The U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) SunShot Initiative has presented a new funding opportunity for solar product development and awarded grants to reduce the soft costs of solar deployment. At the same time, the agency has reorganized its process for evaluating and awarding grants to for-profit enterprises in order to better reflect lessons learned and the realities of the product development cycle.
The larger of the two blocks of grants, the $45 million Technology to Market funding opportunity, essentially groups three historically separate programs – Incubator, Solar Manufacturing Technology and Scaling Up Nascent PV at Home – into one.
Information about the program and how to apply can be found here.
As the name implies, the Technology to Market program's mandate is to fund for-profit entities that are innovating in the solar space. Lidija Sekaric, Technology to Market's program manager, says the new funding opportunity will be looking across the solar value chain in order to further SunShot's goal of getting the cost of solar power down to $0.06/kWh by 2020.
‘For this solicitation, we are not calling for specific topics,’ Sekaric says. ‘So, when we talk about manufacturing, we're talking about manufacturing any product that is relevant to solar,’ Sekaric says. ‘When we talk about innovation, this could be a software application or a financing platform for solar. Or, it could be a new gadget or new material. It is very definitely an open solicitation.’
At the same time, the program does insert subsectors for prototyping, manufacturing methods and piloting a product into the marketplace.
‘We have called out certain topics of interest where we know innovation will have higher leverage,’ Sekaric says, adding that the only requirement is that it work toward the cost-reduction goal. ‘If there was innovation that could reduce the cost of financing, for example, that would have huge leverage on the cost of the system overall.’
Minh Le, director of the SunShot Initiative, says that in the past, the agency would get almost the same application in multiple programs. This was because the proposed technology might straddle more than one program or because the programs, as defined, did not encompass all possibilities. Or maybe applicants simply wanted to increase their chances of scoring a win. Whatever the reason, merging the activities into a single program reduces the replication of effort for applicant and SunShot alike.
‘The major impetus for combining all the programs together was a recognition that companies operate on a continuum,’ Le says. ‘The evolution of a product from concept all the way through manufacturing is not in discrete steps.’
SunShot has some notable success in helping commercial enterprises reach the marketplace with their solar products and services. Grant recipient Suniva has recently joined the ranks of solar module companies expanding their manufacturing operations in the U.S. Pick My Solar recently announced that it was bringing a solar data mining app to market with the help of a SunShot grant.
Le says SunShot is technology-agnostic in the sense that it accepts applications from many technologies. However, the agency performs a very thorough analysis to understand those technologies and those manufacturing processes that can actually be competitively manufactured in the U.S.
‘So, we generally don't invest in technologies that can be done cheaper overseas,’ Le says. ‘Our investment is really focused on what can best be leveraged in the U.S.’
In addition to the Technology to Market program, SunShot is also awarding more than $14 million in grants for 15 new projects through the Solar Market Pathways program to help communities develop multiyear solar deployment plans. The awards are aimed at cutting the soft costs of solar, such as permitting, financing and grid interconnection.
A list of the 15 grant recipients and a description of their winning proposals can be found here.