NREL PV Incubator Program Cracks The Whip

In 2007 the U.S.  Department of Energy (DOE)  and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) Introduced the PV Technology Incubator program. The name may sound warm and nurturing, but  there is nothing cute and fuzzy about the program’s administration. The U.S. government is spending millions of tax-payer dollars on the development of solar energy technologies and, based on NREL’s recent statement, they want you to know that the money dished out through the PV Incubator program is being wisely spent.

The PV Incubator program is one of several efforts that supports the DOE’s SunShot Initiative. PV Incubator will provide $1million to $4 million subcontracts to companies that need help moving their ideas from the concept phase to the pilot phase or from the pilot stage to the manufacturing stage. Unlike the days of yore when venture capitalists were ready to throw money at anything that was loosely related to the word ‘solar’,  would-be investors are now reluctant to shell out dollars unless a company and their idea already has legs. PV Incubator offers one such way for new companies to research and develop their idea and make it an attractive option to venture capitalists.

Cali Solar Solar Cells

image via NREL

NREL’s Martha Symko-Davies is the architect of the Incubator program and she’s not messing around. First off, applicants need to have a seriously groundbreaking, game-changing idea in order to be considered- something that revolutionizes solar cell efficiency or cuts manufacturing time in half, for example.  Next, applicants work with NREL to draw up a written commitment  with hard, specific goals. If they don’t meet their goals they get booted from the program and don’t receive the second half of the Incubator funds.

it’s not all cast-iron fisted management, though. Applicants that honor their commitments get a big benefit by way of R&D assistance from some of NREL’s most experienced minds. Those that  move on often attract major attention from venture capitalists that might not have otherwise glanced their direction.

“We’re in your face,” Symko-Davies said. “If you don’t want to accept NREL as your partner, don’t apply. But we’ll help enable U.S. manufacturing quickly and reliably.”