Open Innovation Challenges

American-Made Solar Prize

Open Challenge: American-Made Solar Prize Round 5

American-Made Solar Prize

Problem

The competition has three progressive stages and two separate tracks. 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.

Desired properties

You should have a disruptive solution targeting a critical problem in solar hardware components or software technologies. Entrepreneurial individuals or teams as well as researchers in academic or industrial settings should apply. Individual prize competitors must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, while those competing on teams may contribute as long as they legally work in the U.S.

Specifications

Background

Compared to other renewable energy sources, solar energy has advantages like cheaper upfront cost, looser siting requirements, few moving parts in the assembly, and minimal O&M cost. Overall U.S. solar PV capacity surpassed 100 GW in the first quarter of 2021, growth that amounted to a full doubling of the industry in the last 3.5 years. The Solar Energy Industries Association predicts that the country will add another 160 GW of solar capacity over the next five years. However, there are numerous obstacles facing the solar industry, such as solar power value deflation, grid reliability disruption, and supply chain constraints. Innovation is the key to surmount these challenges. To incentivize and fund solar innovations targeting different aspects of the value chain,  the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) initiated the American-Made Solar Prize competition.

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.

 

Hardware Track

If your solar innovation relates to physical components, manufacturing, or a producible product, compete on the Hardware Track.

Possible Approaches

All innovations that are relevant to the solar industry are eligible to apply. Some example topics are:

  • Cell/Modules
    • A more efficient solar cell/module, including those with unique integration properties (e.g. BIPV / roof tile) and/or new physical characteristics (flexible substrate, larger area panelization, etc.) 
    • An innovative solar cell backsheet, encapsulant or frame material
  • Balance of System
    • A novel racking and installation material, method or design
    • An innovative design for power electronics, including inverters, micro-inverters, and optimizers
  • Capital Equipment/Manufacturing
    • A more streamlined and automated solar manufacturing process, including both individual pieces of capital equipment offering significant capex / cost / performance improvement, as well as turnkey line designs
  •  
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Structure and Timeline

The competition consists of three progressive stages: Ready!, Set!, and Go!.

  • After all the submissions are reviewed by judges, up to 20 competitors will be selected as winners of the Ready! contest. Each winner will be awarded $50,000 and advance their solutions into the Set! Stage to refine them into viable proof of concepts.
  • Up to 10 winners will be selected from the Set! Contest, and each winner will be awarded a $100,000 cash prize and $75,000 in vouchers, which can be used to pay for product development, testing, and validation services at national laboratories and other facilities in the network. Winners at this stage will advance into the final Go! Contest to transform their proof-of-concepts into prototypes and perform pilot tests.
  • Two winners will be selected during the Go! Contest. Each winner will be awarded a $500,000 cash prize and $75,000 in vouchers.
DateEventNumber of WinnersPrizes
June 10, 2021Round 5 launch
Oct. 5, 2021Ready! submission deadline
Anticipated Dec. 2021Ready! winners announced Up to 20$50,000 cash prize per
winner
Anticipated April 2022Set! submission deadline
Anticipated April 2022Set! winners announced Up to 10$100,000 cash prize and
$75,000 in vouchers per
winner
Anticipated September 2022Go! submission deadline
Anticipated September 2022Go! winners announced 2$500,000 cash prize and
$75,000 in vouchers per
winner

Software Track

If your solar innovation relates to communications, computation, data systems, information technology, or business models with a software focus, compete on the Software Track.

Possible Approaches

  • Grid Integration
    • A software solution to securely integrate PV systems to the grid 
  • System design software
  • Artificial intelligence and machine learning
    • A software solution that optimizes rooftops for ideal solar panel size and placement or calculates costs, savings, and return on investment. 
  • Solar project financing
    • A novel financial or risk management product directly applicable to US solar projects
  • Other
    • A new approach to operations & maintenance and/or portfolio management

 

Structure and Timeline

Like the Hardware Track, the Software Track consists of the same three progressive stages: Ready!, Set!, and Go!.

  • Up to 20 competitors will be selected as winners of the Ready! contest. Each winner will be awarded $30,000 and advance their solutions into the Set! Stage, where they must form a business.
  • Set! competitors must demonstrate their software solution solves an issue in the solar space and attracts market demand. A panel of reviewers makes assessments during a national demo day where participants showcase their software solutions. Up to 10 winners will be selected from the Set! Contest, and each winner will be awarded $60,000 in cash.
  • Two winners will be selected during the Go! Contest. Each winner will be awarded a $200,000 cash prize and $50,000 in vouchers redeemable at national laboratories.
DateEventNumber of WinnersPrizes
June 10, 2021Round 5 launch
Oct. 5, 2021Ready! submission deadline
Anticipated Dec. 2021Ready! winners announced Up to 20$30,000 cash prize per
winner
Anticipated April 2022Set! submission deadline
Anticipated April 2022Set! winners announced Up to 10$600,000 cash prize per
winner
Anticipated September 2022Go! submission deadline
Anticipated September 2022Go! winners announced 2$200,000 cash prize and
$50,000 in vouchers per
winner

Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) Contest for Software Track Participants

The JEDI contest within the Round 5 Software Track encourages competitors to pursue innovations that increase solar deployment in underserved communities. Millions of Americans lack access to the capital necessary for upfront solar costs, do not qualify for solar PV tax breaks, or struggle with other obstacles that hinder their access to solar power. Software and business model tools can help reduce these access barriers, and the JEDI Contest revolves around four key areas: opportunity space, solution development, market impact, and network activation.

Alongside the standard Ready!, Set!, and Go! Contests, participants can also compete in the JEDI Contest, which awards the prizes shown below. The $100,000 cash prize allotment per contest is distributed among JEDI Contest winners in that round. Note that in the Go! Contest, a JEDI Contest winner is selected from the pool of Go! Contest competitors. A Go! Contest competitor may win the JEDI Contest without winning the Go! Contest. 

EventJEDI Contest WinnersPrize
Ready!Up to 10 Ready! semifinalists$10,000 to $30,000 cash per winner
Set! Up to 5 Set! finalists$20,000 to $60,000 cash per winner
Go!Up to 1 Go! Competitor$100,000 cash per winner

How to Apply

Follow these simple steps to apply for Ready!, the first stage of the contest.

  1. Make a 90-second video describing your innovation for the solar hardware industry.
  2. Complete a cover page (submission template)
  3. Answer a four-question narrative and put together one slide summarizing your challenge and solution.
  4. Write up a technical assistance summary describing what kind of support you hope to receive from industry experts.
  5. Optional: Attach one-page letters of support, intent, or commitment from relevant partners or potential users of your innovation to supply context and evidence
  6. Upload all the aforementioned materials as PDFs to the application portal.

 

If you need guidance on the formats and contents of the application materials, please refer to previous competitors’ submissions for Round 4 here.

More information about the contest can be found on the official American-Made Solar Prize rules documents for the Hardware Track and Software Track. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to us.

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American-Made Solar Prize

Opportunity
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.