The Solar Energy Technologies Office Fiscal Year 2021 Photovoltaics and Concentrating Solar-Thermal Power Funding Program (SETO FY21 PV and CSP) funds research and development projects that advance PV and CSP to help eliminate carbon dioxide emissions from the energy sector. 

On October 12, 2021, SETO announced that 40 projects were awarded $40 million. Fifteen of those projects will receive over $7.5 million to research and develop technologies that lengthen the useful life of PV systems to 50 years and to research new and emerging ideas in PV that can deliver significant results in one year. Read about the CSP projects.


Projects to extend PV system life while lowering the cost of energy will improve system components such as inverters, connectors, cables, racks, and trackers through data analysis, sensor development for data gathering, characterization, component hardware improvements, more efficient operations and maintenance schedules, and increased durability.

Small innovative projects in solar (SIPS) will focus on new and emerging areas of PV research that can produce significant results within the first year of performance. They will work to significantly lower costs and improve the power conversion efficiency, fielded energy output, reuse and recycling of system components, service lifetime, and manufacturability of PV technologies.


This funding program will help achieve SETO’s goal of lowering solar energy costs 50% by 2030. Some of these projects will help extend PV system life. The rest will lay the foundation for continued research that leads to new PV technologies to help achieve a carbon-free electricity sector by 2035 and a net-zero-emissions energy sector by 2050.


-- Award and cost share amounts are subject to change pending negotiations --

Topic Area 1: 50-Year Service Life PV Systems (PV-50)


Project Name: Extending Component Lifetime and Improving Inverter Reliability
Location: Charlotte, NC
DOE Award Amount: $1.5 million
Cost Share: $400,000
Project Summary: This project uses a mix of field-based and lab-based testing to better understand inverter failure modes, identify opportunities for improving inverter reliability, develop service lifetime estimates and predictive maintenance for inverters, and establish best practices for inverter-focused retrofitting at large-scale PV plants. Inverters have the highest failure rate in fielded systems, which reduces energy availability and increases electricity costs. Identifying causes of inverter failure and predicting it should reduce inverter downtime and, therefore, costs.


Project Name: Completing the Feedback Loop: Linking Data, Operations and Maintenance, Manufacturers, and Insurance Markets
Location: San Francisco, CA
DOE Award Amount: $2 million
Cost Share: $500,000
Project Summary: Component manufacturers and plant operators in the PV industry are often motivated financially to focus on initial capital costs, rather than the levelized cost of electricity over the plant’s service life. This project will improve solar manufacturing and financing by analyzing data from operations and maintenance logs, identifying top failure modes and prioritizing hardware solutions to solve them, and offering insurance discounts for asset owners and manufacturers who adopt the identified solutions.


Project Name: Smart, Hardened, Modular PV System for 50-Year Service Life
Location: Santa Monica, CA
DOE Award Amount: $1 million
Cost Share: $250,000
Project Summary: This project team is developing a factory-built, modular array that could improve manufacturing quality and system reliability through better assembly controls and an integrated design. The controls and design could improve energy production and reduce the levelized cost of energy. Modular balance-of-system components, which are integrated with a self-monitoring health system, are designed to enable easy replacement of faulty or damaged components (or the entire array, if necessary) due to normal wear-out from operation or damage from extreme weather events.

Topic Area 5a: Small Innovative Projects in Solar (SIPS) – PV


Project Name: Snow Loss Reduction of PV Systems by Pulse Heating Technique
Location: Boone, NC
DOE Award Amount: $260,000
Cost Share: $70,000
Project Summary: This project will accelerate snow sliding off PV modules to prevent energy production loss in winter. To remove snow from modules, the team will place a heating strip at the bottom of the module frame and water-repellant tape where the frame and glass meet. This snow-removal method could be more cost-effective compared to mechanical snow removal and other conventional methods. Appalachian State University will do field testing and monitoring, and Arizona State University will do indoor testing.


Project Name: Back Contact Alternatives for Increasing the Life Expectancy of Cadmium-Telluride (CdTe) PV Modules
Location: New York, NY
DOE Award Amount: $250,000
Cost Share: $60,000
Project Summary: To enable a 40-year useful life for CdTe PV modules, the Center for Life Cycle Analysis at Columbia University and CdTe module manufacturer First Solar will conduct a life-cycle sustainability assessment to evaluate considered improvements in intrinsic solar cell degradation and solar module failure modes. This work will subsequently reduce the levelized cost of energy to $0.02 per kilowatt-hour for utility applications. This work will increase U.S. competitiveness by evaluating cost and environmental impact trade-offs in new back contact doping and encapsulants for CdTe modules.


Project Name: Solar Float Designed to Leverage U.S. Contract Manufacturing
Location: Larkspur, CA
DOE Award Amount: $300,000
Cost Share: $75,000
Project Summary: This project presents a new system design for floating solar, an emerging market segment that enables renewable energy development in land-constrained areas. Growth of floating solar is hindered by an installation cost that is up to $0.20 per watt higher than ground-mounted solar energy systems. This team will redesign the float and racking system to take advantage of the U.S.-based contract manufacturing network to drive down cost.


Project Name: Encapsulation Materials Tailored to Perovskite Photovoltaics
Location: Golden, CO
DOE Award Amount: $300,000
Cost Share: $75,000
Project Summary: This project will design encapsulation specifically for perovskites to aid in their eventual commercialization. To prevent perovskite degradation, the right packaging is key. The team will examine polyolefin-based chemistries to design stable plastic encapsulants, which are produced by melting down to mold, freeze, and fit glass-glass perovskite modules. The team will work with Dow Chemical Company, a world leader in commercial production of PV encapsulation materials.


