Solar SBIR STTR Graphic

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 programs are administered by the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Science and award projects in technology areas across the entire department. They are part of the larger SBIR program across the federal government, which is administered by the Small Business Administration. Learn moreabout these programs’ past awards in solar energy. 

SBIR/STTR Phase I awards are up to $200,000 for six months to one year. Details on the topics for the FY 2022 Phase I release are detailed below. View the funding opportunity announcement document for more information on the program, the application process, and eligibility.

This year, the Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) is issuing two topics. One is open to both SBIR and STTR applications, while the other is open to only STTR applications. An STTR application requires the small business to partner with a research institution. The research institution must conduct at least 30% of the work, and the principal investigator (PI) can be employed either by the small business or the research institution. Please read the funding opportunity announcement carefully for additional eligibility criteria for each program.

Letters of intent for this funding opportunity are due January 3, 2022, by 5:00 p.m. ET. Along with your business information, the letter of intent must contain a 500-word technical abstract of your innovation. Full applications are due February 22, 2022, by 11:59 p.m. ET.

Topics open to both SBIR and STTR applications:

SETO seeks solutions in the following subtopics:

  • Multiuse Integrated Photovoltaic (PV) Systems – technology components and systems that integrate photovoltaic technologies with other energy, agricultural, and built environment systems.
  • PV Recycling – new materials, designs, technologies, and practices that can help reduce PV manufacturing’s environmental impact by minimizing waste, energy use, negative effects on human health, and pollution.
  • Next-Generation Power Electronics Based on Silicon Carbide and/or Planar Magnetics – power-electronic components and systems that integrate and leverage the greater efficiencies, lower costs, and lower weight of devices based on silicon carbide and gallium nitride.
  • Technologies to Integrate Solar Generation with Energy Storage Systems and/or Electric Vehicle Charging – technologies to integrate and optimize distributed energy resources—in particular, PV generation—with energy storage capabilities and infrastructure for electric vehicle charging.
  • Concentrating Solar-Thermal Power System Construction, Manufacturing, and Reliability – innovative technologies to engineer and build reliable concentrating solar-thermal power (CSP) plants.
  • Solar Hardware and Software Technologies: Affordability, Reliability, Performance, and Manufacturing – solutions that can advance solar energy technologies by lowering cost, increasing domestic content in solar hardware, and facilitating its secure integration into the Nation’s energy grid.
  • Technology Transfer Opportunity: Hierarchical Distributed Voltage Regulation in Networked Autonomous Grids – develop and commercialize a product that optimizes real-time dispatch of distributed energy resources.
  • Technology Transfer Opportunity: Novel Solar Collector Tracking Error Direction: “NIO-Heliostat” – a non-exclusive license to develop and commercialize a technology to track solar collector error direction on a commercial-scale heliostat field. 

Topics open only to STTR applications: 

This funding opportunity announcement also includes subtopics where a strong partnership with a research institution is required:

  • Transferring Novel Solar Technologies from Research Laboratories to the Market – spinning out solutions from research institutions, such as universities and national laboratories.
  • Concentrating Solar Power Technologies for Industrial Decarbonization – technology transfer from research institutions to small businesses in the area of industrial thermal and thermochemical processes.
  • Next-Generation Solar Forecasting – development and commercialization of the next-generation tools and capabilities to increase accuracy and reliability of solar forecasting.

Technical And Business Assistance (TABA)

We encourage applicants to apply to the Technical And Business Assistance (TABA) Program. It provides additional funding specifically for commercialization activities in addition to the SBIR/STTR research funding. Examples of allowable commercialization services include: product sales, intellectual property protections, market research, market validation, development of certifications and regulatory plans, development of manufacturing plans. If you wish to utilize your own TABA provider(s), you are required to include this as one or more subcontracts or consultants in your budget and to provide a detailed budget justification. Please read the funding opportunity announcement for more information about this program and how to apply for this extra funding.

The American-Made Network Matching Tool is a great resource for finding TABA providers and vendors with specific expertise in the solar space. The Network helps accelerate solar innovations through a diverse and powerful group of entities that includes national laboratories, energy incubators, investors, prototyping and testing facilities, and other industry partners from across the United States who engage, connect, mentor, and amplify the efforts of small businesses. The Network can help companies solve pressing technology challenges, forge connections, and advance potentially game-changing ideas and innovations.

Additional Information

Download the Funding Opportunity Announcement document (PDF). 

Download the full topic document (PDF).

SETO hosted an informational webinar on Thursday, November 18 to discuss the Phase I solar topics. You can view the webinar recording here (password: jCbY2jVv). Google Chrome is recommended for best results. You can also download the webinar transcript here

Learn more about SETO’s manufacturing and competitiveness research, sign up for our newsletter, and join the DOE SBIR/STTR mailing list to keep up to date with the latest news.

Questions and Answers

Subtopic 15a

Q. Does the exclusion of container farms encompass a technology that isn’t designed to specifically just generate solar electricity, but to mitigate overall electrical usage in this type of farming?

A. Technologies that target fully controlled-environment agricultural applications driven by artificial lighting or that are not designed mainly to generate electricity are not of interest within this subtopic.

Q. Are innovations that can advance the application of floating solar-powered aeration systems (FSAS) to improve water quality within the scope of this subtopic?

A. Yes, innovations that can advance the application of floating solar-powered aeration systems (FSAS) to improve water quality are within the scope of this subtopic, as long as the applicant shows how the proposed system design is substantially different than state of the art and the overall system is connected to the grid.

Q. Are certification costs for an existing BIPV prototype allowable in a Phase I award?

A. Please review the funding opportunity announcement for details on allowability and allocability of costs. In general, TABA (Technical And Business Assistance) funds can be used for third party vendors or a federal entity issuing patents, certifications or regulatory approvals. R&D funds can be used to develop the technology and prepare the product to meet the certification requirements.

Q. Are transparent PV materials that can be integrated into windows of interest within this subtopic?

A. No, applications addressing exclusively solar window technologies are not of interest within this subtopic.

Q. Are applications related to trucking refrigeration only of interest? Are other VIPV applications within the scope of this subtopic?

A. This subtopic is open to technologies integrating solar photovoltaic generation with any transportation system, as long as they meet the other criteria listed in the language of the subtopic.

Q. Is a technology including an optical component based on concentrating PV within the scope of this subtopic?

A. Yes. However, the applicant should include a clear assessment of the state of the art and how the proposed technology would represent a significant improvement, along with a basic cost-model analysis showing a path to achieving a commercially viable value proposition. Proposed technologies must balance any installed cost increases with clear, substantiated value propositions from the non-photovoltaic system components and site utilization.

Q. Is a technology based on a new electrochemical water electrolysis system for aeration applications within the scope of this subtopic?

A. Yes, as long as the integration of solar energy into the overall system is a key aspect of the proposed project.

Subtopic 15b

Q. Is there a specific recycling process that applicants should use as a reference when evaluating whether the proposed materials recovery approach improves photovoltaic recyclability?

A. Applicants should demonstrate in their application a clear understanding of the state of the art and how the proposed technology would improve over state of the art. Applicants should include specific, measurable metrics, current benchmarks, and success values for their technology.

Q. The language of this subtopic mentions that ‘reclamation of key materials could ameliorate supply chain issues and further reduce overall environmental impact of the photovoltaic industry’. Are there any key materials that are of specific interest to DOE?

A. Any material recycling is potentially interesting from the point of view of mitigating waste volumes from photovoltaic. Just as examples: aluminum and silver are typically recycled from silicon-based modules; cadmium and tellurium are of interest from CdTe thin film modules. Applicants should include in their application the expected value proposition for their business based on the proposed technology.

Subtopic 15c

Q. Are there any target specifications on voltage, current, power, efficiency, and frequency?

A. This subtopic does not include specific technical targets. The applicant should demonstrate in the proposal how the technical performances of the product they intend to develop make it attractive to the market and are compatible with a typical photovoltaic systems output.

Q. Are there any specific literature that DOE considers state-of-the-art that applicants should be familiar with?

A. It is expected that the applicant can show relevant expertise and full understanding of the state of the art of the industry.

Subtopic 15d

Q. Does the proposed technology have to include solar photovoltaic generation?

A. Yes.

 Q. Does the proposed technology have to include battery storage?

A. Any novel thermal, mechanical, or chemical storage technologies that can demonstrate clear non-incremental differentiation from the current state of the art is of interest, as well as battery systems.

Q. Is an application including thermal energy storage in advanced materials (for example, engineered geotechnical heat storage systems) within the scope of this subtopic?

A. Yes. SETO is especially interested in novel thermal, mechanical, or chemical storage technologies that can demonstrate clear non-incremental differentiation from the current state of the art as long as the specific storage technology can help the overall integrated system meet the criteria discussed in the subtopic.

Q. Are off-grid solutions within the scope of this subtopic?

A. No. Proposed technologies must be grid connected to be within the scope of this subtopic.

Q. Would EV optimization/allocation in conjunction with distributed solar be within the scope of this subtopic?

A. Yes, as long as the overall integrated system meets the criteria discussed in the subtopic.

Q. Are applications required to include electric vehicle charging, vehicle-to-grid, or vehicle-to-home components?

A. It is not a requirement. However, the focus of this subtopic is to develop technologies integrating PV generation with energy storage systems (ESS) and/or electric vehicle charging (EVC) systems. The applicant should make clear how the proposed technology enables that integration.

Q. Are software enabled hardware technologies and/or hardware based technologies within the scope of this subtopic?

A. Hardware-only, software-only, as well as technologies developing both hardware and software components are within the scope of this subtopic.

Q. Is the development of a long duration storage technology within the scope of this subtopic?

A. Any novel thermal, mechanical, or chemical storage technologies that can demonstrate clear non-incremental differentiation from the current state of the art is of interest. However, a proposal exclusively focused on development of storage technologies would not be responsive to this topic. Although development of a new storage solution can be part of a proposal, the focus must be the integration between solar generation with Energy Storage Systems and/or Electric Vehicle Charging.

