Technology to Market 2: Incubator 11, SolarMat 4 (T2M2)

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The Technology to Market 2 funding program supports the development of tools, technologies, and services that will significantly reduce the costs for solar energy systems across all technology areas. Projects focus on a wide variety of topics including photovoltaics, concentrating solar power, and power electronics, as well as soft costs such as customer acquisition, permitting, financing, interconnection, and inspection. This funding program demonstrates SunShot’s leadership in supporting innovative and disruptive, business-centric solutions to address the solar community’s most pressing needs.

Projects under Technology to Market 2 were launched on September 14, 2016. Read the press release

Approach

This funding program targets for-profit entities, as they are the most efficient means of directly impacting the solar energy market and the most critical players in determining of the cost of solar energy. By leveraging America’s entrepreneurs and businesses, SunShot helps to ensure that new products and business models have the best chance at having a positive impact on reducing the cost of solar energy.

Objectives

The Technology to Market program aims to develop and de-risk solar technologies so that they can rapidly enter the solar energy market or reach new levels of commercialization. This is also SunShot’s marquee program focusing on solar hardware manufacturing, supporting innovative process development and scale-up activities for solar manufacturing in the United States. The solutions developed by awardees—from early-stage prototyping to manufacturing scale-up--aim to aid in achieving ubiquitous, low-cost solar energy throughout the country, while providing a clear path for these highly impactful technologies and solutions to reach market success.

Awardees

ABB Inc.

Location: Raleigh, NC
SunShot Award Amount: $500,000
Awardee Cost Share: $140,820
Project Summary: This project aims to develop an early-stage, functional prototype inverter, with appropriate control and modulation schemes to validate performance and eliminate technology risks. The proposed photovoltaic (PV) inverter topology uses a low-cost, reliable, and efficient thyristor, which replaces six active switches, typically insulated-gate bipolar transistors, and eliminates the bulky DC bus capacitor and the output AC line filter. In power semiconductor switches, passive components, and their supporting structures account for a majority of the cost in a typical converter. This topology would allow a significant cost reduction potential.

Amicus Solar Cooperative

Location: Boulder, CO
SunShot Award Amount: $358,013
Awardee Cost Share: $96,102
Project Summary: This project creates a nationwide network of solar operations and maintenance (O&M) professionals sharing a common infrastructure, which will lead to greater service coverage and standardized rates. Applying the cooperative business model to this market sector will address current market gaps by providing streamlined, cost-effective O&M services to ensure that commercial and industrial solar photovoltaic (PV) systems fulfill their performance expectations over the short and long term, which will help the solar PV market to mature.

Crystal Solar Inc.

Location: Santa Clara, CA
SunShot Award Amount: $3,000,000
Awardee Cost Share: $3,916,240
Project Summary: Crystal Solar has a unique process of fabricating monocrystalline silicon wafers using an epitaxial deposition process that leads to high-quality kerfless wafers. In addition, the Epi deposition process allows Crystal Solar to deposit built-in junctions and surface fields in the wafers, which reduces downstream cost-in-cell processing. The project focuses on improving the base substrate reuses and process yield to lower the cost of epitaxial wafers through automation of the pilot process line. Additionally, high-efficiency cells will be fabricated to demonstrate the readiness of the epitaxial substrate with traditional solar cell processing.

EnergyBin, LLC

Location: Rochester, MN
SunShot Award Amount: $700,000
Awardee Cost Share: $754,577
Project Summary: EnergyBin will create an online marketplace for overstock and hard-to-find components in the solar industry, reducing project construction and maintenance costs while providing a means by which decommissioned materials can be reused. This members-only platform will provide a place for engineering, procurement, construction, manufacturers, distributors, and other firms to sell overstock that would otherwise sit in storage facilities, and to provide these companies with discounted, warrantied solar project components from vetted, reputable sources. In addition, the platform will also have the ability to supply operating projects with replacement parts that are otherwise unavailable or have extended delivery times.

Ethical Electric

Location: Washington, DC
SunShot Award Amount: $1,250,000
Awardee Cost Share: $1,648,525
Project Summary: This project builds a platform to enable the sale of community solar at a significantly lower cost per acquisition than comparable residential solar sales. Ethical Electric will be the first competitive retail electric provider in deregulated states to offer community solar—creating the customer acquisition, finance, and development tools needed to offer solar as a subscription at scale. This project will generate the demand for community solar and a method to deliver it at scale, dramatically increasing the availability and cost-effectiveness of community solar projects.

