The 2022 Solar Manufacturing Incubator Funding Opportunity, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO), seeks to develop next-generation solar technologies and strengthen American solar manufacturing. To do so, the prize helps accelerate the commercialization of innovative product ideas that enable continued solar cost reductions, especially in cadmium telluride (CdTe) photovoltaics.
All Innovation Challenges
Undergrounding construction unavoidably disturbs soil at the site, generating excess spoils that must be properly disposed of. These spoils must be handled according to specific requirements and often must be hauled off-site for processing, remediation, or disposal. Moving soils back and forth for processing and disposal between off-site locations that are often far from dig sites requires time and resources that could be spent elsewhere. This process is particularly costly in cases where distrubed soil contains hazardous materials.
Labor required for digging tunnels and trenches, laying conduit and pulling and splicing cables drives the majority of undergrounding costs. While some innovation has been made in these areas, the methods and materials used have remained largely unchanged for years.
The existing process of obtaining the necessary permits, approvals and easements for undergrounding projects is burdensome and time-consuming. Depending on the specifics of the project, the permitting process may extend the overall timeline by over a year. The multi-step document preparation process, manual and iterative nature of stakeholder engagement and lack of standardization of design requirements across agencies and jurisdictions all contribute to the lengthy timelines. Given that all projects require some level of permitting, there is an urgent need to improve the process as benefits will be felt across the entire portfolio of work.
When tunneling does proceed in these areas, the project typically requires a more stringent permitting process with longer lead times or more costly construction methods. While best efforts are made in the design phase to avoid these constraints, in some cases it is not feasible to sufficiently alter route design to avoid these areas and the associated additional costs or extended permitting period.
The technology installed to monitor underground utility infrastructure in most cases is reactive, rudimentary and wholly insufficient to effectively manage a vast network of cables over the course of the asset’s life. These shortcomings result in unnecessary strain on installed cables, as technicians are unable to proactively identify failing cables to prevent faults which cause further deterioration of cable health.
Though significant advances have been made in subsurface mapping technology, existing methods remain unable to provide a highly accurate and comprehensive view of subsurface conditions. Even cutting-edge technologies, such as ground penetrating radar (GPR), that are able to more accurately detect variations in subsurface conditions require significant human effort to interpret results, rendering the technology cost-prohibitive for widespread use.
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.
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