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Description

The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs encourage U.S. small businesses to engage in high-risk, innovative research and technology development with the potential for future commercialization. The program is administered by the Energy Department’s Office of Science and awards projects in technology areas across the entire department. It is part of the larger SBIR program across the federal government, which is administered by the Small Business Administration. Learn more about these programs’ past awards in solar energy.

SBIR/STTR Phase I awards are up to $200,000 for six months to one year. For help with the application process, visit this webpage on how to apply for a funding opportunity announcement (FOA). 

Topic Areas

SETO seeks solutions in the following subtopics:

  • 16c. Floating Solar-Powered Aeration Systems – SETO seeks innovations that can advance the application of floating solar-powered aeration systems, which add air to water to support the growth of aerobic bacteria and aquatic life, for natural water systems; sustainable water systems for aquaculture; and sustainable waste bio-processing water systems.
     
  • 16d. Solar Systems Resilient to Weather-Related or Cyber Threats – SETO seeks innovations that 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 from weather-related or cyber threats.
     
  • 16e. Innovation in Solar Aesthetics for Residential Photovoltaic Systems – SETO seeks technologies that improve the aesthetic appeal of PV systems for residential applications, either intrinsically or with help from materials that mask the system as another feature of the home.
     
  • 16f. Commercial and Industrial Solar Systems – SETO seeks innovative technologies that can reduce the installed cost of commercial and industrial solar systems, improve their energy yield, facilitate their installation and grid interconnection, and enable additional value streams from them.
     
  • 16g. Agricultural Solar Systems – SETO seeks 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. New system designs and technologies that optimize solar and agriculture production are of particular interest.
     
  • 16h. Components for Generation 3 Concentrating Solar-Thermal Power (Gen3 CSP) Thermal Transport Systems – SETO seeks advanced designs for components of Gen3 CSP systems, including: receivers, hot and cold salt pumps, particle elevators, solid and liquid thermal energy storage systems, low-cost piping and containment insulation, and heat exchangers.
     
  • 16i. Affordability, Reliability, and Performance of Solar Technologies – SETO seeks solutions that lower the cost of solar energy technologies and facilitate their secure integration into the U.S. energy grid. Technologies must be applicable to advanced solar systems integration, CSP, or PV.

The following topic is a collaboration among SETO and other DOE offices and contains a solar subtopic:

20. Conductivity-Enhanced Materials for Affordable, Breakthrough Leapfrog Electric and Thermal Applications (CABLE): Materials and Applications

  • 20f. Electrical Connections for Photovoltaic Modules and Systems ­– This subtopic calls for innovative technologies and approaches that improve the quality and performance of electrical connections at the PV cell, module, or system level while reducing their cost.

Technology Transfer Opportunities

This funding opportunity announcement also includes two solar technology transfer opportunities for the following innovations developed by National Laboratories:

  • 16a. Method for Mechanical Load Testing of Photovoltaic (PV) Modules with Concurrently Applied Stressors and Diagnostic Methods – In addition to funding, this is an opportunity for a non-exclusive license to commercialize a new system developed by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory that tests the durability of PV modules via simultaneous application of light, heat, moisture, system voltage, and mechanical stress.
     
  • 16b. Nanocomposite Barrier Films for PV Applications – In addition to funding, this is an opportunity for companies to get a non-exclusive license to work on and commercialize a new, patented thin-film coating developed by Sandia National Laboratories that can be used as an encapsulant for PV module assemblies and as a barrier coating in other PV applications.

Commercialization Assistance Program

We encourage applicants to apply to the Commercialization Assistance Program. It provides additional funding specifically for commercialization activities. The funding opportunity announcement contains more information about this program and how to apply for this extra funding. The commercialization assistance provider must be selected at the time of application.

The American-Made Network is a great resource for finding commercialization assistance providers and vendors with specific expertise in the solar space. The Network helps accelerate and sustain solar innovation through a diverse and powerful group that includes energy incubators, investors, facilities, and industry partners from across the United States. The Network can help competitors solve pressing technology challenges, forge connections, and advance novel ideas and innovations. It also leverages highly specialized skills, tools, and expertise to strengthen and scale critical connections to support the progress and success of competitors.

Key Dates 

Topics Issue Date:November 9, 2020
Solar-Focused Topics Webinar: VIEW PRESENTATION (password: FkTqk54N)November 19, 2020, 1 p.m. ET
FOA Issue Date:December 14, 2020 APPLY
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

Additional Information

Learn more about all the topics for FY 2021 Phase I Release 2 (PDF).

Apply for the FOA (PDF).

For FOA-specific support, contact solar.sbir@ee.doe.gov.

See more funding opportunities from SETOsign up for our newsletter, and join the SBIR listserv to keep up to date with the latest news.

Questions and Answers

Subtopic 16c

Is this subtopic focusing on the solar system or the aeration system or both? Is an application with a focus on the aeration system—while commercial solar panel, sensor, propeller, and pumps are used—considered responsive?

