Solar Prize Round 7 Semifinalists Bring Bold, Bright Ideas to Competition – NREL

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20 Teams Win $50,000 and Move on to Set! Contest

DOE has awarded $1.2 million dollars to competitors in the Solar Prize Round 7. Twenty
teams will now move on in the competition to continue advancing their solar technologies.
Photo from Corcino Productions

A new crop of semifinalists has been selected to move on to the Set! Contest in the
American-Made Solar Prize Round 7. Twenty teams from across the country were awarded cash prizes for their innovative
solutions for making the solar industry more efficient, cost-effective, and accessible
to all.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced the semifinalists on Thursday, Jan.
11. Each of the teams was awarded $50,000 to continue advancing their concept in the
second phase of the prize. In addition, four teams were awarded an additional $25,000
cash prize for winning the Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) Contest,
which rewards impactful solutions that increase accessibility to solar energy among
underserved communities. The optional JEDI Contest is available in all three phases
of the Solar Prize.

DOE also awarded $10,000 prizes to 10 teams through the Power Up Contest, a new contest
in the Solar Prize designed to support new and diverse entrants to the solar industry.
The teams were rewarded for submissions that showed strong potential but were not
selected to move on to the Set! Contest. Awardees will use their cash award, along
with support from American-Made Power Connectors—the Arrowhead Center at New Mexico
State University and the University of Arizona Center for Innovation—to strengthen
their innovations and business plans to be more competitive in future competitions.

“While only 20 teams can advance to the next stage of the Solar Prize competition,
there are certainly more than 20 teams ready to use their perspectives to make a big
impact on the solar industry,” said Markus Beck, Manufacturing and Competitiveness
Program manager in the DOE Solar Energy Technologies Office. “The Power Up Contest
is a way to recognize those innovators and set them on the path to success.”

Supporting Winning Ideas in Solar Innovation

A three-tiered, funnel-shaped graphic detailing the prize amounts, timeline, and structure of the Solar Prize.
Through three consecutive contests, competitors quickly prepare to commercialize their
technology in three-to-five years.

Now in its seventh round, the Solar Prize was designed to nurture a broad spectrum
of ideas that can advance the solar industry, from software that improves efficiency,
to innovative materials with a lower carbon footprint, to systems that reduce maintenance

The prize consists of three contests—Ready!, Set!, and Go!—during which competitors
gradually transform their ideas into early-stage prototypes ready for industry testing.
In addition to increasing financial support as the prize progresses, competitors also
have access to expertise and support from the American-Made Network, which is composed
of national laboratories, energy incubators, private entities, and other resources
across the country.

The semifinalist teams moving on the Set! Contest are as follows:

Photovoltaics (PV)

  1. PowerMe (El Cerrito, California) – This team is developing a 3D-printed solar carport for the commercial market to
    decrease safety risks associated with current carports and expand solar electric vehicle
    (EV) charging in low- and moderate-income communities. They will reduce costs compared
    to common solar carports with off-site construction, a wind-load reducing design,
    and automated 3D concrete printing.
  2. Vatio (Palo Alto, California) – This team is developing a plug-in solar kit that can be used in a regular home
    outlet to save residential homeowners money on their energy bills. This system will
    make residential solar affordable and accessible to customers locked out of the current
    solar market.
  3. 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.
  4. Couillard Solar Foundation Team (Deerfield, Wisconsin) – This team is developing an aesthetically pleasing, weatherproof, wooden solar canopy
    for residential and public spaces to broaden solar adoption. Sales of this product
    will fund charitable solar programs to benefit underrepresented populations. JEDI Winner

Systems Integration

  1. Addicted 2 Impact (Ladera Ranch, California) – This team is developing modular plug-and-play, low-voltage direct current (DC)
    microgrids for rural and indigenous communities in the United States. By adding solar
    and storage, this system can quickly and affordably power homes without access to
    traditional grid and interconnection infrastructure. JEDI Winner
  2. Buck Boost (Apex, North Carolina) – This team is developing a two-stage, low-cost PV system architecture that combines
    wide-bandgap semiconductor-based compact DC-DC nanoconverters, at the panel level,
    with an optimized central inverter, also based on wide-bandgap devices. This new system
    design will achieve higher efficiencies, help prevent shading issues, and extend the
    lifetime of PV systems.
  3. 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.

Dual-Use Photovoltaics

  1. ICoN Energy (Ithaca, New York) – This team is developing a compact power converter for trucks to utilize solar power
    for auxiliary systems, such as heating and cooling. This vehicle-integrated photovoltaics
    innovation will allow trucks to harness solar power from a solar panel installed on
    the truck roof and reduce truck emissions.
  2. VL Offshore (Houston, Texas) – This team is developing a rapidly deployable, floating offshore solar system that
    can move with the ocean’s waves, rather than a rigid structure resisting wave motion.
    This system, which is designed to withstand high waves and wind speeds, will supply
    energy to coastal and remote communities.
  3. Voltic Shipping (Whitney, Texas) – This team is developing foldable, rotatable, and retractable solar panel systems
    to power canal, lake, and marine cargo vessels. This innovation will enable zero-emission,
    solar-powered cargo ships and help decarbonize the shipping industry.

