Rounds 1 through 4 of the Solar Prize sought to energize innovation in solar manufacturing and hardware. This year, Solar Prize Round 5 includes two separate tracks for hardware and software. Both the Hardware Track and Software Track follow the same three-contest structure but participants will compete for separate prizes.
All Innovation Challenges
The American-Made Geothermal Lithium Extraction Prize, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Geothermal Technologies Office (GTO), is designed to de-risk and increase market viability for direct lithium extraction from geothermal brines. The prize does this by incentivizing the development of technologies to improve the current state-of-the-art of direct lithium extraction in ways that lower cost.
America’s 119 million homes and 5.6 million commercial buildings account for approximately 40% of the nation’s total energy demand and use 75% of its electricity for a total energy bill of more than $410 billion annually.
As system hardening focuses on updating overhead lines and equipment, PG&E has to consider over 30,000 line-miles of transmission and distribution assets in High Fire-Threat Districts in its operation. Industry-wide adoption of lighter, stronger, and/or more heat-resistant infrastructure has been limited by cost, availability and longevity.
As vegetation contact can be a major driver of wildfire ignitions, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) requires specific clearances around power lines. By making current advanced practices of onsite vegetation management more efficient, utilities can reduce risk on the many thousands of line-miles in High Fire-Threat Districts.
PG&E operates over 30,000 line-miles of Transmission & Distribution (T&D) assets in High Fire-Threat Districts (HFTD). Current state-of-the-art technologies to detect faults in real-time and prevent ignition from these faults can reduce risk, but remain expensive, slow to install, and require tuning and maintenance to be effective.
Undergrounding distribution power lines eliminates almost all risk of infrastructure-caused wildfire ignitions; however, the process can be costly, slow, and bounded by physical limitations and irregular terrain. While these constraints have limited the extent of undergrounding in the utility sector, efforts to bring conduit at or below grade could be accelerated if the process could be faster and less costly.
The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs are competitive funding opportunities provided by the Department of Energy to encourage U.S.-based small businesses to engage in high-risk, innovative research and technology development with the potential for future commercialization. Through SBIR/STTR, small businesses can receive up to $200,000 to engage in high-risk, innovative research and development with the potential for commercialization. Successful awardees can then receive up to $1.1 million for prototype development.
The competition has three progressive stages. Winners of each stage will be awarded cash prizes and support from national laboratories, startup accelerators, investors, manufacturers and other industry leaders who are part of the American-Made Solar Network. Details of the competition are outlined below.
Who Should Apply
Entrepreneurial individuals or teams as well as researchers in academic or industrial settings who are based or legally residing in the U.S. and have disruptive solutions targeting critical problems in the solar industry.
Woody Biomass is today an underutilized resource for reuse in other products, especially in the case of biomass considered “non-merchantable.” Finding novel ways to increase the value of products created from woody biomass, or, reduce the cost and/or increase the safety of woody biomass collection could benefit utilities, landowners, and communities and citizens across California.
Optimize for the highest value per mmBTU
High-value products, either for energy production or non-energy purposes
PG&E alone trims and removes more than 1 million trees near its wires across its territory each year to mitigate wildfire risk, and as many as 15 million acres of California forests need some form of restoration. Finding novel ways to reduce the cost and/or increase the safety of woody biomass collection could benefit utilities, landowners, and communities and citizens across California.
Supports a cost of collection cost of under $15 per Bone Dry Ton
Enables moisture reduction on location or reduces the amount of pretreatment drying needed if sent to a gasifier
Transportation of woody biomass from a collection site to either a concentration/feedstock yard or to a conversion facility accounts for roughly 25% to 50% of the total delivered cost. Densification and moisture reduction can be important in reducing transportation costs, and most existing densification technologies are prohibitively expensive.
Increases bulk density of woody biomass for transportation
Delivered cost below $5/mmBTU to a location roughly 50 miles away
Reduces moisture content to below 15%
Until today, the vast majority of building construction has utilized foam plastics (i.e. EPS and XPS) or mineral wool for thermal insulation.
Commercially available in 3 to 5 years
Produced from biological / natural processes
The service life of architectural coatings significantly impacts building maintenance costs.
Cost does not exceed that of currently available top-quality coatings (i.e. $0.30 per square foot)
The practice of utilizing multiple layers of sheathing in wall assemblies to achieve required levels of fire resistance is costly, and in fact it provides the bare minimum amount of protection in the event of a growing fire.
Enhanced sheathing provides air and moisture barrier functionality
Water drainage capacity
Multiple components are generally needed to perform all the “barrier” jobs necessary (air, water, vapor, fire, sound, and thermal).
Materials that provide superior properties such as structural support and wind load resistance
Innovative wall assemblies that take advantage of prefabrication and modular construction