Solar Innovators Grow In SunShot Incubator

After receiving a $3 million award from the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot Incubator program in 2007, Colorado-based thin-film manufacturer PrimeStar commercialized thin-film photovoltaic (PV) panels based on technology pioneered by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). Last year, the company was acquired by GE, which now plans to construct a large-scale manufacturing plant in Colorado that will employ more than 350 workers. The company is a shining example of what the DOE hopes to see its incubator program accomplish as it moves forward with continued investments in solar energy.

Since 2007, DOE has invested $60 million in startups and solar-focused units in existing companies through the Incubator to help shepherd promising technologies “from the lab to the marketplace.” According to the DOE, these investments have spurred $1.6 billion in private sector investment—a rate of more than 26-to-1. And now Energy Secretary Steven Chu has just announced another $12 million round of funding for the SunShot Incubator. The funding will support American innovation in solar energy through advancements in hardware, reductions in soft costs and the development of pilot manufacturing and production projects, DOE said.

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image via National Renewable Energy Lab

To date, nearly 40 companies have participated in the Incubator—including gallium-arsenide solar cell manufacturer Semprius, concentrating PV (CPV) manufacturer SolFocus; and thin-film PV manufacturers Stion and Solexant— to name just a few. The entire list of past awardees can be found here.

The new Incubator funding will support innovations in hardware components such as advances in PV, concentrating solar power (CSP) and power electronics. It will also support technologies that address some of the “soft costs” associated with the development of solar energy systems, such as streamlined permitting, inspection and financing solutions; and innovations that serve to shorten the transition from lab-scale prototype to pilot to, eventually, full-scale manufacturing, production, and deployment. Each of the awards will require significant cost-share commitments from the awardees.

Lauren Craig is a writer and consultant living in Seattle, WA. She holds an M.S. in International Development from Tulane University, and is co-founder of Sustainable Systems Integrators, LLC., an employee-owned solar energy design and installation firm in New Orleans, LA. She is also certified in PV design and installation by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP).