Supporting small business solar innovations

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 U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science administers the programs and awards projects in technology areas across the entire department. This effort 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 selected by the Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO).

SBIR/STTR Phase I awards are up to $200,000 for six months to one year. Details on the topics for the Fiscal Year (FY) 2024 Phase I release of the funding opportunity announcement (FOA) are below.

Prior to submitting a full application for this opportunity, a mandatory concept paper is due on February 2, 2024, at 5 p.m. ET.

Topics open to both SBIR and STTR applications:

SETO seeks solutions in the following subtopics:

  • Power Electronic Technologies for Solar Systems – proposals for the development of the next generation of power-electronic systems for the solar industry that demonstrate substantial advantages compared to the current state of the art.
  • Supercritical Carbon Dioxide Power Cycles for Concentrating Solar-Thermal Power (CSP) – applications to advance the components, design, and commercial maturity of supercritical carbon dioxide (sCO2) power cycles for CSP systems. sCO2 cycles such as the recompression Brayton cycle (RCBC) are uniquely beneficial for CSP due to the potential for high thermal to electric conversion efficiency, ability to scale to sizes between 5 and 100 megawatts electric and amenability with dry cooling.
  • CSP Technologies for Gen3 CSP, Commercial CSP (Gen2 CSP), or Concentrated Solar-Industrial Process Industrial Heat (SIPH) proposals for the development of CSP technologies, components, systems, and materials relevant to either low-cost electricity production or the decarbonization of industrial thermal processes.
  • Solar Hardware and Software Technologies: Affordability, Reliability, Performance, and Manufacturing – proposals for solutions that can advance solar energy technologies by lowering costs and facilitate the secure integration into the nation’s energy grid. Applications must fall within the areas of advanced solar systems integration technologies, CSP technologies, or photovoltaic technologies.

Technical and Business Assistance

We encourage applicants to apply for the Technical and Business Assistance (TABA) program, which provides funding for commercialization activities in addition to the STTR research funding. Examples of allowable commercialization services include: product sales, intellectual property protections, market research, market validation, development of certifications and regulatory plans, and 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.

The American-Made Network is a great resource for finding TABA providers and vendors with specific expertise in solar energy. 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.

Applicant Education Services

Is this your first time considering a SBIR/STTR application, or do you have questions about the process? SETO, through the American-Made Network, is providing free Applicant Education Services. You can email the following points of contact for more information: 

Participation is not mandatory and will have no impact on the evaluation of your application by DOE. Email solar.sbir@ee.doe.gov with any questions.

Additional Information

Download the full funding opportunity announcement (PDF).

Watch a recording of the informational webinar (password: jCA5cZCs) and download the presentation.

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

Q. Where can one find information on other current and previous SETO funding opportunities?

A. See current and previous SETO funding opportunities and information on previous SETO SBIR/STTR awards.

Q. Can you specify the expected benchmarks for price and performance improvements for the proposed solar technologies, and how these benchmarks are established?

A. Review SETO’s general goals and targets.

Q. What are the key differentiators that SETO is looking for in innovations compared to existing commercially available solar products or solutions; could you provide more details on the requirements for the preliminary cost analysis, especially regarding the assumptions and input data sources?

A. The subtopic descriptions are deliberately crafted to be less prescriptive to allow for submitters to customize their individual applications to the specific technology areas of their interest and not to limit the diversity of those technologies. Applicants are encouraged to clearly define and describe the differentiating characteristics of their specific submission including the specific assumptions and input date for their preliminary cost analysis.

Q. Are there any specific criteria you can share for determining whether a proposed technology has a clear, direct, and immediate relevance and impact to the solar industry?

A. SETO leaves it up to the applicant to define and demonstrate the immediate relevance and impact of their proposed technology to the solar industry.

Q. Can one submit multiple letters of intent or proposals to the same sub-topic?

A. Yes, provided that they are distinctively different. Please check the FOA document for formal specific details on the application process and eligibility.

Q. Can one submit multiple letters of intent for different technologies/systems/software?

A. Yes. Multiple letters of intent are allowed if they are clearly for distinctly different applications and involve different technologies/systems/software.

Q. If one applies to both SIBR/STTR and are approved for both, does that mean they get 400k in phase 1?

A. No. One cannot receive two awards for the same proposal. If a single application is eligible for both the SBIR and STTR programs and is submitted to both, SETO will determine, after evaluation of the application, if it is selected as an SBIR or STTR award. If a selection and award is made it will be a single award, either as SBIR or as STTR. Please check the FOA document for formal specific details on eligibility requirements for SBIR and STTR and for the process of submitting to both.

Q. Where can I check the status of my letter of intent, proposed solutions, and any other status related inquiries?

A. Notices are sent by email after submission to Grants.gov website. Please note that for letters of intent email notices will be sent out only to LOIs that are deemed non-responsive. If the letter is considered responsive, no notice will be sent. In general, some application status updates are shown via the application submission system. Please check the DOE Office of Science SBIR/STTR webpage for any updates on the program dates and deadlines and direct any questions about application status to the DOE SBIR/STTR Office.

Q. Is it possible to receive both TABA and SBIR, or are candidates only considered for one of the two opportunities?

A. Technical and Business Assistance (TABA) is part of the SBIR/STTR award, not a separate award. One cannot receive TABA without receiving an SBIR/STTR award. Please check the FOA document for formal specific details on TABA. General information on TABA can also be found on the same website under the “Awardee Resources” section

Q. Is TABA different from the Phase 0 Application Assistance?

A. Yes, they are two completely different programs and should not be confused. The DOE Phase 0 SBIR/STTR assistance program is not part of this FY24 SBIR/STTR Phase I, Release 2 FOA and has a different application process, while applying for TABA is part of the FOA application. Find details on the Phase 0 Assistance Program and details on the TABA program.

Q. Can you specify the expected benchmarks for price and performance improvements for the proposed solar technologies, and how these benchmarks are established?

A. SETO will not be using any specific benchmarks for evaluating any of the proposed ideas. But we would like to see in the proposals some analysis on how applicants believe that their technology and proposed development compares to the current status of the industry and to what they perceive their competition to be.

Q. What are the key differentiators that SETO is looking for in innovations compared to existing commercially available solar products or solutions?

A. The solar topic 17 seeks Innovations with the potential for future commercialization that improve the affordability, reliability, and domestic benefit of solar technologies on the electric grid are sought. Applications must 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 becoming cost-competitive with current state of the art and the potential to increase solar generation on the grid. Subtopics within solar have additional guidance in the FY24 SBIR/STTR Phase I, Release 2 topics document.

Q. Could you provide more details on the requirements for the preliminary cost analysis, especially regarding the assumptions and input data sources? 

A. A basic cost-model analysis showing a path to becoming cost-competitive with current state of the art and the potential to increase solar generation on the grid that clearly identifies assumptions and sources of input data is described in the FY24 SBIR/STTR Phase I, Release 2 topics document.

Q. Are there any specific criteria you can share for determining whether a proposed technology has a clear, direct, and immediate relevance and impact to the solar industry?

A. Such specific criteria vary depending upon the nature of the specific proposed innovation and project.

Q. Is teaming with existing solar providers/integrators encouraged for this proposal?

A. Please refer to the FOA document, when it is released on the DOE Office of Science SBIR/STTR webpage for details on the funding opportunity description and requirements. It is, however, up to the applicant to decide on the necessary project team qualification to perform the proposed scope of work and to clearly demonstrate them as part of their application.

Q. It appears that there might be some overlap between subtopics 17(a) (“Power Electronic Technologies for Solar Systems”) and 17(d) (“Solar Hardware and Software Technologies: Affordability, Reliability, Performance, and Manufacturing”) with respect to control and analytics software solutions. Do you have any guidance as to what applications are more appropriate for each subtopic?

A. Subtopic 17(a) focuses on local control systems and firmware for individual power electronic devices, like for example internal controls of inverters or multiport converters. Energy management systems or control systems that coordinate multiple resources, such as distributed energy resource management systems, virtual power plant operation, aggregator functionality, or other coordinated control schemes of multiple devices are more relevant to subtopic 17(d).

Q. In subtopic 17(a) would increasing durability and reliability of solar inverters via improvements in cooling systems be considered in scope?

A. Improved designs and manufacturing processes for solar inverters/converters that could minimize failures and their impacts resulting in more reliable and durable power electronics devices for solar systems are areas of interest for this subtopic; however, potential applications much demonstrate a clear and direct impact to the solar industry and have a solar application or product as an end goal and not focus on just the design and development of a generic cooling system that could be beneficial to any electronic application by including it in the design of such products at a future stage.

Q. It appears that there might be some overlap between subtopics 17(a) (“Power Electronic Technologies for Solar Systems”) and 17(d) (“Solar Hardware and Software Technologies: Affordability, Reliability, Performance, and Manufacturing”) with respect to control and analytics software solutions. Do you have any guidance as to what applications are more appropriate for each subtopic?

A. Subtopic 17(a) focuses on local control systems and firmware for individual power electronic devices, like for example internal controls of inverters or multiport converters. Energy management systems or control systems that coordinate multiple resources, such as distributed energy resource management systems, virtual power plant operation, aggregator functionality, or other coordinated control schemes of multiple devices are more relevant to subtopic 17(d).

Q. Are innovative ideas on electrical balance of system specifically designed for floating solar applications in scope for subtopic 17(d)?

A. Yes, technology components and systems for application-specific needs, like floating photovoltaics, are an area of interest. Please note however that technologies that do not have a clear, direct, and immediate relevance and impact to the solar industry and do not have an immediate solar application or product as their end goal are not of interest.

Q. The language of subtopic 17(d) states that one of the specific areas of interest for this subtopic is “Innovative software solutions that will increase the competitiveness of the U.S. solar industry. This may include but is not limited to decreasing solar deployment barriers, expanding to new solar markets, reducing non-hardware costs of installations such as permitting, system design, or interconnection, and/or enabling new business models.” However, the same subtopic mentions that applications will be considered nonresponsive and declined without external merit review if they involve “Duplicative software solutions with many existing competitors in the market, including software to facilitate system design or system monitoring and any software solution to improve customer acquisition processes.” Is there a discrepancy in the language, as it sounds contradictory?

A. Innovative software solutions related to system design are in scope for this specific subtopic 17(d). The key point in the description of the nonresponsive area is the duplicative software solutions that replicate functionality that is already available in the market in these areas. Please note, however, that software solutions to improve customer acquisition processes are not of interest and are considered nonresponsive under this subtopic.

Q. What are the technologies of interest under subtopic 17(d) (“Solar Hardware and Software Technologies: Affordability, Reliability, Performance, and Manufacturing”)?

A. Please carefully read the subtopic description in the FY24 SBIR/STTR Phase I, Release 2 topics document. Topics listed as NOT of interest in this are specifically not of interest and applications on these topics will be considered nonresponsive and declined without review. Other hardware and software technologies that improve affordability, reliability, performance, and manufacturing of solar systems are in scope. The topic language includes specific areas of special interest and preference, but ideas and technologies are not limited to these areas only.

Q. Regarding solar VPPs, in subtopic 17(d), does SETO have a specific target profile (residential vs. commercial) in mind?

A. No, SETO does not constrain applications to a specific target profile and the area of interest is open for applicants to propose their ideas.

Q. Regarding solar VPPs, in subtopic 17(d), would the end target of the proposal be to have a technology that is already integrated into a grid/utility partner at the conclusion of Phase II?

A. Please refer to the FOA document, when it is released on the DOE Office of Science SBIR/STTR webpage for details on the funding opportunity description and requirements. The document will explain the expectations of each phase of an SBIR/STTR award.

Q. In subtopic 17(d) regarding improved operation and maintenance, could you elaborate on what it meant by imminent power loss? Would this be at a per-panel level or at an installation level (detecting loss-of-power from the grid)?

A. One of the areas of interest under subtopic 17(d) is technologies that improve operation and maintenance of PV systems. These can include self-contained smart PV systems with sensors that detect actual or imminent power loss, or mobile instrumentation for low-cost field diagnostics. This refers to loss of operation of the PV system either at the panel level or at the PV system level (like entire PV plan trips). The systems of interest are primarily PV installation monitoring system to detect internal problems. However, systems that could potentially detect external issues that could affect the PV installation and proactively respond to them to benefit the PV system operation could also be considered. However, this subtopic is not interested in system that monitor assets on the grid side of the point of interconnection or more general utility monitoring systems.