Solar Prize Round 7 Finalists Enter Last Phase of Competition – NREL

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The Solar Prize provides quick access to funding and resources entrepreneurs need
to move an idea closer to commercialization. In this photo, past winners celebrate
on stage at the RE+ Conference in 2022. Photo by Corcino Productions

A new group of competitors is moving on to the final phase of the American-Made Solar Prize Round 7! On May 1, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced the 10 finalist teams who
were each awarded $100,000 in cash and $75,000 in technical support vouchers for their
innovative ideas for advancing solar deployment.

The finalist announcement was made at the conclusion of the second phase of competition,
the Set! Contest, where 20 semifinalists participated in question-and-answer sessions with a panel of expert industry reviewers.
The 10 teams that were chosen will now move on to the final phase, the Go! Contest,
to bring their concepts closer to commercialization.

Among these finalists, three teams also split a $50,000 prize pool for their submissions
to the optional Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) Contest, which rewards
impactful solutions that increase accessibility to solar energy among underserved

“The Solar Prize has been so instrumental in helping innovators get new solar energy
projects off the ground and closer to the hands of consumers,” said Markus Beck, manufacturing
and competitiveness program manager at DOE’s Solar Energy Technologies Office. “The
Round 7 finalist teams are already proving to be impactful at both the community and
industry levels. I look forward to seeing their technologies continue to grow in the
Go! Contest.”

The Solar Prize, funded by DOE’s solar office and administered by the National Renewable
Energy Laboratory, was launched in 2018 to inspire innovators to devise solutions
that could help boost the efficiency, cost effectiveness, and widespread adoption
of solar power. The teams competing in Round 7 have been working on technologies across
the spectrum, ranging from photovoltaic (PV) panel-covered carports to software that
speeds installation and maintenance of PV panels to tools that expand community access
to solar.

Meet the Finalists

The finalist teams moving on the last contest in Solar Prize Round 7 are as follows:

  1. 1Climate (New York City, New York): This team is developing a solar regulatory platform for faster permitting by automating
    regulatory, permitting, contracting, and incentive filing processes. This will streamline
    the solar project development process, increase the ease of securing project financing,
    and monetize tax credits more reliably and efficiently.  
  2. Electra (Bellingham, Washington): This team is developing a smart digital network for solar panel recycling to reroute
    retired solar panels from landfills to reuse locations or recycling facilities. This
    platform will optimize the collection, logistics, and matchmaking of solar panel recycling,
    leading to less waste and increased second-life opportunities. 
  3. EmpowerSun Solutions (Aurora, Colorado): This team is developing a platform for underserved communities that provides customized
    solar planning resources and connects landowners with pre-certified project partners.
    This innovation will help underserved communities, farmers, and tribal entities to
    effectively leverage their land for the development of solar energy. JEDI Contest Winner
  4. Fram Energy (Newburgh, New York): This team is developing a platform to incentivize landlords to install solar by
    enabling both the renter and landlord to capture savings from a solar installation.
    This software helps the landlord select the best solar system for their property and
    distributes the benefits of solar to both the tenant and property owner, expanding
    renters’ access to solar energy. JEDI Contest Winner
  5. Gridwave (Austin, Texas): This team is developing a pre-assembled, modular solar carport for the commercial
    market to decrease costs and safety risks associated with current carports and expand
    solar electric vehicle (EV) charging. They will reduce costs compared to common solar
    carports by using off-site construction, a wind-load-reducing design, and automated
    3D concrete printing and precasting. 
  6. Gritt Robotics (Belmont, California): This team is developing a solution combining robotics and artificial intelligence
    for automated construction of utility-scale solar. By converting off-the-shelf construction
    equipment into intelligent robots, this innovation will accelerate solar construction
    and improve worker health and safety. 
  7. Illumination Solar Training (Jefferson, Wisconsin): This team is developing portable, interactive solar training carts that provide
    affordable, hands-on solar training for communities and colleges. This solution offers
    relevant equipment, comprehensive concepts, and easy transport for real-world solar
    training to bridge the solar skills gap. JEDI Contest Winner
  8. NC Solar Inverters (Cary, North Carolina): This team is developing a novel inverter design that leverages the high performance
    of silicon carbide technology but uses 40% less material, slashing inverter costs.
    This innovation will enable cost-effective, high-performance inverter technology to
    be manufactured in the United States. 
  9. Pavilion Solar (Miami, Florida): This team is developing a hurricane-resistant, structurally stable, accessible,
    and cost-effective solar carport. This innovation will increase residential solar
    adoption in hurricane-prone areas by providing a product that can endure storms and
    growing electricity needs. 
  10. Solar Unsoiled (Durham, North Carolina): This team is developing a software for large scale solar farms that provides optimized
    solar panel cleaning schedules based on a model that predicts daily soiling. This
    solution will increase system energy yield and reduce panel maintenance costs. 

Because the goal of the Solar Prize is to accelerate the commercialization of innovative
technologies, by the end of the Go! Contest these finalists will be required to demonstrate
the following:

  • The completion of a prototype that incorporates lessons learned and feedback from
    potential users. 
  • The commercial viability of their innovation through a committed pilot partnership
    or secured credible customers.
  • The solidification of a core network of mentors and partners that can help advance
    the proposed solution (e.g., national laboratories, members of the American-Made Network, funders, and/or private partners).
  • A long-term plan for the ongoing success of the effort—specifically, a compelling
    case that there is, or will soon be, sufficient funding in place to continue advancing
    this technology beyond this prize contest.

Teams will present their final innovations at the Solar Prize Round 7 Go! Demo Day
at the RE+ Conference in September 2024. Two teams will then be named grand prize winners, each earning
$500,000 in cash and additional technical support vouchers. Select teams may also
be awarded additional funds through their participation in the JEDI contest.

Learn more about the Solar Prize, and subscribe to the American-Made Newsletter for updates on Round 7 and future opportunities to get involved. 

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