Funding Opportunity Announcement: Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer (SBIR/STTR) FY 2019 Phase 1 Release 2

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Description

The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program encourages U.S.-based small businesses to engage in high-risk, innovative research and technology development with the potential for future commercialization. The program is managed 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 is an ongoing funding program. Topic 12 in the Fiscal Year 2019 Phase 1 Release 2 covers solar energy technologies and has six specific subtopics:

TECHNOLOGY TRANSFER OPPORTUNITIES:

  • 12a: Real-Time Series Resistance Monitoring in PV Systems: The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has developed a method to analyze PV cell characteristics and performance under laboratory conditions. This methodology, the Sun Open Circuit Voltage (Suns-Voc), has been advanced at NREL to enable monitoring of PV modules in the field for early detection of common failure modes, which would reduce potential risk and determine replacement needs. SBIR/STTR is looking for partners to develop hardware and software related to the improved Suns-Voc techniques for commercial use.
  • 12b: PV Module Soiling Spectral Deposition Detector: Dust, particles, and dirt on the surface of PV modules can reduce the amount of energy generated by the module. NREL has developed a prototype device which can detect the amount of soiling present throughout an installed PV system and correlate that soiling level with lost power generation. This allows for informed decisions about how and when to clean installed modules. SBIR/STTR is currently looking for a partner to perform field tests and to optimize the device in various real-world scenarios, environments, and weather conditions.

RESEARCH TOPICS:

  • 12c: Storage Technologies to Enable Low-Cost Dispatchable Solar PV Generation: As the use of solar PV generation in the U.S. increases, new opportunities exist for technologies focused on enabling increased integration and operation flexibility. SBIR/STTR is seeking research into innovative storage technologies that could be co-located with solar PV systems and be fully compatible with solar.
  • 12d: Hardened Solar System Design and Operation for Recovery from Extreme Events: SBIR/STTR seeks to fund research that can improve the ability of solar—both PV and concentrating solar-thermal power—to quickly recover in response to extreme events. Hardened solar system performance research could include system survivability after an extreme event, restoration time to full system operability, reduction in system restoration cost, and islanding, or maintaining system functionality without grid support.
  • 12e: Rural Solar: Most non-utility solar systems that are small to medium in scale are currently deployed in urban and industrial settings. SBIR/STTR seeks to fund research into solar products or system designs to enable and increase the use of non-traditional installation locations when deploying small- and medium-scale solar PV technologies. This includes technologies that would enable installation of solar systems on agricultural or multiuse land, as well as solutions that allow for complementary land use.
  • 12f: Affordability, Reliability, and Performance of Solar Technologies on the Grid: SBIR/STTR is seeking integrated solutions that can advance solar energy technologies by lowering cost while facilitating the secure integration of solar into the nation’s energy grid. Proposed areas may cover a broad range including the advancement of solar power electronics, innovation supporting high-temperature concentrating solar-thermal power, and research of novel PV materials, components, and system enhancements.

Within this Funding Opportunity Announcement, SETO is also joining the Advanced Manufacturing Office (AMO) in releasing Topic 16:

  • 16a: Innovation in Solar Module Manufacturing Processes and Technologies: While PV module prices have been decreasing rapidly, innovations in module design and manufacturing may be necessary to maintain the path of rapid progress while opening further opportunities for U.S.-based manufacturing. AMO and SETO are seeking new innovations in manufacturing—from equipment development to process improvements. Proposed research topics may focus on updating existing technologies, as well as new tools.

Key Dates 

FOA Issue Date:December 17, 2018
Solar-Focused Webinar:Watch the recording *Note, recording is not compatible with Internet Explorer
FOA Webinar: December 20, 2018 2:00pm ET Register
Deadline for Mandatory Letter of Intent:January 7, 2019 5:00pm ET
Deadline for Full Applications: February 25, 2019 11:59pm ET
Expected Date for Selection Notifications:May 20, 2019

Additional Information

Download the full funding opportunity announcement here (PDF), which contains application instructions.

