Advancing Solar Power Through Photovoltaic Technology Innovations

In the coming weeks, we will introduce some of the innovative people and technologies in our Solar Photovoltaic (PV) Technology Incubator program, a key part of the SunShot Initiative. To kickoff this series, I want to share a great piece on a PV Technology Incubator program from the March 22 issue of the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) News.

"The stale and the satisfied need not apply for the $1 million to $4 million subcontracts awarded through an aggressive photovoltaics (PV) incubator program prodding entrepreneurs to help the United States reach the Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative goal of lowering the cost of utility-scale installations by about 75 percent to roughly $1 per watt by 2020…

"The Department has provided $50 million to small businesses under the PV Technology Incubator program, which started in 2007. The businesses in turn have created more than 1,000 jobs in the United States and have the potential to raise solar-energy capacity in the United States from hundreds of megawatts to thousands of megawatts.

"To date, 20 small businesses have been awarded PV Technology Incubator subcontracts, with the Department’s Solar Energy Technologies Program investing about $3 million per company.

"The returns on taxpayer dollars have been amazing, said NREL’s Martha Symko-Davies, the architect behind the PV Incubator program. The private sector subsequently has invested about $1.3 billion in the companies selected for the PV Incubator program, she said. ‘It is even more impressive considering the recent difficult economic times faced by venture capitalists, making them much more selective about funding start-ups,’ she said. The $1.3 billion ‘provides clear evidence of the commercial value of these differentiated PV technologies.’

The project represents a significant partnering with U.S. industry to help speed commercialization of PV research and development in the United States to meet the goals of the Department’s SunShot Initiative. ‘The object is to scale up capacity from prototypes to pilot scale in just 18 months,’ Symko-Davies said. ‘We target hard deliverables, firm-fixed price subcontracting. We want to make sure taxpayer money is well-utilized.’"

The piece goes on to describe the key factors that make the program so successful:

Companies must prove their technology works, by passing a "Stage Gate review" within nine months or they lose their funding.

Companies get access to NREL’s facilities and experts.

Companies must enter the program with a tough list of specific goals and stick to their plan.

"NREL’s Keith Emery, who is the manager of the Cell and Modular Performance team, oversees the testing of the PV Incubator technologies."

"Without the PV Incubator program, ‘there would be no place where well-thought-out innovative ideas could be funded,’ Emery said. ‘We look for innovative ideas that aren’t ready for prime time, that aren’t ready for current manufacturing and are a little too high-risk for the venture capital community.’"

By David Moore, Energy Technology Program Specialist in the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy,