The American-Made Solar Prize is a multimillion-dollar competition funded by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and designed to promote solar innovation in the United States through a series of contests. Competitors can be individuals of one or multiple organizations, students, university faculty members, small business owners, researchers, or anyone residing in the U.S. who has the desire and drive to transform an idea into solution with impact. Competitors may seek support through members of the American-Made Network, our innovation engine of more than 250 organizations, including world-class experts at the U.S. Department of Energy’s 17 national labs, clean tech accelerators, incubators, universities, facilities, and more.
The program includes three prize competitions, called the Ready!, Set!, and Go! Contests. In the Ready! Contest teams focus on innovative ideas that will address a solar industry technology need, proving that they have developed a great team, a game-changing solution, and a plan. In the Set! Contest, teams begin developing and demonstrating early-stage proofs-of-concept. And in the Go! Contest, teams try to prove that their solutions work, and they must show substantial progress throughout the contests. work and they have made substantial progress over the course of the contests.
In April, the DOE announced the 20 finalist teams chosen after they pitched their concepts for during Set! Demo Day events.
“The innovations we see from competitors in the American-Made Solar Prize each year are incredibly inspiring,” said Garrett Nilsen, acting director of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office. “And we need all innovators now more than ever if we’re going to expand solar’s accessibility to Americans and meet our net-zero goals. Congratulations to these teams, and we look forward to seeing where they can take their products.”
The Solar Prize has always placed an emphasis on manufacturing solar innovation, but after four successful rounds focused primarily on tangible technologies, prize administrators saw the need to split the fifth round into two tracks: the Hardware Track and the Software Track. Competitors in the Hardware Track are focused on designing a physical component, manufacturing process, or producible product that benefits the solar industry. Software Track Teams are targeting communications, computation, data systems, information technology, or business models with a software focus that help accelerate solar power implementation. Teams in the Software Track can also opt to participate in the Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) Contest, which focuses on advancing solar adoption in underserved communities, for additional cash prizes.
The latest round, Round 5, launched last summer and teams submitted their initial concepts in October. The competitor pool was reduced to 40 semifinalists in December, after which teams began work on revising and refining their innovations in preparation for Set! Demo Day, where they shared their progress with expert reviewers. Hardware Track teams were asked to show progress in developing and demonstrating early-stage proofs of concept, while Software Track teams were required to demonstrate minimum viable products.
The 10 Hardware Track finalists were each awarded $100,000 in cash prizes and $75,000 in support vouchers to use at national laboratories and other partner facilities to continue advancing their innovation from proof of concept to prototype. Software Track finalists received $60,000 each, and three teams received an additional $33,333 for winning the optional JEDI Contest. The finalist teams will now move on to compete in the final stage of the competition, the Go! Contest.
Solar Prize Round 5 finalist teams:
- Gismo Power (Sarasota, Florida) – This team is developing a portable carport that has an integrated solar PV system and electric vehicle charger and can be stored in a garage during periods of harsh weather.
- Leap Photovoltaics (San Francisco, California) – This team is developing a silicon solar cell that uses silicon particles instead of traditional silicon wafers.
- Mana Monitoring (Lahaina, Hawaii) – This team is developing a plug-and-play energy management system that synchronizes on-site solar energy generation with electric vehicle charging.
- Origami Solar (Bend, Oregon) – This team is developing steel PV module frames manufactured using a roll-forming process.
- Portable Solar (Miami, Florida) – This team is developing an awning PV panel mounting system that can seamlessly integrate into the manufacturing process and distribution channels of the manufactured home industry.
- RCAM Technologies (Los Angeles, California) – This team is developing 3D-printed concrete gravity anchors that are manufactured on-site for floating solar panel installations.
- Smartville (Carlsbad, California) – This team is developing an energy storage system that combines recycled electric vehicle batteries with a novel power conversion system and state-of-the-art battery controls.
- Solar SCADA (Denver, Colorado) – This team is developing a supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system that combines all the sensors, calibration, communication, and data feeds needed to operate a solar energy system into standalone, ready-to-use packages.
- Sun Deck Solar (Roswell, Georgia) – This team is developing a solar-powered electric vehicle charging station that utilizes a self-assembling design to reduce installation costs.
- TECSI Solar Inc. (El Sobrante, California) – This team is developing a solar panel designed for residential use, which simplifies the ordering and installation process by combining the racking, flashing, hardware, and power electronics into a single product.
- Better Solar (Orlando, Florida): This team is building machine vision software to process electroluminescence imagery and automatically identify PV defects with application to both PV module manufacturing and PV plant maintenance.
- CleanFi (Los Angeles, California): This team is developing a platform that seeks to automate solar project financing for the small-and-midscale commercial sector, including facilitating the use of commercial property assessed clean energy.
- illu (Sunnyvale, California): This team is building a mobile and desktop tool for operations and maintenance workflow management that will assist field technicians and simplify distributed solar maintenance.
- KiloNewton (Albuquerque, New Mexico): This team is developing geospatial software to optimally site utility-scale solar and avoid challenging terrain, helping to avoid costly discoveries that can come in later stages of project development.
- Midday Tech (San Francisco, California): This team is building a platform to connect consumers who purchase voluntary carbon offsets with high-impact rooftop solar projects in underserved communities. (JEDI Contest winner)
- Nimbus AI (Honolulu, Hawaii): This team is creating day-ahead probabilistic solar irradiance forecasts leveraging recent advances in satellite imagery and advanced machine learning algorithms.
- Sandbox Solar (Fort Collins, Colorado): This team is building software to help design agrivoltaic projects, with a focus on simulating the microclimates under solar modules and predicting crop growth yields.
- SolarGrade (Carlsbad, California): This team is building a workflow management platform to facilitate inspection, operations, and maintenance of PV systems leveraging field technician inputs and data analytics.
- Solar Stewards Marketplace (Atlanta, Georgia): This team is creating a marketplace for a new type of renewable energy credit (REC), a social REC, that allows corporate purchasers to buy RECs produced in underserved communities, aligning better with their corporate missions. (JEDI Contest winner)
- The Solar Equity Team (Boston, Massachusetts): This team is developing a platform that connects larger installations that have surplus solar generation with nonprofits and underserved consumers to enable an easy peer-to-peer credit sharing transaction. (JEDI Contest winner)
The 20 finalists will present their technologies one last time at Go! Demo Day this September. Ultimately, only two teams in each track will win the final prize, each receiving even larger cash prizes and support vouchers to help them bring their technology to market. The Pitch Showcase will take place at RE+ in Anaheim on Sept. 20 from 2 to 3:30 p.m. in the Grid Edge Theater. By pitching their technologies to the solar industry, these final teams compete for part of a $1.4 million prize. The winner will be announced on Sept. 20 from 5 to 6 p.m.
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