Subtopic 15e

Q. Is a technology related to the upkeep of the mirrors of interest within this subtopic?

A. No.

Q. Are novel technologies based on solid-state heat to electric conversion systems responsive to this subtopic?

A. No. This subtopic is focused on construction and manufacturing of existing CSP technologies (i.e., using steam-Rankine power cycles – see this reference for additional info: Mehos, M., et al, 2020, Concentrating Solar Power Best Practices Study, NREL, NREL/TP-5500-75763).

Q. Are higher performance, more durable, less costly absorbing coatings for the boiler tubes of interest?

A. It really depends on the specifics and expected technical performance. This subtopic is focused on construction and manufacturing of existing CSP technologies (see this reference for additional info: Mehos, M., et al, 2020, Concentrating Solar Power Best Practices Study, NREL, NREL/TP-5500-75763). Coatings for existing molten salt receivers (operating at approximately 565 °C) would be within the scope of this subtopic; coatings for higher temperature receivers would not.

Subtopic 15f

Q. Is a technology related to the conversion of solar energy to steam of interest within this subtopic?

A. Yes. However, we encourage applicants to look also at subtopic 16b, part of the same solicitation.

Q. Is a technology related to the decrease of maintenance cost of photovoltaic systems of interest within this subtopic?

A. Yes.

Q. Is a technology related to CSP water desalination at utility scale of interest within this subtopic?

A. Yes. However, we encourage applicants to look also at subtopic 16b, part of the same solicitation.

Q. Is a technology related to small to medium size land-based wind turbine of interest within this subtopic?

A. No.

Q. What are the criteria to deem a technology "not competitive to be manufactured in the US"?

A. SETO is interested in technologies that show clear path to being manufactured domestically at a competitive cost. To be within the scope of this subtopic, applicants should show in their proposal that their technology has a clear path to being cost competitive with commercially available incumbent technologies or current state of the art.

Q. Is a technology including an optical component based on concentrating PV within the scope of this subtopic?

A. No. Any application to this subtopic including concentrating photovoltaic will be deemed nonresponsive.

Q. Is a concentrating solar power technology developed for industrial decarbonization applications within the scope of this subtopic?

A. Yes. However, we encourage applicants to look also at subtopic 16b, part of the same solicitation.

Q. Are battery costs part of the “balance-of-system costs of a PV system”?

A. Battery and battery inverters are not considered PV balance of system in the context of this topic. A proposal exclusively focused on batteries would not be within the scope of this subtopic.

Subtopic 15g

Q. Are NISQ grid optimization quantum algorithm development and testing in scope?

A. No. This is a Technology Transfer Opportunity. The small business is expected to work on the technology and the patent proposed in the subtopic towards its commercialization.

Subtopic 15h

Q. Is this technology applicable for trough systems with the same error correction opportunities?

A. No. NREL is already developing a technology applicable to through systems under a different patent.

Q. Is data collection in strategic locations using a cloud environment within the scope of this subtopic?

A. No, an application focused exclusively on data collection would not be within the scope of this subtopic. The small business is expected to work on the technology and the patent proposed in the subtopic towards its commercialization.

Q. Is NREL using AI algorithms to gather and analyze data?

A. No, the technology at the current development stage includes machine learning data processing but not AI algorithms. However, an application including development of AI algorithm would be within the scope of this subtopic if the applicant shows the its value toward commercialization.

Subtopic 16b

Q. Would a project that involves development of an electrochemical process to replace a thermal process, thereby allowing solar energy to generate power instead of fossil fuels, be within the scope of this subtopic?

A. Yes, as long as solar energy is used directly in the electrochemical process. A technology would not be of interest within this subtopic if it uses electricity generated by solar photovoltaics or by a solar system not fully integrated in the proposed system.

Q. Is this subtopic intended only for high temperature applications or is any industrial heat application within the scope of this subtopic?

A. Any industrial heat application is of interest within this subtopic; there is no minimum operating temperature being required.

Q. Is a moderate-temperature industrial heat application that is a cascade use from a high-temperature power plant within the scope of this subtopic?

A. Yes, as long as the technology is designed for a solar thermal application.

Subtopic 16c

Q. Will this subtopic be only open to the awardees of the recent SETO funding program – Solar Forecasting II (SF2), or is there any preference for them or even Solar Forecast Arbiter, over other applicants? Can other applicants also apply?

A. Any small business is eligible to apply to this subtopic in partnership with any research institution, as long as they meet the STTR eligibility criteria. No preference will be given to any given applicant. All eligible applications will be reviewed based only on the criteria set in the funding opportunity announcement.

Q. Is a software-only solution within the scope of this subtopic?

A. Yes.

Q. Where can I find additional info on the Solar Forecaster Arbiter open platform?

A. Please visit the Solar Forecast Arbiter website or read about the Open Source Evaluation Framework for Solar Forecasting project from the University of Arizona.

Q. Will a proposal including also the development of hardware technology for data collection be within the scope of this subtopic?

A. Yes.