption is here and three other takeaways from Intersolar 2018

Starting with the opening keynote presentations on through the innovations on the expo floor, Intersolar 2018 was all about disruption. Yes, even those of you already succeeding in solar today, if you’re not careful, you could be disrupted too. Here’s what jumped out at us in San Francisco last week.

1. Total clean energy disruption is coming, and it’s bigger than you think it is.

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Keynote speaker Tony Seba was the disruption tone setter. For those unfamiliar, Seba is a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, an instructor in Entrepreneurship, Disruption and Clean Energy at Stanford’s Continuing Studies Program and author of Clean Disruption of Energy and Transportation. His work focuses on clean energy, entrepreneurship and market disruption of the world’s major industries, such as energy, transportation, infrastructure, finance and manufacturing.

Yea, it’s a lot, but luckily he summarized it all in his presentation to kick off Intersolar. He makes the case that energy storage, EVs, ride-sharing and autonomous vehicles are on a path to converge very soon, and that the convergence of technology and business models in such a way is always the heart of true disruption.

“Every single technology has been adopted as an S curve. It is never a line,” Seba said. Consider the fact that cars replaced the horse and buggy in a mere 10-year span – and that’s in the days of, well, horse and buggy. His research shows how the tipping point for disruption has always led to a sharp S-curve trajectory, which is only getting sharper in our current time. “S curves are accelerating. It takes months or a year or two. More like J curves now. But yet there are still just straight lines in projections.”

Fast forwarding to the end scenario he lays out (which he originally laid out four years ago, and is right on track) is a world with little to no car ownership because of how much more economic sense it will make to “Uber” everywhere via fleets of automated ride services. This scenario upends much of our modern infrastructure — an abundance of storage on the grid, no use for parking lots, etc. I can’t really do it justice, so I’d recommend watching the full presentation for way more details.

The takeaway I’d like to highlight for the solar industry though is how winners of a disruption are rarely incumbents. Seba points to Kodak as a quick example. Kodak invented digital photography, had its best year ever, and then was basically out of business in under 10 years. Yes, despite that constant steep S curve, projection systems and experts and thought leaders are never prepared when that disruption hits. Companies you’ve never heard of are already ramping up to own the automated driving fleet space and random companies like Dyson are taking educated stabs in the dark at launching their own line of EVs.

For clean energy, the technology and economics are already there, it’s just a matter of a few other chess pieces moving into place, or dots connecting, or whatever other game analogy you’d like to use. If you smell what Seba is cooking, make your plans for this new world now.

2. You should try and win this funding competition.

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Did that disruption talk get you excited, or get the gears turning on the next big idea? Well, hurry and tell the Department of Energy about it and you might get hooked up with a network of people to help implement it, along with some cash.

The DOE’s American Made Challenge Solar Prize competition is awarding $3 million in prizes as well as support from the DOE’s U.S,-based network to help grow, build business plans, prototypes and funding sources for labs and innovators. Additional cash prizes are then awarded to the most viable concepts.

“What role does DOE want to have? To focus on early stage research and forge strong partnerships with the private sector,” said Elaine Ulrich, Senior Advisor, Solar Energy Technologies Office, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Department of Energy. “We know this is the cornerstone of our success, so a new way we speed innovation is through prize competitions.”

And speed it, it does. This isn’t a laborious grant application process, but a series of contests. Record a 90 second video with a strong pitch and answer four questions: What’s the problem? What’s the solution? Who is on the team? What’s the plan?

The field will be winnowed to about 20 to 40 winners (for a max of $50,000 each) to about 12 after the proof of concept stage (an and additional $200,000 possible), until finally two winners will emerge with $500,000 to launch company.

“Within six months, you could have $750,000 in cash and $150,000 in facility vouchers and tapped into a full network,” Ulrich said. “This is just the first, of hopefully many of these contests.”

Oct. 5 is the submission deadline.

3. Yes, there is still new ground to break in ground-mounted solar.

We saw and heard about several design changes in ground-mounted solar that can forge new paths in underserved segments or take over/grow established segments. We can’t talk about all of them right now (stay tuned for Solar Power International), but here are a few to note.

AP Alternatives Ready Rack

AP Alternatives Ready Rack.

AP Alternatives‘ Ready Rack mounting hardware is designed for both large utility-scale projects and small commercial projects. The small helical anchors and quick install cross bracing make the simple system robust even for high wind zones.

What we liked: This system is nimbly installed with an attachment that fits on a skid steer, which opens up the 20 to 100-kW market up much more for small solar contractors to grow and scale their business.

Soltec bifacial tracking

Live at the Soltec Bifacial testing facility.

We will have more on this topic in our Sept./Oct. issue, but just know that the industry is very focused on finding true, objective results for bifacial modules deployed in various tracker combinations. The price point on bifacial modules may not make sense for wide deployment just yet, but when it does, highly bankable systems from Soltec and Array Technologies, to name two, will be at the ready. Soltec has built a testing ground and is working with NREL and Black and Veatch to gather a complete data set on the harvest of bifacial modules on solar trackers.

Alion tracker

Alion Energy tracker.

This Alion Energy tracker is definitely not for all sites – it has a very specific value proposition for tough and dusty terrains by incorporating a self-cleaning function. There is a lot of concrete needed to install this system, but you could picture it opening up new sites in remote, harsh desert landscapes because of how often its panels could be cleaned with an automated system that uses much less water and no labor.

4. Solar + storage value is much clearer on both the large and small scale.

SolArk

You’ll want to check out the Sol-Ark inverter.

On the small-scale side, we saw the most efficient solar + storage inverter on the market, and it isn’t from SolarEdge or Tesla but from little-known Sol-Ark. We explain DC transformerless architecture in greater detail in our Sept./Oct. print issue, but the quick story is this inverter is able to maintain an impressively high efficiency – both peak and consistent – in battery and grid tied scenarios.

On the large-scale side, more and more storage is being built into projects. First Solar recently signed a project contract for 150 MW of storage, for example. The key stat came from Joachim Seel, Scientific Engineering Associate at the Electricity Markets and Policy Group, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, U.S.: At least six PPAs this year have featured PV-plus-long-duration storage that do not seem to be priced at a prohibitive premium to PV only.

Oh yeah, that reminds me of one more quote from Seba’s presentation: “At some point soon solar-plus-batteries will be cheaper than transmission,” Seba stated. Insert thinky emoji here.

— Solar Builder magazine

Department of Energy puts $3 million into contest to boost solar manufacturing

department of energy contest

Amid rumors of a wild nuclear bailout plan, the Department of Energy isn’t totally forgetting about solar, launching the American-Made Solar Prize competition to revitalize U.S. solar manufacturing. The program will support entrepreneurs as they develop transformative ideas into concepts and then into early-stage prototypes ready for industry testing.

Entrepreneurial individuals and teams will compete through a series of three successive prize contests designed to develop new products to be made in America. Competitors will have access to mentoring and other supportive resources through a network of national labs, incubators, investors, and industry experts.

“We share this administration’s desire for strong American solar manufacturing, and this prize competition is a good way to spur innovative ideas,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, President and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association. “The U.S. solar industry is a leader in entrepreneurship and ingenuity, and we support efforts like these that can pave the way to competitiveness for American companies.”

RELATED: Nominate a solar project for our Project of the Year awards

How to win

To win the final prize, participants must identify an impactful solution that addresses critical challenges related to American solar competitiveness, create a proof of concept, and secure a committed partner to test a prototype. Competitors will also participate in demo days, where they will pitch their idea to a team of expert reviewers, who will evaluate competitors based on the quality of their solution and the progress made during the contest period.

The $3 million in funding from the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) will be distributed through a series of three contests:

  • Ready! Contest (up to $50,000 prize per winner): Winners will be selected after identifying an impactful idea or solution addressing a critical need in America’s solar industry.
  • Set! Contest (up to $200,000 prize per winner): Competitors will work to substantially advance their technology solution toward a viable and promising proof of concept.
  • Go! Contest ($500,000 prize per winner): Competitors will work to substantially advance their solution from proof of concept to a refined prototype and find a partner to perform a pilot test of the prototype.

Participants in this program can be entrepreneurial individuals, representatives of a company, university students or professors, small business owners, or researchers at a national laboratory, as long as they are based in the U.S. and have the desire to bring an impactful solution to advance U.S. solar competitiveness. Competitors must submit applications HERE by Oct. 5, 2018 to participate.

— Solar Builder magazine

Department of Energy boosts Sunshot funding by $82M after already hitting 2020 cost target

solar sunshot funding

I hope it’s not morbid timing that all of these positive solar reports are coming out right before the Section trade case decision. NREL noted more sharp system cost declines in 2017, and now the U.S. Department of Energy says solar’s 2020 utility-scale solar cost target set by the SunShot Initiative has already been reached thanks largely to the rapid cost declines in solar photovoltaic (PV) hardware. The average price of utility-scale solar is now 6 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh).

Given this success, DOE is looking beyond SunShot’s 2020 goals with an expanded 2030 vision for the Solar Energy Technologies Office. Specifically, while DOE will continue research to drive down costs, new funding programs will focus on a broader scope of Administration priorities, which includes early-stage research to address solar energy’s critical challenges of grid reliability, resilience, and storage.

“With the impressive decline in solar prices, it is time to address additional emerging challenges,” said Daniel Simmons, Acting Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. “As we look to the future, DOE will focus new solar R&D on the Secretary’s priorities, which include strengthening the reliability and resilience of the electric grid while integrating solar energy.”

Vote here for the 2017 Solar Builder Project of the Year

DOE announces up to $82 million in early-stage research in two areas:

Concentrating Solar Power (CSP): Up to $62 million will support advances in CSP technologies to enable on-demand solar energy. CSP technologies use mirrors to reflect and concentrate sunlight onto a focused point where it is collected and converted into heat. This thermal energy can be stored and used to produce electricity when the sun is not shining or integrated into other applications, such as producing fresh water or supplying process heat.

• Power Electronics: Up to $20 million is dedicated to early-stage projects to advance power electronics technologies. Such innovations are fundamental to solar PV as the critical link between PV arrays and the electric grid. Advances in power electronics will help grid operators rapidly detect problems and respond, protect against physical and cyber vulnerabilities, and enable consumers to manage electricity use.

Awardees will be required to contribute 20 percent of the funds to their overall project budget, yielding total public and private spending of nearly $100 million. The funds provided are not grants, but cooperative agreements, which involve substantial federal oversight and consist of go/no-go technical milestones that ensure attentive stewardship of projects.

— Solar Builder magazine

Department of Energy to fund projects to reduce soft costs of solar installs

department of energy funding

Discussions on further large reductions in solar installation prices start with soft costs. Knowing this, the Energy Department is pumping $21.4 million in funding for 17 new projects to help reduce these soft costs, such as installation, permitting and connecting to the grid.

“Soft costs have been a pervasive barrier to widespread solar energy in the United States,” said Dr. Charlie Gay, Director of the Solar Energy Technologies Office. “Finding new ways to cut these costs remains critical in accelerating solar deployment nationwide and making solar affordable for all Americans.”

Nine of the awards will focus on how the solar industry can sustain and accelerate its growth by understanding the motivations and factors that influence the technology adoption process, particularly in low- and moderate-income communities. The other eight awards will focus on tackling solar market challenges at the state and regional levels through better strategic energy and economic planning.

Here are the two broad areas of focus:

Solar Energy Evolution and Diffusion Studies (SEEDS)

The SEEDS program leverages decisions based on science and solar datasets to improve our understanding of how and why homeowners and businesses choose solar energy.

Nine of the 17 projects will partner researchers with data and energy practitioners to create, analyze, and use solar data and other information in order to examine how solar technologies, the electric grid system, and the institutions that create the solar business marketplace support or inhibit the evolution and diffusion of solar technologies.

RELATED: Obama wants to give your community $100,000 to build community solar 

This second round of funding under SEEDS introduces two new areas of research interest: low- and moderate-income (LMI) solar adoption and institutional decision-making.

Projects focusing on LMI communities will focus on identifying solar adoption barriers other than cost, while identifying ways to more effectively engage these communities in the growing solar marketplace. Projects examining institutional decision-making aim to reveal the factors driving change within institutions as they relate to solar, and how institutions within a given system—for example, one university within a state university system—can influence such change. View the list of awardees.

State Energy Strategies (SES)

Through SunShot’s SES work, project teams from state energy offices, regional energy providers and their partners have the opportunity to gain the planning insights that can support their individual goals to maximize solar’s benefits within their various communities. Eight new projects announced today will help to better inform states how to more effectively adopt solar by providing technical and analytical assistance to help them meet their renewable energy goals.

These projects will benefit states at two phases in the solar energy planning process: during the creation of solar deployment targets and identification of strategies to achieve these goals, and then during the implementation of these strategies. For instance, teams may seek technical and informational assistance from DOE to better understand system performance projections, transmission and distribution constraints, or the economic and environmental benefits of various solar programs and projects.

Teams participating in this program will work to support solar planning efforts in 17 states plus the District of Columbia: Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Idaho, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. View the list of awardees.

— Solar Builder magazine