The Solar Energy Technologies Office Fiscal Year 2021 (SETO FY21) Systems Integration and Hardware Incubator funding program supports research, development, and demonstration projects that enable solar energy to contribute to the reliability and resilience of the nation’s electricity grid and continue driving down costs, while developing next-generation solar technologies and increasing U.S. solar manufacturing. These projects will help improve the reliability, resilience, and domestic benefit of solar technologies on the grid.

On December 16, 2020, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced it would provide $45 million in funding for 10-20 projects in this program, including a new consortium dedicated to developing control technologies for a modernized electric grid. On August 11, 2021, DOE announced the selections


This funding program contains three topic areas:

Topic Area 1 supports the creation of a grid-forming technologies research consortium to address the reliability challenges and resilience opportunities related to integrating more solar energy onto the electric grid. Grid-forming technologies automatically coordinate inverter-based and other resources to start up and maintain electricity on the grid. This consortium will advance research and industry-wide collaboration to ensure these technologies enhance power systems operation.

Topic Area 2 funds the development of communication systems that integrate highly distributed sensor measurements, especially those from behind-the-meter (BTM) photovoltaic (PV) systems, into utility data systems to enable better grid management. Incorporating these measurements into utility real-time monitoring and control systems will lead to improved power system reliability, resilience, and security in areas with large amounts of BTM solar resources.

Topic Area 3 accelerates commercialization of innovative product ideas that can increase U.S. domestic manufacturing across the solar industry supply chain.


Projects in this funding program will ensure that American-made hardware is used to bring large quantities of solar energy onto the grid. They will support U.S. innovation and result in new technologies and solutions that contribute to a decarbonized electricity system by 2035 and decarbonized energy sector by 2050.


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

TOPIC AREA 1: Grid Forming Research Consortium

National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Project Title: Universal Interoperability for Grid-Forming Inverters (UNIFI) Consortium
Location: Golden, CO
DOE Award: $25 million
Cost share: $10 million
Project Summary: The Universal Interoperability for Grid‐Forming Inverters (UNIFI) Consortium, co-led by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the University of Washington, and the Electric Power Research Institute, brings together leading researchers, industry stakeholders, utilities, and system operators to advance grid-forming inverter technologies. UNIFI will focus on integrating these inverters into electric grids at any scale, to enable high penetration of inverter-based resources, like solar and wind. To achieve this, the consortium will work to identify and fill gaps in technologies, business models, standards, and human factors. In particular, UNIFI will conduct and coordinate research, development, and demonstration, as well as create educational‐ and workforce‐training materials focusing on planning, designing, and operating grids with a high level of inverter‐based resources. UNIFI will develop universal guidelines for seamless integration of grid-forming technologies .

TOPIC AREA 2: Integrating Behind-the-Meter Solar Resources into Utility Data Systems


Project Title: PV Integration Using a Virtual Airgap
Location: Alamo, CA
DOE Award: $3 million
Cost share: $1 million
Project Summary: This project will demonstrate an approach to convert untrusted behind-the-meter (BTM) data into secure, clean, and reliable data for grid operations. Most utilities are reluctant to integrate BTM telemetry with control-room systems because it’s not secure for mission-critical operations technology (OT). Plus, there is an inherent mismatch between current protocols and legacy systems. This project is a cloud-based integration layer that decouples photovoltaic data collection from OT systems. It will perform heterogeneous data validation, transformation, and estimation on data streams, which also improves usability, reliability, and security by neutralizing the operational impacts of cyber-risks. Bad data is filtered out, missing data is automatically filled in, and sensitive data is mathematically secured. This system will also help solve the emerging challenge of coordinating BTM data across multiple stakeholders, such as distribution and transmission operators and energy retailers and aggregators.

University of Pittsburgh

Project Title: Fusion of Low-Cost Sensors and Distributed Analytics for Enhanced BTM Visibility
Location: Pittsburgh, PA
DOE Award: $3 million
Cost share: $1 million
Project Summary: This project will demonstrate new low-cost sensors, based on both optical fiber and passive wireless technologies, for distributed temperature and current sensing with order-of-magnitude cost reduction. Existing inverter measurements will also be integrated as “virtual” sensors. The heterogeneous, distributed data from the multiple sensors will be collected, aggregated, and treated. The system will leverage industry-recognized micro-phasor measurement unit systems for interoperability and cybersecurity, with minimum communication system costs. Distributed analytics will be developed and deployed at the component, aggregator, and system levels. Ultimately, this project will demonstrate full behind-the-meter photovoltaic visibility for utilities, focusing on traditionally underserved rural electric cooperatives, which will clarify pathways to future full-scale deployment.

TOPIC AREA 3a: Hardware Incubator: Product Development

Bert Thin Films

Project Title: Front Side Copper Metallization Paste for Silicon Solar Cells
Location: Louisville, KY

DOE Award: $1 million
Cost share: $250,000
Project Summary: Grid lines in silicon solar cells are currently made of silver, which is the costliest solar cell component after silicon. Bert Thin Films has developed a lower-cost, copper-based metallization paste that is screen-printable and can be used to form electrical connections within and among solar cells with an industrial furnace in air—without the need for a controlled atmosphere—so it’s compatible with real-world applications. The paste does not require specialized equipment for module assembly at the factory. This work will focus on de-risking the paste and showing its manufacturability.

General Electric Company, GE Research

Project Title: Modular Flexible Multi-Terminal Power Converter with Grid-forming Capability for Integrated PV Solar and Battery Energy Storage
Location: Niskayuna, NY
DOE Award: $1.3 million
Cost share: $450,000
Project Summary: GE Research, in collaboration with GE Renewable Energy and Sandia National Laboratories, will design, build, test, and validate a 400-kilowatt-hour inverter system for the commercial and industrial solar photovoltaic market that can hold up to four hours of energy storage. The storage unit will be coupled with direct current, resulting in a compact and therefore cost-effective design. The system will have more than 95% round-trip efficiency—collecting energy, using that energy to charge the battery, then later discharging the energy. This new design necessitates a novel cooling technology for power conversion and includes a silicon carbide grid-forming inverter that can island operation from behind the meter.

Imagen Energy

Project Title: Compact, High-Power, Direct Medium Voltage Solar PV Inverter
Location: Milwaukee, WI

DOE Award: $1.4 million
Cost share: $350,000
Project Summary: Imagen Energy will develop and commercialize a compact, 1-megawatt inverter for utility-scale solar photovoltaic systems that eliminates the need for a transformer, thereby reducing materials and costs. The inverter will accept 1,000 volts of direct current from a solar array and generate power directly to a 13-kilovolt (alternating current) medium-voltage grid. The flexibility of connecting directly to medium voltage enables higher solar energy penetration and provides better system management. This technology uses a modular silicon carbide–based converter to increase efficiency that made Imagen a finalist in the American-Made Solar Prize.

Management Sciences

Project Title: NEC 609.11-Compliant Safety Connectors for Mitigating PV System Arc Faults and Fires
Location: Albuquerque, NM
DOE Award: $500,000
Cost share: $150,000
Project Summary: Management Sciences is partnering with the manufacturer Amphenol to produce a connector that predicts and prevents arc faults, which can cause electrical fires, in photovoltaic systems. The Solar Guardian® Safety Connector will disconnect the PV system in less than two seconds to comply with the National Electrical Code. Sandia National Laboratories will evaluate the prototype and will test the pilot products before they undergo field-testing and validation by the Public Service Company of New Mexico, a utility.  

Silfab Solar (1)

Project Title: In-Line Pre-Lamination Inspection via Non-Contact Electroluminescence for Module Manufacturing of Advanced Interconnect Technologies
Location: Bellingham, WA

DOE Award: $700,000
Cost share: $200,000
Project Summary: This project will streamline and increase yield of the assembly of solar photovoltaic modules by integrating a non-contact electroluminescence (EL) inspection tool developed by Tau Science before the cell-to-cell interconnection and module lamination. This will allow early and easy inspection for electrical and mechanical defects. This project will develop a novel, fully automated, in-line inspection tool based on EL imaging to improve the cost competitiveness of next-generation module interconnect technologies.

Toshiba International Corporation

Project Title: Commercialization of M4 Inverter: Modular, Multifunction, Multiport and Medium Voltage Utility-Scale SiC PV + Storage Inverter
Location: Houston, TX
DOE Award: $1.5 million
Cost share: $400,000
Project Summary: Toshiba and the University of Texas at Austin (UTA) are improving and testing an early-stage prototype of UTA’s SETO-funded utility-scale solar-plus-storage M4 inverter, which is designed to enable solar energy to provide data centers with uninterruptible power supply (UPS). The team will upgrade the control hardware to industrial-grade, optimize the design to reduce costs, develop and implement the UPS mode and related functions, and test the inverter in labs and potential field trials.

TOPIC AREA 3b: Hardware Incubator: Product Development and Demonstration


Project Title: U.S. Floating Solar Manufacturing Innovations for Improved Cost and Performance
Location: Tallahassee, FL

DOE Award: $1.5 million
Cost share: $7 million
Project Summary: AccuSolar is working with Nhu Energy to develop a new racking system and advance manufacturing for floating solar photovoltaic systems to improve U.S. competitiveness in the floating solar market. The racking system will be partially assembled so it’s easier to deploy. By increasing throughput, the project will reduce the cost of floating solar so that it’s similar to or less than ground-mount solar energy systems.

Silfab Solar (2)

Project Title: Transitioning Sunflex Solar’s Sunfoil Back-Contact Modules to High-Volume Manufacturing
Location: Bellingham, WA

DOE Award: $3 million
Cost share: $3 million
Project Summary: Module manufacturer Silfab Solar will work with technology developer SunFlex Solar to scale its low-cost aluminum backsheets for silicon solar modules, to replace existing copper ones on which electrical connections are printed. They will develop the processes and supply chain to manufacture them at high speed and volume (up to 90 modules an hour), leading to the installation and ramp up of a manufacturing line in Bellingham, Washington. The team will demonstrate 1,000 modules that have greater than 22.5% average efficiency. SunFlex Solar won the American-Made Solar Prize Round 2 with this technology.

Solar Dynamics

Project Title: Solar-Thermal Biosolids-to-Fertilizer Demonstration
Location: Broomfield, CO

DOE Award: $3 million
Cost share: $21 million
Project Summary: In partnership with a wastewater utility, this project will conduct pilot-scale testing and demonstration of solar process heat instead of natural gas to dry municipal sewage sludge and convert the dried granules into a high-value commercial fertilizer. This project will help decarbonize the agricultural, wastewater, and industrial sectors, as well as improve water quality and the economics of biosolids management.

Learn more about the solar office's other systems integration and manufacturing and competitiveness funding programs