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.

solar power australia energy storage
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.

The Incubator is part of the DOE’s SunShot Initiative. Launched in February 2011, the SunShot Initiative funds competitive research to help make solar energy cost competitive with other forms of energy by the end of the decade.

Cali Solar Solar Cells
image via NREL

“Investments in American energy and manufacturing are critical building blocks for an American economy built to last,” Secretary Chu said in a statement. “The SunShot Incubator program fosters the innovative small businesses that will rapidly bring technological advances to market and pioneer a new era in American energy.”

Applications for the SunShot Incubator are due byApril 9. For more information and application requirements for the Funding Opportunity Announcement, visit the Funding Opportunity Exchange website.

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