Genbright

Location: Hingham, MA
SunShot Award Amount: $799,287
Awardee Cost Share: $984,487
Project Summary: This project creates a commercial platform to integrate distributed energy resources (DERs), including solar, into markets as a means to increase the potential penetration rate and decrease soft costs. The software platform will facilitate this market access through a combination of open source data repositories and enhancements to existing DER asset management software. Finally, through this project, Genbright will demonstrate both the technical capability of the platform on a small scale of diverse DERs and the commercial potential to expand to a much larger portfolio of DERs.

Interplay Learning

Location: Del Mar, CA
SunShot Award Amount: $1,250,000
Awardee Cost Share: $1,250,000
Project Summary: This project develops the first 3D, interactive, training simulation tool for solar installers and employees. Through this training platform, installers will improve quality control, reduce construction costs from mistakes, and provide a better experience for their employees. These gaming-quality simulations immerse the trainee in a life-like learning environment and are supported by an intelligent system of learning that is both scalable and practical in application.

Kevala, Inc.

Location: San Francisco, CA
SunShot Award Amount: $1,762,968
Awardee Cost Share: $2,264,724
Project Summary: This project is developing a platform for solar energy system developers that uses sophisticated analytics and detailed local distribution systems data to help reveal where demand and grid value for solar and solar-plus-storage are most beneficial. The tool can also help at the regulator and commission level by increasing transparency and facilitating long-term planning activities. This new software lowers financial risk by providing transparency into the current and future value of projects based on their location.

Operant Solar

Location: Santa Rosa, CA
SunShot Award Amount: $385,998
Awardee Cost Share: $97,000
Project Summary: This project develops a new concept in photovoltaic system communications to help third party system operators better manage their active projects. This independently operating communications solution provides system operators with in-depth information on system performance and enables them to maintain active contact with residential end-user sites, helping to lower costs and ensure reliable access to system production data.

Pika Energy, Inc.

Location: Westbrook, ME
SunShot Award Amount: $875,000
Awardee Cost Share: $245,000
Project Summary: This project adds new hardware and software features to an existing inverter that will enable demand response, aggregation, and other grid services aimed at evolving the U.S. electricity grid. This will allow utilities to remotely dispatch distributed energy systems in periods of peaking demand. The prototype under development will demonstrate the full grid-benefitting capabilities of Pika Energy’s DC nanogrid approach. The new features will attract additional commercial partners, accelerate commercialization, and drive the continued growth of photovoltaic (PV) adoption.

PowerScout

Location: San Francisco, CA
SunShot Award Amount: $1,000,000
Awardee Cost Share: $1,000,000
Project Summary: This project develops a direct-to-consumer eCommerce platform called the PowerScout Community Solar Marketplace that aggregates tens of thousands of residential customers and connects them with high quality community solar projects, accelerating the maturation of a very fragmented market. The platform under development will reduce the barriers to deploying community solar to households ineligible for rooftop solar, representing the largest untapped market in distributed energy. It will also significantly reduce customer acquisition costs while expanding availability and community solar product options for consumers.

GridUnity (Formerly Qado Energy)

Location: Summit, NJ
SunShot Award Amount: $700,000
Awardee Cost Share: $700,000
Project Summary: This project enables large utilities to conduct rapid forecasting and planning of distributed energy resource (DER) deployment combinations through the use of hybrid distribution/transmission models. The rapid addition of distributed generation creates concerns among utilities and regional transmission operators about impacts on transmission. The development of transmission impact functionality will drive down interconnection times of large commercial and small utility projects, which are known for their lengthy queues.

SolarWorld Americas Inc.

Location: Hillsboro, OR
SunShot Award Amount: $486,432
Awardee Cost Share: $486,432
Project Summary: This project integrates all major solar components – the module, inverter, and racking – into a single unit. This new product will utilize laminates by placing them in a platform rather than in the typical aluminum frame. This project could open up photovoltaic (PV) installation to new market segments and truly enable do-it-yourself solar.

Soliculture

Location: Scotts Valley, CA
SunShot Award Amount: $399,981
Awardee Cost Share: $100,000
Project Summary: This project develops a white backsheet for silicon photovoltaic (PV) modules that solves fundamental problems with current backsheets. This new technology removes tie layers, which are known to cause reliability problems, and replaces a polyester film that can recrystallize at certain temperatures.

Solar Dynamics LLC

Location: Broomfield, CO
SunShot Award Amount: $799,981
Awardee Cost Share: $199,995
Project Summary: This project will develop a new kind of concentrating solar power (CSP) system that can be used in place of peaking natural gas power plants. A new molten-salt tower peaker concept is being developed that can provide the same capacity and ancillary benefits and is designed for rapid deployment. This new design allows flexible dispatch of solar power so electricity can be generated when it is needed by utilities. The low cost and efficient thermal energy storage inherent in molten-salt tower technology allows a complete separation of the collection of solar energy from when power is generated.

Sunfolding, Inc

Location: San Francisco, CA
SunShot Award Amount: $2,000,000
Awardee Cost Share: $2,000,000
Project Summary: This project is further developing a modular, single-axis tracker system powered by air pressure in polymer bellows that has the flexibility and installation simplicity of a fixed-tilt system. The key is a distributed, mass-manufactured drive system with shared control. This tracking system opens up new opportunities to significantly reduce component costs, improve efficiencies in construction and site design, and improve long-term reliability for all tracking solar projects. This project will build upon the demonstrated technical successes by applying advanced U.S. manufacturing and automated assembly techniques to achieve significant cost reductions.

Suniva Inc.

Location: Norcross, GA
SunShot Award Amount: $1,997,828
Awardee Cost Share: $1,997,828
Project Summary: Suniva is developing an advanced passivated emitter rear cell (PERC) structure that utilizes an aluminum grid on the back side instead of a conventional full-area aluminum structure. These bifacial cells will have lower stress and thus can be thinned down to save on silicon material costs. In addition, performance improvements are proposed that would lead to much finer silver gridlines to improve cell and module efficiency. These enhancements in the cell performance can feed directly into Suniva’s high-volume manufacturing line.

Ultrasonic Technologies

Location: Wesley Chapel, FL
SunShot Award Amount: $582,469
Awardee Cost Share: $147,000
Project Summary: This project is developing a metrology tool that will lead to higher reliability of diamond wires, which will increase yield and result in better utilization of the wire. It will also improve the quality control process during manufacturing of the diamond wires. This will lead to a lower cost of ownership for diamond wires, which are used during the wafering process of silicon and are becoming an increasing share in the wire saw market.

WattGlass, LLC

Location: Fayetteville, AR
SunShot Award Amount: $679,413
Awardee Cost Share: $169,853
Project Summary: This project is further developing an antireflective coating for the top glass of solar modules. The coating has a refractive index closer to that of glass, leading to higher transmission and higher module power. This project allows WattGlass to test the coating on panels from a number of manufacturers in order to gauge wattage improvements achieved over competing coatings. Modules with the coating will be tested in various regions to evaluate increases in panel performance due to the antireflective coating and reductions in soiling rate due to the superhydrophilic nature of the coating.

Sunpreme, Inc.

Location: Sunnyvale, CA
SunShot Award Amount: $4,993,823
Awardee Cost Share: $6,976,508
Project Summary: This project is developing an advanced manufacturing toolset and process technology for low-cost copper metallization of high-efficiency heterojunction solar cells and glass-glass bifacial modules. While copper electrodes are well-known to be the best option for high-performance solar cells, very few are made with copper due to the complex and costly process needed to pattern it. This project adapts technologies from the ultra-cost-sensitive printed circuit board industry and modifies them for processing solar cells with higher throughput.

Tessolar Inc.

Location: Cambridge, MA
SunShot Award Amount: $858,564
Awardee Cost Share: $428,200
Project Summary: This project is developing a commercially relevant integrated module-plus-mounting hardware system, which is a radically new approach to making solar modules. This alternative module assembly process enables the use of advanced materials and processes to increase the energy output and decrease the installed cost of the solar power system. The resulting module will be 20-30% lighter in weight compared to conventional modules and could have a wider available market.

EdgePower Inc.

Location: Aspen, CO
SunShot Award Amount: $999,922
Awardee Cost Share: $249,980
Project Summary: This project allows EdgePower to enhance its building energy management technology that integrates solar forecasting and load control tools by adding battery storage control capabilities. The prototype under development will establish standardized communication protocols between the building energy load gateway, the PV system, the energy storage system, and the solar forecast server. The integration of battery storage control capabilities will allow facilities with commercial solar to reduce their demand charges, making solar energy a more affordable option for businesses.

Nevados Engineering

Location: San Francisco, CA
SunShot Award Amount: $1,999,644
Awardee Cost Share: $1,999,644
Project Summary: This project is working to optimize Nevados’ horizontal single-axis tracker design for full-scale manufacturing. The technology helps solar developers build commercial solar projects on lands that are raised and uneven and would typically not be considered for solar development. This creates more site options and eliminates major construction costs. This project will update the product design in an effort to find cost-cutting opportunities and further testing will be conducted to demonstrate the reliability and robustness of the single axis tracker design.

Learn more about SunShot's other technology to market funding programs.