Project Name: Passivated and Conductive Back Contacts for Bifacial Cadmium-Telluride PV
Location: New York, NY
DOE Award Amount: $300,000
Cost Share: $80,000
Project Summary: The project aims to develop bifacial cadmium-telluride (CdTe) PV devices by replacing the sputter-deposited, opaque back contact on solar cells with solution-processed two-dimensional nanomaterials that can be used as transparent contacts and be highly conductive. The developed process will enable the use of low-cost processing techniques, like spray-coating and slot-die coating, and their tunable surface properties could lead to higher-efficiency CdTe PV.


Project Name: High-Throughput Materials Characterization Tools for Accelerated Photovoltaic Research
Location: Somerville, MA
DOE Award Amount: $300,000
Cost Share: $75,000
Project Summary: Photovoltaic (PV) device characterization tools are slow to identify performance-limiting fabrication steps or guide technology to theoretical limits. Optigon will develop tools with orders-of-magnitude improvements in measurement speed  and live performance forecasting. The team will use fast single-photon detectors and pulsed lasers to track device quality as layers and interfaces are formed. These measurements, paired with automation and live performance modeling, will allow processes to be optimized in real time or for new formulations and architectures to be quickly evaluated.


Project Name: Remanufacturable “Net-Zero Pb” Perovskite Solar Modules
Location: Rapid City, SD
DOE Award Amount: $200,000
Cost Share: $50,000
Project Summary: This project will create a tool to help manage the disposal, recycling, and material recovery of perovskite solar modules when they reach the end of their useful life. The team will analyzing the economic trade-offs, assess the feasibility and efficiency of material extraction to achieve a circular economy, and fabricate and test mini modules that could become reusable. They will create a process to fully recover lead from PV waste to preserve environmental and human health.


Project Name: Low-Cost, Highly Efficient and Fast Thermally Pressed Scalable Carbon-Based Planar Perovskite Solar Cells
Location: Tuscaloosa, AL
DOE Award Amount: $300,000
Cost Share: $75,000
Project Summary: Scaling up perovskite technology requires increased stability and a back contact suitable for large-scale manufacturing. This team will develop an ultra-low-cost carbon black­–based planar perovskite solar cell with efficiency above 20%. Carbon black is a material similar to soot that is used as an electrically conductive contact material in these cells. The techniques used to achieve 20% efficiency are low-cost because they can be done without high temperatures or a vacuum. This work could reduce the cost and manufacturing time of the solar module and achieve the Energy Department’s utility-scale PV cost goal of $0.02 per kilowatt-hour by 2030.


Project Name: Multifunctional Nanofiber Reinforcement for Improved Thermomechanical and Chemical Stability of Perovskite Solar Cells
Location: Tucson, AZ
DOE Award Amount: $150,000
Cost Share: $40,000
Project Summary: High internal stresses cause perovskite instability—heat makes some solar cell layers expand more than others, affecting the performance and mechanical durability of perovskite films. This project seeks to improve the reliability and service lifetime of perovskite solar cells through reinforcement with nanofibers of polymers, like nylon or acrylic, that attract water. The nanofibers will improve the thermomechanical stability of perovskite films under temperature cycling and mitigate moisture diffusion across the device without affecting its electronic performance to increase the retention of power conversion efficiency under accelerated aging by 50%.


Project Name: From Femtoseconds to Gigaseconds: The SolDeg Project to Analyze and Mitigate the Performance Degradation of Amorphous Silicon–Containing Crystalline Silicon Heterojunction Solar Cells
Location: Davis, CA
DOE Award Amount: $240,000
Cost Share: $60,000
Project Summary: This team is completing development of a platform called SolDeg, previously funded by SETO, using machine learning to analyze defect generation in heterojunction silicon solar cells. The goal is to discover cell designs and fabrication methods that reduce the degradation from 0.5% per year to less than 0.1% per year. Reducing the degradation rate can reduce the levelized cost of energy by the same amount as a 1% increase of the cell efficiency.  


Project Name: A Hot-Swappable, Fault-Tolerant, Modular Power Converter System for Solar Photovoltaic Plants
Location: Lincoln, NE
DOE Award Amount: $300,000
Cost Share: $75,000
Project Summary: This project will work to prove the concept of a fault-tolerant, modular power converter system for PV plants that does not require disconnection from the solar array to replace components. The system will contain innovations that enable 50% system cost reduction, 90% operation and maintenance (O&M) cost reduction, uninterrupted operation with 50 years of service life, improved manufacturability, and higher power density over the state of the art. The team will design, fabricate and test a 50 kilowatt (kW) prototype with over 99.5% inverter peak efficiency, less than $0.03 per watt system cost, and less than $0.5 kW-year O&M cost.


Project Name: Monolithic Bifacial Halide Perovskite­–Cadmium Selenide Telluride (CST) Tandem Thin-Film Solar Cells
Location: Toledo, OH
DOE Award Amount: $300,000
Cost Share: $80,000
Project Summary: This work aims to demonstrate low-cost, high-efficiency, stable monolithic bifacial perovskite-CST tandem thin-film solar cells. Metal halide perovskites bring opportunities to produce perovskite tandem solar cells with theoretical power conversion efficiencies (PCE) of over 40%. This team proposes a bifacial tandem design that not only enables monolithic integration of perovskite-CST tandems but also delivers high PCEs by harvesting light reflected off a surface. The team will develop rear-surface passivation for CST cells to improve their bifaciality and efficient interconnecting layers for the tandems. This work could lead to integrating perovskite technology into existing CST production lines, maximizing the efficiency and lifetime of thin-film tandem solar cells and reducing the levelized costs of energy.

Learn more about the SETO FY21 PV and CSP funding program and the project selections in the other topics.

Learn more about SETO’s other competitive awards.