With the 2012 Summer Olympic Games just around the corner, I am reminded of how Americans always aim for the top. We rise to the challenges we face, especially when competing on the global stage.
In the highly competitive global race for solar energy leadership, the United States cannot settle for second place. Globally, the clean energy industry generates hundreds of billions of dollars in economic activity, and is expected to continue to grow rapidly in the coming years. There is tremendous economic opportunity for the countries that invent, manufacture, and export clean energy technologies. We must rise to the challenge. We must play to win.
That’s why the SunShot Initiative recently supported America’s best and brightest entrepreneurs and innovators with a nearly $8 million investment in the SunShot Incubator program. Through this sixth Incubator funding round, the Energy Department is enabling nine startups to combine novel ideas, cutting edge technology, and American ingenuity to reduce costs beyond the solar panel itself.
These non-hardware, or “soft,” costs can make up as much as half of the total price of a solar energy system. Think of them like a pentathlon that includes financing, customer acquisition, permitting, installation, and operations & maintenance expenses. With Germany currently leading all other countries in terms of soft cost reductions, it is time for the United States to develop web-based solutions and streamlined policies that are capable of closing this gap.
One American company playing to win is Urban Glue. This solar start-up is developing an automated process that uses remote sensing data to assess every rooftop in a city for its solar suitability. Another new Incubator company, Distributed Energy Research & Solutions, is developing a consumer-friendly, web-based reverse auction platform that allows families to solicit, receive, and evaluate bids for solar energy systems.
These rising stars must pass numerous stage-gate reviews to graduate from the Incubator program in 2-3 years. The bar has been set high. For example, 2009 Incubator awardee TetraSun successfully met 21 deliverables, tripled the size of its company, and built a pilot manufacturing line for producing high-efficiency solar cells with an innovative low-cost method.
In the race for solar’s next game-changing idea, SunShot Incubators always lead the pack. We look forward to seeing how these small businesses will compete on the global stage over the coming years. Cue the ubiquitous U-S-A chant!