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SunShot Incubator Inspires Solar Energy Visionaries

January 16, 2013 - 12:43pm

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It’s the type of challenge bold pioneers eagerly embrace.

Today, the Energy Department is announcing the availability of more than $12 million to accelerate innovations within the solar industry as part of the latest round of SunShot Incubator. This new funding opportunity challenges solar’s best and brightest to lead groundbreaking advancements across the entire solar spectrum -- from streamlining solar permitting to increasing solar cell efficiency.

The latest round of SunShot Incubator will continue the legacy of transformational solar innovations set by past participants. Projects will focus on two key areas: scaling-up innovations in solar hardware and reducing the non-hardware “soft costs” of solar -- which can account for nearly half the cost of a solar energy system (see chart above for details).

Since it’s launch in 2007, more than 50 American small businesses have participated in SunShot Incubator. The program provides the early-stage support startup companies need to cross technological barriers to commercialization. To date, Incubator participants have attracted more than $1.7 billion in private-sector follow-on funding.

Among the roster of Incubator alums revolutionizing America’s solar energy landscape is Solar Mosaic. Last year, the small startup received a $2 million Incubator grant from the Energy Department to advance innovations in solar financing -- building an online crowdfunding platform for everyday Americans to create and fund solar projects. Now -- after selling out its first publicly available solar projects in less than 24 hours -- the company is making headlines as the groundbreaking “Kickstarter of Solar.”  

On the other end of the spectrum, Incubator awardee Qbotix is taking a novel approach to improving the efficiency of solar power plants. The company uses mobile robots to aim solar modules towards the sun -- adjusting their position throughout the day to maximize energy output. This robotics-based tracking system eliminates the need for hundreds of stationary motors and a substantial portion of steel, cement and other foundational materials -- reducing the cost of operating solar power plants by as much as 20 percent.

With its support for out-of-the-box yet highly-effective approaches to solar innovation, the SunShot Incubator program hints at the possibilities that lie ahead for this rapidly-expanding industry. Through partnerships like the SunShot Incubator, the Energy Department will continue to support those bold enough to seize solar energy's future.

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