For this subtopic, we do not expect the focus of the applications to be on the solar system. However, it should be clear how the proposed aeration system leverages the specific advantages of the solar system and how the solar system would be an integral component of the aeration technology.

Does the aeration need to occur 24/7 or only during the day?

It depends on the specifics of the technology; 24/7 solutions are within the scope of this subtopic as well as solutions that are active only during certain hours.

Are technologies including removable equipment within the scope of this subtopic?

Yes, technologies including removable equipment are within the scope of this subtopic.

Is a technology including solar and other renewable energy components within the scope of this subtopic?

Yes. At a minimum, a system must integrate primary solar power, flotation, and aeration; other components can be part of the system. However, the contribution and value of the solar component must be clear and prevalent.

Is the focus for subtopic 16c on developing system integration solution, or development of electronic controller that enables existing solar aeration to work with floating solar panels?

Technologies that address both aspects are within the scope of this subtopic, as long as the Applicant clarifies how the technology advances the application of floating solar-powered aeration systems to improve water quality.

Can the applicant use off-the-shelf aerators and power them using floating solar?

Yes, as long as the technology innovation and research and development aspects of the project are clear in the application.

Could the power electronics and aeration subsystem be positioned on-shore versus on the float?

Both solutions are within the scope of this subtopic, as long as the applicant clarifies how the technology advances the application of floating solar-powered aeration systems to improve water quality.

Is aeration with "air" of interest only, or is a technology separating N and O2 the change the ratio also of interest?

Both solutions are within the scope of this subtopic, as long as the applicant clarifies how the technology advances the application of floating solar-powered systems to improve water quality.

Which of the areas for ecosystem management listed in the subtopic is the most important?

The three areas included in the subtopic language (restoration and protection of natural water systems, aquaculture, waste bio-processing water system) are all equally important. It is up to the applicant to clarify the application of the proposed technology.

Is there a specific system size requirement for the solar array?

No.

Subtopic 16d

Are electromagnetic pulses considered weather or cyber threats?

Yes, an application building solar systems resilient to electromagnetic pulses is within the scope of this subtopic.

Is a storm hardened PV module racking solution within the scope of this subtopic?

Yes.

Would an innovative system which provides a simpler, lower-cost means of islanding behind-the-meter loads after a power outage be considered responsive?

Yes, if the Applicant demonstrates how recovering from power outages increases the resiliency of the solar system / solar asset.

Subtopic 16e

Is there a beauty to efficiency trade-off benchmark?

Yes; it is up to the applicant to describe how this technology improves the aesthetics of the solar system while not affecting efficiency too much.

Is a technology integrating organic solar cells into windows within the scope of this subtopic?

Yes.

Subtopic 16f

Based on the description of subtopic 16f, it would appear that this topic is limited to photovoltaics (PV). Would a solar thermal technology that was a low-cost source of steam for industrial process be responsive to the subtopic?

Although the subtopic does not explicitly limit applications only to photovoltaic technologies, the expected technical and business metrics are focused on PV systems in a commercial and industrial market segment (in particular, energy yield and grid interconnection). In addition, the context provided refers to PV installations only. Applications into the industrial process heat space are not necessarily non-responsive, but they would not address the intent of the topic. Concentrating solar-thermal power (CSP) technologies are a specific area of interest in subtopic 16i.

Are technologies reducing the delivery and installation costs associated with commercial and industrial (C&I) solar of interest?

Yes, technologies reducing delivery and installation costs for C&I systems are within the scope of this subtopic.

Are distributed CSP technologies considered responsive to this subtopic?

Yes. However, the applicant should include in the application a clear argument of how the technology would meet the cost and technical goals stated in the subtopic.

Is thermochemistry considered an industry, where the site would have a heliostat for focusing solar energy to industrial chemical reactors (to offset fossil fuel usage)?

The C&I market segment is defined by the size of the solar system and the typical location, adjacent to a commercial or industrial location. The commercial or industrial location may or may not utilize part of the electricity generated by the solar system, but it shouldn’t be a component of the solar system itself.

Are case studies showing that additional value streams can be created allowed for this subtopic?

Although cost modeling can be part of an application, the main goal of Phase I awards is to prove the technical and business feasibility of a new technology that will be further developed as part of a Phase II award. An application focused only on the development of a case study without any technology development would not be responsive to this program.

Are solutions that reduce installation times and therefore reduce soft costs within the scope of this subtopic?

Yes, technologies that reduce installation times of C&I systems are within the scope of this subtopic.

Does the scope of topic 16f only include electrical generation, or is it inclusive of any output of solar energy including industrial heating?

Technologies developing systems with thermal / heating output might be within the scope of subtopic 16f. However, the applicant should demonstrate that the proposed technology meets the objectives of this subtopic, and specifically that the technology reduces the installed cost of commercial and industrial solar systems, improves their energy yield, and facilitates their installation and grid interconnection.

Does C&I include a solar generation system to provide heat for industrial processes to a commercial business?

It might, as long as it is clear how the technology specifically supports the commercial and industrial market segment. The technology would not be within the scope of this subtopic if the commercial business is just one of the possible customers, users, or market segments of the output of the system that could be in principle be located anywhere else.

Tracking is mentioned as one of the areas of interest within this subtopic. Are static configurations achieving the same effect of interest too?

Yes, solutions not involving moving parts are also within the scope of this subtopic, if the applicant demonstrates how the technology addresses the needs of the commercial and industrial market segment.

Is a software technology to increase C&I deployment within the scope of this subtopic?

An application for the development of a software-only technology would not be within the scope of this subtopic. Software solutions including also the development of hardware components are within the scope.

How is a technology considered if it enables additional revenue streams, but increases initial installation costs or reduces energy yield?

Technologies increasing initial costs to enable additional revenue streams could be of interest. However, the applicant should clearly demonstrate that the technology has a clear path to market and that cost modelling activities would be included, showing that the overall costs would be justified by the revenue collected during the lifetime of the system. A preliminary cost model would be beneficial as part of the application.

Are technologies related to mobile units such as trailers within the scope of this subtopic?

No, that would not be relevant for the commercial and industrial market segment.

Does a tool shortening the ease and speed of obtaining financing fall in the category of "installation cost" and therefore within the scope of this subtopic?

The exact answer depends on the specific technology being proposed. However, solutions that address only securing financing would not be within the scope of this subtopic.

Are technologies that offer a solar solution with a potential carbon offset capability be considered?

The exact answer depends on the specific technology being proposed. However, the development of the solar component of the proposed technology should clearly be the most relevant aspect of the application.

Subtopic 16g

Is indoor farming within the scope of this subtopic?

Yes, as long as the application clarifies the value added by the co-location of the solar system with the indoor farming.

Would urban solar farming solutions be considered?

Yes.

Are solutions enabling off-grid energy for "remote" (e.g., out of reach of utility lines) end uses on small farms within the scope of this subtopic?

The exact answer depends on the specific technology being proposed. However, this subtopic does not include technologies just bringing electricity to farms for their normal use. On the other hand, a technology that optimizes solar and agriculture production – even if in remote locations – is within the scope of this subtopic.

Subtopic 16h

Are distributed CSP technologies considered responsive to this subtopic?

Yes. However, the applicant should include in the application a clear argument of how the technology would meet the cost and technical goals stated in the subtopic.

Can CSP/CST be developed for non-electric applications of industrial heat such as smelting of steel, and destination?

The exact answer depends on the specific technology being proposed. However, given the technical metrics listed in the subtopic, it is extremely unlikely that a technology related to industrial process heat would meet those metrics and therefore be within the scope of this subtopic.

Should the cost target for thermal energy storage be in units of kWh thermal?

In general, DOE uses $/kWh-th as the cost target for thermal systems. While alternate cost targets are acceptable, they should be convertible to kWh-th and $s ultimately.

Is this subtopic only interested in the components like the receiver or also in thermal transfer media like a solid particle?

The focus of this subtopic is the development of components that are relevant to CSP Gen3 systems currently being developed. However, the development of new thermal transfer media like particles can be responsive if the Applicant clarifies the superior properties of their technologies compared to the current state of the art.

Subtopic 16i

Are there benchmarks for manufacturing cost improvements beyond the SunShot goals?

NREL publishes the Quarterly Solar Industry Update (available at this link: https://www.energy.gov/eere/solar/quarterly-solar-industry-update) that can be used to establish benchmarks for manufacturing processes, in addition to the SunShot cost targets available at this link: https://www.energy.gov/eere/solar/goals-solar-energy-technologies-office

Are technologies related to hybrid solar assisted HVAC systems within the scope of this subtopic?

As discussed in the subtopic language, technologies that focus exclusively on HVAC are not responsive and will be declined without external merit review. However, the decision will depend on the specifics of the technology. An application might be considered responsive if the applicant clearly shows that the main technology innovation resides in the solar component, and that the HVAC system is just an element of the proposal.

Do submissions to this subtopic have to be focused on improving PV system integration into the grid? Are technical solutions geared towards the transportation section considered within the scope of this subtopic?

Although integration of solar energy technologies into the grid is the main goal of this subtopic, technologies that do not deliver electricity to the grid but enable integration of solar with other industries (including transportation) will be considered as responsive if the main technology innovation resides in the solar component of the project.

Are technologies involving space applications withing the scope of this subtopic?

No. This subtopics is focused only on technologies involving terrestrial energy generation and consumption.

Subtopic 20f

Which joints, contacts, or interconnects would need to be produced within the solar cell or module?

Joints: the joining of two or more metal materials (such as ribbons to busbars in the cells, or the joining of wires between modules). Contacts: the metal that collects charge from the absorber material. Interconnects: the metal used to connect between cells in a module.

Would the design and development of a new innovative Pb-free solder alloy be responsive to this subtopic?

Yes, that is within the scope of this subtopic.