US Energy Department Puts $45 Million Into Solar Hardware & Systems Integration

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Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced up to $45 million for research to advance solar hardware and systems integration, including the creation of a consortium dedicated to developing control technologies for a modernized electric grid.

While solar makes up 3% of U.S. electricity, that amount is expected to reach 18% by 2050 — requiring an increase of hundreds of gigawatts of solar capacity. As a result, DOE seeks new solutions that can reliably bring large quantities of solar onto the grid and that can ensure that American-made hardware is used in those installations.

“The nation’s solar energy use is on the rise,” said Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette. “Funding innovative research and development projects will ensure that the technologies we’re using benefit the U.S. economy while securely delivering reliable power to all Americans.”

The Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) Fiscal Year 2021 Systems Integration and Hardware Incubator funding program will advance solar in two broad areas: systems integration and hardware incubator.

Systems Integration

Today’s grid uses power from multiple energy resources, and it has become digitized and complex. Connecting solar reliably and securely to the power grid — whether as utility-scale photovoltaic (PV) or as smaller-scale distributed PV systems for homes and businesses — is a challenge the following two topic areas are designed to meet. The new Research Roadmap on Grid-Forming Inverters, which was developed in collaboration with three DOE National Laboratories and two universities, will help guide the research as these technologies advance. U.S. universities, companies, nonprofits, and state, local, and tribal governments are encouraged to apply under this topic. DOE seeks innovative projects in the following areas:

  • Grid-Forming Technologies Research Consortium — $25 million, 1 award: Grid-forming technologies automatically coordinate inverter-based and other resources to start up and maintain electricity on the grid. SETO and the Wind Energy Technologies Office will support the creation of a consortium to advance research and industry-wide collaboration on grid-forming technologies and ensure that they enhance power systems operation.
  • Integrating Behind-the-Meter Solar Resources into Utility Data Systems – $6 million, 2–3 awards: Integrated communication systems that digest sensor measurements from distributed energy sources, especially those from behind-the-meter solar PV systems, are necessary for utilities to manage the grid. This will lead to greater PV system visibility and more flexible and reliable control and operation of the overall power system. Selected projects will receive funding ranging from $2 million to $3 million.

Hardware Incubator

In 2019, less than half of the $9 billion spent on PV hardware in the United States was spent on domestic hardware. U.S. solar hardware manufacturing creates jobs and economic activity and promotes energy security. This topic is designed to increase U.S. solar manufacturing by bringing innovative technologies to market more quickly. Only U.S. for-profit entities may apply under this topic. DOE seeks innovative projects in the following areas:

  • Product Development — $6 million, 6–12 awards: The goal of this topic area is to bring new technologies and manufacturing processes to the prototype stage and develop and validate a pathway to commercial success. Selected projects will receive funds ranging from $500,000 to $1.5 million.
  • Product Development & Demonstration — $8 million, 1–4 awards: Under this topic area, products or solutions will undergo pilot-scale testing and demonstration. Examples include high-volume or high-throughput manufacturing processes for solar hardware; production of a large number of devices for field testing and validation; and demonstration of a system, like a microgrid, that pilot-tests new hardware. Selected projects will receive funds ranging from $1.5 million to $3 million.

Sign up to learn more about this funding opportunity at a webinar on January 6, 2021, at 1 p.m. ET. Visit the SETO website for more information. Learn more about DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

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The mission of the U.S. Energy Department is to ensure America’s security and prosperity by addressing its energy, environmental and nuclear challenges through transformative science and technology solutions. Learn more.

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