American-Made Solar Prize

The American-Made Solar Prize is a multi-million dollar competition designed to spur innovations in U.S. solar hardware and software technologies and address challenges to rapid, equitable solar energy deployment. This challenge requires competitors to make progress quickly, form private-sector partnerships, and engage customers to bring their ideas to life over the course of three escalating challenges. Competitors have the opportunity in each stage to also compete in the Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) Contest. Should they opt in, at each stage, the competitors will describe how their solution addresses solar market barriers faced by underserved communities and work to substantially advance their approach towards JEDI goals.

On June 12, 2023, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) opened applications for the American-Made Solar Prize Round 7. For Round 7, DOE added a new Power Up Contest to support and advance new and diverse teams that have compelling applications but are not selected as Ready! Contest winners. 

On January 11, 2024, 20 teams were selected to receive $50,000 each and advance to the next stage of the competition. Four teams were also selected to win the JEDI Contest and receive an additional $25,000. DOE awarded $10,000 prizes to 10 teams through the Power Up Contest.

Semifinalists

Photovoltaics (PV)

PowerMe (El Cerrito, CA) – This team is developing a 3D-printed solar carport for the commercial market to decrease safety risks associated with current carports and expand solar electric vehicle (EV) charging in low- and moderate-income communities. They will reduce costs compared to common solar carports with offsite construction, a wind-load reducing design, and automated 3D concrete printing.

Vatio (Palo Alto, CA) – This team is developing a plug-in solar kit that can be used in a regular home outlet to save residential homeowners money on their energy bills. This system will make residential solar affordable and accessible to customers locked out of the current solar market.  

Pavilion Solar (Miami, FL) – This team is developing a hurricane-resistant, structurally stable, accessible, and cost-effective solar carport. This innovation will increase residential solar adoption in hurricane-prone areas by providing a product that can endure storms and growing electricity needs.

Couillard Solar Foundation Team (Deerfield, WI) – This team is developing an aesthetically pleasing, weatherproof, wooden solar canopy for residential and public spaces to broaden solar adoption. Sales of this product will fund charitable solar programs to benefit underrepresented populations. JEDI Winner

Systems Integration

Addicted 2 Impact (Ladera Ranch, CA) – This team is developing modular plug-and-play, low-voltage direct current (DC) microgrids for rural and indigenous communities in the United States. By adding solar and storage, this system can quickly and affordably power homes without access to traditional grid and interconnection infrastructure. JEDI Winner

Buck Boost (Apex, NC) – This team is developing a two-stage, low-cost PV system architecture that combines wide-bandgap semiconductor-based compact DC-DC nanoconverters, at the panel level, with an optimized central inverter, also based on wide-bandgap devices. This new system design will achieve higher efficiencies, help prevent shading issues, and extend the lifetime of PV systems.

NC Solar Inverters (Cary, NC) – This team is developing a novel inverter design that leverages the high performance of silicon carbide technology but uses 40% less material, slashing inverter costs. This innovation will enable cost-effective, high-performance inverter technology to be manufactured in the United States.

Dual-Use PV

ICoN Energy (Ithaca, NY) – This team is developing a compact power converter for trucks to utilize solar power for auxiliary systems, such as heating and cooling. This vehicle-integrated photovoltaics innovation will allow trucks to harness solar power from a solar panel installed on the truck roof and reduce truck emissions.

VL Offshore (Houston, TX) – This team is developing a rapidly deployable, floating offshore solar system that can move with the ocean’s waves, rather than a rigid structure resisting wave motion. This system, which is designed to withstand high waves and wind speeds, will supply energy to coastal and remote communities. 

Voltic Shipping (Whitney, TX) – This team is developing foldable, rotatable, and retractable solar panel systems to power canal, lake, and marine cargo vessels. This innovation will enable zero-emission, solar-powered cargo ships and help decarbonize the shipping industry.

Finance and Business Models

Fram Energy (San Francisco, CA) – This team is developing a platform to incentivize landlords to install rooftop solar by enabling both the renter and landlord to save money from a solar installation. This software helps the landlord select the best solar system for their property and distributes the benefits of solar to both the tenant and property owner, expanding renters’ access to solar energy.

EmpowerSun Solutions (Denver, CO) – This team is developing a platform for underserved communities that provides customized solar planning resources and connects landowners with pre-certified project partners. This innovation will help underserved communities, farmers, and tribal entities to effectively leverage their land for solar energy development. JEDI winner

1Climate (New York City, NY) – This team is developing a solar regulatory platform for faster permitting by automating regulatory, permitting, contracting, and incentive filing processes. This will streamline the solar project development process, increase the ease of securing project financing, and monetize tax credits more reliably and efficiently. 