Finance and Business Models

  1. Fram Energy (San Francisco, California) – This team is developing a platform to incentivize landlords to install rooftop
    solar by enabling both the renter and landlord to save money 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.
  2. EmpowerSun Solutions (Denver, 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 solar energy development. JEDI winner
  3. 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.
  4. Wildgrid Inc. (New York City, New York) – This team is developing a free solar financing education and planning tool to help
    users interested in going solar easily understand, personalize, and streamline their
    solar project and financing. This financial planning tool will make solar adoption
    a financial reality for users by finding available tax incentives and helping consumers
    apply for zero- to low-interest green loans.
  5. 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.

System Operations

  1. Solar Unsoiled (Durham, North Carolina) – This team is developing 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.
  2. Reliable Autonomy (Basking Ridge, New Jersey) – This team is developing a software solution for homeowners with solar and second-life
    battery systems. This software integrates probabilistic solar forecasting and battery
    secondary life health diagnostics to maximize system integration efficiency and reduce
    costs for homeowners to adopt solar energy.
  3. Keeping Solar Power Plants Green (Xenia, Ohio) – This team is developing a robotic arm to kill unwanted vegetation growing around
    mounting posts on solar farms with light that disrupts photosynthesis. This non-chemical
    treatment eliminates the need for expensive and hazardous herbicides, reducing operations
    and maintenance costs and increasing the safety and sustainability of solar farms.

Deployment and Workforce

  1. 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.
  2. Midwest Renewable Energy Association (Custer, Wisconsin) – This team is developing a portable, interactive training kit that provides affordable,
    hands-on solar education 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 Winner
Seven people smiling and waving while holding giant checks.
To date, the Solar Prize has awarded $29.8 million in cash prizes and technical support
vouchers through seven rounds of the prize.

The Power Up Contest winners are as follows:

  1. Fundusol (Stanford, California) – This team is developing a software solution that assists farmers in adopting solar
    energy. The platform will help to design the best system for their farm by modeling
    multiple factors to predict the performance of the agrivoltaic system on each farm’s
    crop and/or livestock. 
  2. First Principle Energy (Sunnyvale, California) – This team is developing a high-strength cable wire rope to mount solar panels,
    leading to lower levelized costs of electricity, installation costs, and foundation
    costs. The structure will adapt to uneven terrain due to its light weight, making
    field assembly easy and less time-consuming.
  3. Recode Energy (Denver, Colorado) – This team is developing a software platform to help buyers navigate solar policies
    and incentives by developing personalization roadmaps and implementation tools for
    buildings. The platform will assess a user’s portfolio for climate incentives, decode
    what those mean from a financial perspective, and guide the user to a marketplace
    of resources, developers, and legal experts.
  4. Soltheos (Denver, Colorado) – This team is developing a low-cost thermal battery for residential customers. This
    system will be able to provide heat when solar power is unavailable or when electricity
    prices are higher, producing savings for the owner. 
  5. Ark Power Systems (Lake Linden, Michigan) – This solution is a modular, scalable, ground-mount solar racking system that enables
    the low-cost, fast installation of complete residential and commercial PV systems
    at scale. This can greatly reduce the soft costs of solar installations. 
  6. NAS-LIION LLC (South Orange, New Jersey) – This team is developing a quick swab test to detect leakage from lithium batteries
    in nanogrid applications that will increase quality control and failure analysis.
    This technology can improve quality control standards in second-life batteries in
    solar applications.
  7. Exergi (Buffalo, New York) – This team is developing a residential solar turbine system to provide homeowners
    with another option to adopt solar for those who cannot install on their roofs. It
    features a low space requirement, placement versatility, and easy installation and
  8. Modular Microgrids (Mount Joy, Pennsylvania) – This team is developing a solar-plus-battery microgrid for construction sites and
    modular homes and offices. It is aimed at replacing diesel generators often used at
    construction projects, improving the air quality around sites.
  9. Full Charge Solar (Mesquite, Texas) – This team is developing a fully collapsible, emission-free, cart-based solar array
    with a battery and inverter that requires little to no maintenance and provides electricity
    throughout the day while charging the battery to provide electricity at night. It
    can serve emergency situations when power is not available and has a grid-tie capability
    for non-emergency situations to offset electricity costs.
  10. Amaterra Tech (Austin, Texas) – This team is developing a distributed control system for microgrids that can integrate
    seamlessly with existing infrastructure. This solution will allow microgrids to expand
    quickly, reducing costs of adding new storage and generation to the systems.

Next Up in Set!

Over the coming months, semifinalist teams will be working to refine their concepts
and preparing their pitches and demonstrations for the Set! Demo Day virtual event
in April 2024. During the event, a panel of industry experts will judge teams’ progress
and award 10 finalists with $100,000 in cash and $75,000 in technical support vouchers
to further prepare their concepts for commercialization. Select teams will also be
awarded additional funds for prioritizing solar equity and accessibility in the JEDI

Learn more about the Solar Prize, and subscribe to the American-Made program newsletter for updates on this round, competitors’ innovative ideas, and how to get involved
in future prizes.

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