Open Innovation Challenges

American-Made Solar Prize

Open Challenge: SBIR/STTR Funding Opportunity

American-Made Solar Prize


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. 

See the full list of solar topics funded by the programs below.

Desired properties

To be eligible for the SBIR/STTR funding, a small business must meet the following requirements: 

  • Company must be for profit, U.S. owned/operated, and under 500 people 
  • Work must be done in the U.S. 
  • Focus is on performing R&D – Not purchasing equipment, commercializing a technology that has already been developed, or one that has very low risk and only needs capital

For STTR, the partnering nonprofit research institution must also meet certain eligibility criteria:

  • Located in the US
  • Meet one of three definitions:
    • Nonprofit college or university
    • Domestic nonprofit research organization
    • Federally funded R&D center (FFRDC)

See the Eligibility Guide for more detailed information.



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. By the end of September 2019, the US had deployed over 2 million solar PV systems, totaling about 71,300 MW of solar capacity, making the U.S. the second largest solar PV installer in the world. 

However, there are numerous obstacles facing the solar industry, such as solar power value deflation and grid reliability disruption. Innovation is the key to surmount these challenges. To encourage the U.S.-based small solar businesses to engage in high-risk, innovative research and technology development, the Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) provides SBIR/STTR funding opportunities to a wide variety of solar technology topics.

Funded Solar Topics

  • Floating Solar-Powered Aeration Systems
    • This topic seeks innovations that can advance the application of floating solar-powered aeration systems (FSAS) to improve water quality. 
  • Solar Systems Resilient to Weather-related or Cyber Threats
    • This topic seeks innovative proposals to improve the ability of solar assets or electronic devices associated with solar energy generation (such as inverters, direct current (DC)-DC optimizers, and smart meters) and systems to quickly recover in response to weather-related or cyber threats.
  • Innovation in Solar Aesthetics for Residential Photovoltaic Systems
    • This topic solicits proposals for technologies that improve the aesthetic appeal of photovoltaic systems for use in residential applications.
  • Commercial and Industrial Solar Systems
    • This topic solicits applications for innovative technologies that can reduce the installed cost of commercial and industrial (C&I) solar systems, improve their energy yield, facilitate their installation and grid interconnection, and enable additional value streams from them.
  • Agricultural Solar Systems
    • This topic seeks proposals for innovative technologies that can reduce the installed cost of streams from agricultural solar systems, improve the systems’ energy yield, facilitate their installation and grid interconnection, and enable additional value. Of particular interest are new system designs and technologies that optimize solar and agriculture production, which may include novel mounting and racking designs or site configurations.
  • Components for Gen3 CSP Thermal Transport Systems
    • In support of DOE’s Energy Storage Grand Challenge, this topic seeks proposals for the design of components for the next generation of Concentrating Solar-Thermal Power (CSP) generation technologies.
  • Affordability, Reliability, and Performance of Solar Technologies
    • This topic solicits proposals for solutions that can advance solar energy technologies by lowering cost and facilitate the secure integration into the Nation’s energy grid. Applications must fall within one of these areas: advanced solar systems integration technologies, concentrating solar thermal power technologies, or photovoltaic technologies.


There are also two Technology Transfer Opportunities – a unique subtopic designed to transfer a specific development patented by a DOE national laboratory or university to a small business for commercialization.


  • TECHNOLOGY TRANSFER OPPORTUNITY: Method for Mechanical Load Testing of Photovoltaic Modules with Concurrently Applied Stressors and Diagnostic Methods
    • This is a Technology Transfer Opportunity for a non-exclusive license to commercialize a newly developed and PV module testing platform that allows for simultaneous application of multiple stress factors of the natural environment.
  • TECHNOLOGY TRANSFER OPPORTUNITY: Nanocomposite Barrier Films for Photovoltaic Applications
      • This Technology Transfer Opportunity solicits interested companies to license a newly developed and patented thin film coating that can be used as an encapsulant for photovoltaic module assemblies and barrier coating in other photovoltaic applications.

Learn more about all the topics here.

Key Dates & Application

Topics Issue Date:November 9, 2020
Solar-Focused Topics Webinar (Register below):November 19, 2020, 1 p.m. ET
FOA Issue Date:December 14, 2020
DOE FOA Webinar:December 18, 2020
Deadline for Mandatory Letter of Intent:January 4, 2021, 5:00 p.m. ET
Deadline for Full Applications:February 22, 2021, 11:59 p.m. ET
Expected Date for Selection Notifications:May 17, 2021

For help with the application process, visit this webpage on how to apply for a funding opportunity announcement (FOA). As a Power Connector to the American-Made Solar Network, ADL Ventures is here to answer any questions you have about the program and the application process, so don’t hesitate to reach out to us.


More solicitations...
American-Made Solar Prize

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.

American-Made Solar Prize

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.