Wildgrid, Inc. (New York City, NY) – This team is developing a free solar financing education and planning tool to help users interested in going solar easily understand, personalize, and streamline their solar project and financing. This financial planning tool will make solar adoption a financial reality for users by finding available tax incentives and helping consumers apply for zero- to low-interest green loans.

Electra (Bellingham, WA) – This team is developing a smart digital network for solar panel recycling to reroute retired solar panels from landfills to reuse locations or recycling facilities. This platform will optimize the collection, logistics, and matchmaking of solar panel recycling leading to less waste and increased second-life opportunities. 

System Operations

Solar Unsoiled (Durham, NC) – This team is developing software for large-scale solar farms that provides optimized solar panel cleaning schedules based on a model that predicts daily soiling. This solution will increase system energy yield and reduce panel maintenance costs.

Reliable Autonomy (Basking Ridge, NJ) – This team is developing a software solution for homeowners with solar and second-life battery systems. This software integrates probabilistic solar forecasting and battery secondary life health diagnostics to maximize system integration efficiency and reduce costs for homeowners to adopt solar energy.

Keeping Solar Power Plants Green (Xenia, OH) – This team is developing a robotic arm to kill unwanted vegetation growing around mounting posts on solar farms with light that disrupts photosynthesis. This non-chemical treatment eliminates the need for expensive and hazardous herbicides, reducing operations and maintenance costs and increasing the safety and sustainability of solar farms.

Deployment and Workforce

Gritt Robotics (Belmont, CA) – This team is developing a solution combining robotics and artificial intelligence for automated construction of utility-scale solar. By converting off-the-shelf construction equipment into intelligent robots, this innovation will accelerate solar construction and improve worker health and safety.

Midwest Renewable Energy Association (Custer, WI) – This team is developing a portable, interactive training kit that provides affordable, hands-on solar education for communities and colleges. This solution offers relevant equipment, comprehensive concepts, and easy transport for real-world solar training to bridge the solar skills gap. JEDI Winner

Power Up Contest Winners

Fundusol (Stanford, CA) –This team is developing a software solution that assists farmers in adopting solar energy. The platform will help to design the best system for their farm by modeling multiple factors to predict the performance of the agrivoltaic system on each farm’s crop and/or livestock. 

First Principle Energy (Sunnyvale, CA) – This team is developing a high-strength cable wire rope to mount solar panels, leading to lower levelized costs of electricity, installation costs, and foundation costs. The structure will adapt to uneven terrain due to its light weight, making field assembly easy and less time-consuming.

Recode Energy (Denver, CO) – This team is developing a software platform to help buyers navigate solar policies and incentives by developing personalization roadmaps and implementation tools for buildings. The platform will assess your portfolio for climate incentives, decode what those mean from a financial perspective, and guide you to a marketplace of resources, developers, and legal experts.

Soltheos (Denver, CO) – This team is developing a low-cost thermal battery for residential customers. This system will be able to provide heat when solar power is unavailable or when electricity prices are higher, producing savings for the owner.  

Ark Power Systems (Lake Linden, MI) – This solution is a modular, scalable, ground-mount solar racking system that enables the low-cost, fast installation of complete residential and commercial PV systems at scale. This can greatly reduce the soft costs of solar installations.  

NAS-LIION (South Orange, NJ) – This team is developing a quick swab test to detect leakage from lithium batteries in nanogrid applications that will increase quality control and failure analysis. This technology can improve quality control standards in second-life batteries in solar applications.   

Exergi (Buffalo, NY) – This team is developing a residential Solar Turbine System to provide homeowners with another option to adopt solar for those who can’t install on their roofs. It features a low space requirement, placement versatility, and easy installation and uninstallation.

Modular Microgrids (Mount Joy, PA) – This team is developing a solar-plus-battery microgrid for construction sites and modular homes and offices. It is aimed at replacing diesel generators often used at construction projects, improving the air quality around sites.   

Full Charge Solar (Mesquite, TX) – This team is developing a fully collapsible, emission-free, cart-based solar array with a battery and inverter that requires little to no maintenance, and provides electricity throughout the day while charging the battery to provide electricity at night. It can serve emergency situations when power is not available and has a grid-tie capability for non-emergency situations to offset electricity costs.

Amaterra Tech (Austin, TX) – This team is developing a distributed control system for microgrids that can integrate seamlessly with existing infrastructure. This solution will allow microgrids to expand quickly, reducing costs of adding new storage and generation to the systems.

Additional Resources

The American-Made Solar Prize is a part of the American-Made Challenges and is administered by DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory.