Do you have “star power”—and can you make it big?
That’s the question that the U.S. Department of Energy will be asking candidates for the seventh round of the SunShot Incubator Program, which will be accepting applications through April 9. SunShot is a government effort to make photovoltaic solar energy systems on a utility scale that will be cost-competitive with other forms of energy. (And yes, the “star power” we referenced in the first paragraph actually is solar power.)
As part of the Obama Administration’s blueprint for an American economy built to last, on February 8 U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced the availability of more than $12 million to speed solar energy innovation from the lab to the marketplace through the his department’s SunShot Incubator program. The federal funding is dedicated to supporting American innovation in solar energy and manufacturing, by encouraging advancements in hardware, reductions in soft costs, and the development of pilot manufacturing and production projects.
“Investments in American energy and manufacturing are critical building blocks for an American economy built to last,” said Secretary Chu. “The SunShot Incubator program fosters the innovative small businesses that will rapidly bring technological advances to market and pioneer a new era in American energy.”
The SunShot Incubator program helps launch new startups, as well as business units within existing companies, to accelerate innovative solar technology development. Since 2007, DOE has invested $60 million through the Incubator in promising technologies as they are brought from the lab to the marketplace. These investments have catalyzed $1.6 billion in private sector support. The federal investment in these projects has been leveraged at a rate of more than 26-to-1.
Nearly 40 companies have participated in the Incubator to date, including PrimeStar Solar, based in Arvada, Colorado. In 2007, DOE’s Golden, CO.-based National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and PrimeStar Solar announced a cooperative research and development (R&D) agreement to transition NREL’s cadmium telluride solar technology to commercial production. Primestar later received a $3 million Incubator award to commercialize its highly-efficient, low-cost solar photovoltaic panels. Primestar, now owned by General Electric, has announced a $600 million investment in the company and the construction of a large-scale manufacturing plant in Colorado that will employ more than 350 American workers to produce state-of-the-art solar panels.
Today’s SunShot Incubator funding will support innovations in the development of hardware and non-hardware approaches from the proof-of-concept stage to prototype demonstration—including advances in photovoltaics, concentrating solar power (CSP (News - Alert)), and power electronics; as well as streamlined permitting, inspection, and financing approaches—and to shorten the timeline for awardees to transition innovative prototypes produced at lab-scale into pilot and eventually full-scale manufacturing, production, or deployment. Each of the investments will require significant cost-share commitments from the awardees.
Every year, SunShot-related efforts received industry recognition. In 2011, the following SunShot initiatives were honored by R&D Magazine—which ranked them among the top 100 innovations of the year:
- Flash Quantum Efficiency System: The ability to measure, in a second, the quantum efficiency of a photovoltaic (PV) solar cell enables manufacturers to assemble more reliable modules by taking into account blue and red variations in a solar cell's spectral responses. (NREL and Tau Science Corporation)
- Optical Cavity Furnace: A new optical furnace uses photons to uniformly heat crystalline solar cells and semiconductor materials, increasing the efficiency of the cells by three percent to four percent at a fraction of the cost of conventional, thermal ovens. (NREL and AOS Solar)
- Silicon Ink for High-Efficiency Solar Cells: Screen-printing a liquid form of silicon produces an immediate increase in solar cell efficiency, by facilitating lighter doping, and thus enhancing response to the blue portion of the spectrum. The cost-effective process will boost cell efficiency by about 6 percent and improve the manufacturing bottom line by as much as 20 percent. (NREL and Innovalight)
- Ultra-High-Voltage Silicon Carbide Thyristor: This semiconductor-based, ultra-high-voltage, silicon-carbide thyristor enables next-generation smart grid power electronics systems to be built that are as much as 10 times smaller and lighter than current silicon-based technologies. (GeneSiC Semiconductor, Sandia National Laboratories, DOE, and U.S. Army/Engineer Research and Development Center)
- Demand Response Inverter: Adding value for the system owner and local utility, the Demand Response Inverter reduces the levelized cost of energy of PV power and provides grid-support functionality that encourages high penetration of PV power systems into the electrical grid. (Sandia National Laboratories and Princeton Power Systems)
For more information and application requirements for SunShot Incubator Program, visit the Funding Opportunity Exchange website
Cheryl Kaften is an accomplished communicator who has written for consumer and corporate audiences. She has worked extensively for MasterCard (News - Alert) Worldwide, Philip Morris USA (Altria), and KPMG, and has consulted for Estee Lauder and the Philadelphia Inquirer Newspapers. To read more of her articles, please visit her columnist page.
Edited by Jamie Epstein