Learn more about all of the topics for FY 2019 Phase 1 Release 2 (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 12a

There is a commercial instrument that measures "real-time series resistance of PV modules." What is the novelty of this technology compared to what is available in the market?

The intent of this Technology Transfer Opportunity is not intended to assist any specific company in commercializing products already available in the market. Most of the products already available in the market perform simple functions: they measure the instantaneous IV characteristic of a module, string, or array under outdoor conditions. Use of those products requires a trained electrician to disconnect the module, string, or array for testing, which is time-intensive, costly, and moreover fundamentally prohibits continuous, scalable, real-time module monitoring. The RTSR technology developed by NREL analyzes the change in series resistance of a module based on a comparison of the open-circuit voltages obtained at both low- and high-irradiance operating points. If the series resistance increases over time, it is an indicator of a possible module failure (potentially catastrophically) that should trigger an investigation of the module for potential replacement. The relevant data for the RTSR analysis may be collected at the inverter (or microinverter) and thus an RTSR analysis system does not require any connection/disconnection of the module. RTSR can also be automated to be performed continuously at scale over data sets pulled from module-level electronics throughout the overall array. In other words, you can monitor the series resistance – as a proxy for the performance – of all of your modules in the field at once, with no downtime, expensive personnel, or additional equipment using this method.

I am interested in applying for multiple SBIR/STTRs. Is this allowed?

Please refer to the funding opportunity announcement that will be released to the public on November 26, 2018 for any information related to eligibility and submission of multiple applications. You will find the funding opportunity announcement at this link: https://science.energy.gov/sbir/funding-opportunities/.

Has this piece of equipment been patented yet?

The status of the patent is discussed in the subtopic description. There is a patent application pending (# 15/564,357).

Is this a software or hardware?

This is software that operates off of data that is collected by the inverter (or other power electronics in the module or string). There is some question as to whether the quality of data obtainable by the inverter or other power electronics (e.g. temperature) is of high enough quality to reliably use in the RTSR algorithm. Some field-testing may be necessary to determine this. If the data is not sufficiently reliable, a separate hardware component may be necessary.

A field-testing over large number of modules should be conducted. How many modules?

It is up to the applicant to determine the right number of modules needed to test and validate the feasibility of the technology on a large scale.

Does NREL have field data available?

No. However, NREL does have test data available taken in controlled laboratory conditions which establishes proof-of-concept of the RTSR method. We have no reason to believe those results would not translate to analogous data taken in the field, so long as the data that is able to be collected for inputs into the RTSR algorithm is reliable.

Subtopic 12b

Is NREL looking to partner with one company for all three goals (correction with ambient temperature, data verification, and build a commercially viable product) or three different companies?

No more than one award will be made within this subtopic. Ideally, a company should be in charge of all the technology development and commercialization of this patent. However, the prime recipient can partner with other entities if appropriate.

Subtopic 12c

The document says "any time scale will be considered (minutes, hours, days, seasonal)", but the topic "dispatchable" implies days and seasonal for solar. Could you just clarify how minutes and hours fits?

We are interested in storage technologies with the potential to increase the utilization of solar photovoltaic generation in the grid (increased dispatchability of solar generation) at any time scale (minutes, hours, days, seasonal). Proposed solutions can focus on one or more time scale. However, applications should clearly discuss which energy value stream the proposed technology will target.

Assuming novelty, relatively low cost, and high efficiency, would an energy conversion/storage system and specifically an electricity-to-fuel gas system (gases including hydrogen, formic acid, and methanol) be considered responsive?

Electricity-to-fuel gas systems would not be considered responsive to this subtopic, unless they utilize solar electricity, take advantage of specific characteristics of solar photovoltaic systems, and could be co-located with them.

Is a completely new non-Li battery chemistry considered responsive?

Yes, non-Li ion battery technologies are responsive to this subtopic and encouraged, if they meet the other criteria described in the subtopic language.

Are you looking for a new storage technology?

Yes, we are looking for storage technologies to enable low-cost dispatchable solar photovoltaics generation.

Would we need to show a working pilot?

Although applicants are encouraged to show a working pilot, this is not required in Phase I. Given the limited budget available in Phase I, we require only a feasibility study that clearly proves the technical and business feasibility of the proposed innovation.

Does all the energy need to be returned to the grid?

We are looking for technologies that can enable low-cost dispatchable solar PV generation that enables increased integration and operation flexibility and allow solar electricity to be better matched to demand. We expect this goal to be achieved mostly through returning electricity to the grid at a different time than when it is generated by the solar system. However, we recognize that this goal could be partially achieved by shifting the load and better matching generation with demand. However, as stated in the language of the subtopic, a technology aimed at self-consumption optimization will not be considered responsive and will be declined without external merit review.

In the case of thermal storage, would a CSP system also be considered responsive?

Yes, as long as it meets all the criteria listed in the subtopic language.

If our product addresses Topic 12c and 12d, can we apply to both?

Please read the funding opportunity announcement for the submission criteria. Please keep in mind that each application can be associated to only one subtopic.

Does early stage solid state Li ion battery would be responsive?

As clearly stated in the language of the subtopic, solutions based on existing battery technologies will not be considered responsive and will be declined without external merit review.

Some cost estimates may require statistical validation that comes with larger installations. What level of hardware development is required for Phase I?

Although applicants are encouraged to include tasks related to hardware development, this is not required in Phase I. Given the limited budget available in Phase I, we require only a feasibility study that clearly proves the technical and business feasibility of the proposed innovation. The cost model should be developed including clear references to justify the input parameters, the assumptions made, and a sensitivity analysis to describe how the cost target would change depending on variations of the input parameters.

It is acceptable to also include hardware R&D?

Yes, absolutely. Applicants are encouraged to include hardware R&D.

Would low-cost thermal storage with higher pressures and temperatures be interesting in this context?

Yes, if the application clearly discusses how the proposed technology leverages attributes specific to solar photovoltaic generation technologies and increases the utilization of solar generation in the grid.

“Existing battery technologies will not be considered”. Does it mean commercially available or lab demonstrated technologies?

Solutions based on commercially available technologies will not be considered responsive to this subtopic. Solutions based on lab demonstrated technology can be responsive, if the application demonstrates a clear innovation compared to the current state of the art.

What is the scale of the solar energy storage? Does this subtopic apply to home, utility, or both?

As clearly stated in the language of the subtopic, we refer to storage technologies that can enable both distributed and utility-scale solar photovoltaic systems.

Subtopic 12d

Is research into new methods for large-scale structural design responsive?

Large-scale structural design might be responsive to this subtopic, if the proposed solution meets all the other requirements discussed in the subtopic language.

Do extreme events include electromagnetic pulse (EMP) and other geomagnetic interference?

Yes. The Applicant should discuss and demonstrate in the application the impact of the extreme event on the solar system and the grid, and how the proposed technology increases asset resilience, maximize operability, and minimize restoration costs.

Subtopic 12e

Is research and development of a mobile grid infrastructure using vehicles (e.g., vans, trucks, motor homes) that will be connected to the electric grid when parked considered responsive?

This technology could be of interest as long as it is clear that: 1) the infrastructure can be connected to the electric grid; 2) the technology is relevant to SETO (meaning the solar component is the key differentiator of the technology); and 3) the technology is relevant for rural areas, as discussed in the subtopic.

Would complementary land use include livestock and or row crops?

Yes, that would be responsive to this subtopic.

Are off-grid or mini grid systems considered responsive, since they are the most economical way to supply solar energy to rural farms?

As clearly stated in the language of the subtopic, products or solutions for systems which do not tie to the electric grid will not be considered responsive and will be declined without external merit review.

Would a Tribal utility authority be eligible?

Please read carefully the Funding Opportunity Announcement and the eligibility criteria for this program. Only small businesses can be the prime recipient for these awardees. However, we encourage small businesses to partner with relevant stakeholders, including utilities, when appropriate to execute the proposed project.

Will a proposal that can remove nitrate from agricultural run-off water be of interest? 

Any technology that would enable installation of solar systems on multiuse land, including nitrate removal from agricultural run-off water, is encouraged if the synergy between solar and the complementary application is clear, the use case is identified, and the business case is demonstrated.

Are you specifically looking for a grid connected solution or a storage enabled system?

As clearly stated in the subtopic, products or solutions for systems which do not tie to the electric grid will be considered non-responsive.

Subtopic 12f

Is proposing a novel method for recycling solar panels and recovering useful materials responsive?

Yes. As clearly stated in the subtopic language, “SETO is particularly interested in applications developing technologies to improve recyclability of photovoltaic materials and components.”

Might elevated PV tracking systems eligible since not really not commercially available?

Yes, as long as it is clear how the proposed technology is different than that is already available in the market.

Is a technology reducing cell manufacturing costs responsive?

Yes.

Is software for improved solar integration for distribution grid eligible?

Yes.

What is expected in Phase I, since funding an entity needed continued government support is not of interest?

We are looking for R&D projects than can be developed by a small business with Phase I and the Phase II SBIR/STTR funding, and that can be taken by private investors for further development or be ready to enter the market after the end of the Phase II.

Is a grid-tied energy storage device that reduces balance of system cost of energy storage systems eligible?

A solution aimed at reducing the cost of only the energy storage system will not be considered responsive and will be declined without external merit review.  However, it will be responsive if the energy storage system is tied to a solar asset and the solution will decrease the levelized cost of electricity or increase the utilization of solar photovoltaic generation in the grid. 

Is reducing O&M costs a responsive solution?

Yes.

Would a software and algorithms to decrease the cost of installation be considered responsive?

Yes.

Are design optimization methods (reliability-based) to reduce balance of system (BOS) cost responsive?

Yes.

Are proposals for concentrated solar-thermal power that develop new technologies for solar receivers that reduce the overall electricity generation cost for next generation CSP responsive to the solicitation?

Yes, technologies for solar receivers are responsive to this subtopic.

Are systems external to PVs that enhance reliability (such as new methods of solar tracking or solar concentrators to improve yield) responsive?

Yes, that would be responsive, if the technology meets the other criteria listed in the subtopic language.

Are systems that replace or do away with existing solar power electronics responsive?

Yes, that would be responsive, if the technology meets the other criteria listed in the subtopic language.

Subtopic 16a

Would innovation in wafer bonding technology (low-cost) for tandem solar module manufacturing (III-V) be responsive?

Yes. As clearly stated in the subtopic language, SETO and AMO are looking for “development of techniques that could allow for the manufacture of mechanically staked or fully integrated tandem technologies.”

Can applicants leverage facilities and/or research centers other than the DuraMat consortium or the RAPID institute?

Yes. SETO and AMO encourage interaction between small businesses and any research center or manufacturing facility in the United States.

Are you looking for innovation in replacing Ag with Cu (or thorny Cu)? Do you consider cost vs. performance in this case?

Technologies to replace Ag with Cu are responsive to this subtopic. However, the applicant should clearly demonstrate: 1) how the proposed technology is different with respect to existing products or solutions already commercially available or already investigated by the research community and/or the solar manufacturers; 2) how the proposed technology solves the major roadblocks hit by manufacturers; and 3) a concrete business case/cost model to justify widespread adoption of the proposed technology.

Would cell technologies be responsive?

The goal of this subtopic is to support innovation in solar module manufacturing process and technologies. Solutions aimed at cell manufacturing only would not be considered responsive, unless the proposed technology has a clear link and impact on the module manufacturing process.

How mature should the proposed technology be?

The goal of Phase I is to analyze the feasibility of a new technology or process, identify and do preliminary work with relevant stakeholders to ensure easy access to facilities to test, validate, and prototype the new design. Applicants are encouraged but not required to include the development of a prototype during Phase I.