Last week, the Energy Department launched a largest-of-its-kind hackathon in an effort to help build software solutions that will make it faster, easier, and more affordable for Americans to choose solar energy to power their daily lives. About 700,000 coders, developers, and data scientists will be participating in this series of software challenges, as they compete for up to $500,000 in prizes. 

The SunShot Catalyst Prize program is a new model for the federal government’s innovation and research and development programs. Catalyst’s prize challenge framework introduces American innovators to the many tools, capabilities, data assets, and additional resources developed by the Energy Department and its national laboratories. Catalyst’s open, fast-paced innovation cycle allows crowd-sourced engagement and strong partnerships with the nation’s growing networks of technology mentors, incubators, and accelerators.

In January, SunShot competitively selected 17 promising teams to move forward in the overall Catalyst Prize competition. Each of the teams is vying for one of five $100,000 prizes that will be awarded in May, in addition to the $500,000 hackathon prize pot. As they race to the finish line, each finalist will host four or more challenges throughout this month and March on the TopCoder platform, working with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Appirio, and TopCoder’s 700,000 member community, as they build a prototype product in just 60 days.

Technology development, commercialization, and scaled-up manufacturing have greatly reduced solar hardware costs since the inception of the SunShot Initiative.  However, driving down solar non-hardware soft costs such as financing, customer acquisition, permitting, installation, labor, inspection, and other expenses will help spur strong U.S. growth in solar deployment in the coming years. Taken together, soft costs make up as much as 64% of the total cost of going solar. Catalyst aims to leverage powerful datasets and use innovative software, information technology, and automation solutions to make it faster, easier, and cheaper than ever before to deploy solar technology across America.

Learn more about Appirio’s TopCoder platform, all of the open contests, and how to participate and visit to learn more about Catalyst and to join our community.

Elaine Ulrich
A bio for Elaine Ulrich in the Solar Energy Technologies Office.
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