American-Made Solar Prize Round 5 Finalists Have Been Announced

10 Hardware Track and 10 Software Track Teams Advance to the Final Contest

April 26, 2022 | By Tiffany Plate | Contact media relations

On April 22, the U.S. Department of Energy announced the 20 finalist teams moving forward in the American-Made Solar Prize Round 5. After pitching their concepts for solar innovation during Set! Demo Day events, 10 hardware-focused and 10 software-focused teams were named finalists and awarded cash prizes.

Now in its fifth round, the multimillion-dollar American-Made Solar Prize competition was designed to inspire innovations in the solar industry that can help build a better, more reliable, and resilient solar future. Competing teams are tasked with identifying a critical solar industry challenge and creating a commercially viable solution in the span of months.

The Solar Prize is composed of three consecutive contests—Ready!, Set!, and Go!—during which teams quickly advance their technologies in the hopes of earning prizes and expediting the innovation process.

"The innovations we see from competitors in the American-Made Solar Prize each year are incredibly inspiring," said Garrett Nilsen, acting director of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office. "And we need all innovators now more than ever if we're going to expand solar's accessibility to Americans and meet our net-zero goals. Congratulations to these teams, and we look forward to seeing where they can take their products."

New This Round: Hardware and Software Tracks

The Solar Prize has always placed an emphasis on manufacturing solar innovation, but after four successful rounds focused primarily on tangible technologies, prize administrators saw the need to split the fifth round into two tracks: the Hardware Track and the Software Track. Both follow the same prize structure but allow competitors to stay in different lanes to bring both hardware and software products closer to market.

Competitors in the Hardware Track are focused on designing a physical component, manufacturing process, or producible product that benefits the solar industry. Software Track Teams are targeting communications, computation, data systems, information technology, or business models with a software focus that help accelerate solar power implementation. Teams in the Software Track can also opt to participate in the Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) Contest, which focuses on advancing solar adoption in underserved communities, for additional cash prizes.

Round 5 launched in summer 2021, and teams submitted their initial concepts in October. The competitor pool was whittled down to 40 semifinalists in December, after which teams began work on revising and refining their innovations in preparation for Set! Demo Day, where they shared their progress with expert reviewers. Hardware Track teams were asked to show progress in developing and demonstrating early-stage proofs of concept, while Software Track teams were required to demonstrate minimum viable products.

A graphic showing a list of 10 Hardware Track teams on the left and 10 Software Track teams on the right.
On April 22, 20 teams of innovators and entrepreneurs were selected to move on in the Solar Prize Round 5. New to Round 5 is the separation of hardware and software technologies, allowing more participants to earn cash prizes at each contest of the competition.

Announcing the Finalists

The 10 Hardware Track finalists were each awarded $100,000 in cash prizes and $75,000 in support vouchers to use at national laboratories and other partner facilities to continue advancing their innovation from proof of concept to prototype. Software Track finalists received $60,000 each, and three teams received an additional $33,333 for winning the optional JEDI Contest. The finalist teams will now move on to compete in the final stage of the competition, the Go! Contest.

Congratulations to the Solar Prize Round 5 finalist teams:

Hardware Track

  • Gismo Power (Sarasota, Florida) – This team is developing a portable carport that has an integrated solar PV system and electric vehicle charger and can be stored in a garage during periods of harsh weather.
  • Leap Photovoltaics (San Francisco, California) – This team is developing a silicon solar cell that uses silicon particles instead of traditional silicon wafers.
  • Mana Monitoring (Lahaina, Hawaii) – This team is developing a plug-and-play energy management system that synchronizes on-site solar energy generation with electric vehicle charging.
  • Origami Solar (Bend, Oregon) – This team is developing steel PV module frames manufactured using a roll-forming process.
  • Portable Solar (Miami, Florida) – This team is developing an awning PV panel mounting system that can seamlessly integrate into the manufacturing process and distribution channels of the manufactured home industry.
  • RCAM Technologies (Los Angeles, California) – This team is developing 3D-printed concrete gravity anchors that are manufactured on-site for floating solar panel installations.
  • Smartville (Carlsbad, California) – This team is developing an energy storage system that combines recycled electric vehicle batteries with a novel power conversion system and state-of-the-art battery controls.
  • Solar SCADA (Denver, Colorado) – This team is developing a supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system that combines all the sensors, calibration, communication, and data feeds needed to operate a solar energy system into standalone, ready-to-use packages.
  • Sun Deck Solar (Roswell, Georgia) – This team is developing a solar-powered electric vehicle charging station that utilizes a self-assembling design to reduce installation costs.
  • TECSI Solar Inc. (El Sobrante, California) – This team is developing a solar panel designed for residential use, which simplifies the ordering and installation process by combining the racking, flashing, hardware, and power electronics into a single product.

Software Track 

  • Better Solar (Orlando, Florida): This team is building machine vision software to process electroluminescence imagery and automatically identify PV defects with application to both PV module manufacturing and PV plant maintenance.
  • CleanFi (Los Angeles, California): This team is developing a platform that seeks to automate solar project financing for the small-and-midscale commercial sector, including facilitating the use of commercial property assessed clean energy.
  • illu (Sunnyvale, California): This team is building a mobile and desktop tool for operations and maintenance workflow management that will assist field technicians and simplify distributed solar maintenance.
  • KiloNewton (Albuquerque, New Mexico): This team is developing geospatial software to optimally site utility-scale solar and avoid challenging terrain, helping to avoid costly discoveries that can come in later stages of project development.
  • Midday Tech (San Francisco, California): This team is building a platform to connect consumers who purchase voluntary carbon offsets with high-impact rooftop solar projects in underserved communities. (JEDI Contest winner)
  • Nimbus AI (Honolulu, Hawaii): This team is creating day-ahead probabilistic solar irradiance forecasts leveraging recent advances in satellite imagery and advanced machine learning algorithms.
  • Sandbox Solar (Fort Collins, Colorado): This team is building software to help design agrivoltaic projects, with a focus on simulating the microclimates under solar modules and predicting crop growth yields.
  • SolarGrade (Carlsbad, California): This team is building a workflow management platform to facilitate inspection, operations, and maintenance of PV systems leveraging field technician inputs and data analytics.
  • Solar Stewards Marketplace (Atlanta, Georgia): This team is creating a marketplace for a new type of renewable energy credit (REC), a social REC, that allows corporate purchasers to buy RECs produced in underserved communities, aligning better with their corporate missions. (JEDI Contest winner)
  • The Solar Equity Team (Boston, Massachusetts): This team is developing a platform that connects larger installations that have surplus solar generation with nonprofits and underserved consumers to enable an easy peer-to-peer credit sharing transaction. (JEDI Contest winner)

Learn more about the finalist announcement.

A Network of Support

Solar Prize competitors receive support throughout the contests from American-Made Network members, who also helped recruit participants for this round. Network members, called Connectors, are rewarded for helping teams with a variety of tasks, including funding, mentorship, and testing.

Last year, Connectors competed in the ACCELerator Challenge, earning points for their Solar Prize Round 5 recruitment and outreach efforts, as well as submission support for competitors.

"I have seen firsthand the positive impact made from each round of the Solar Prize and how it directly drives innovation for the solar industry, which is why I am so passionate about supporting it," Jade Garrett of Positive Deviancy, first-place winner of the ACCELerator Challenge, said.  

Other Connectors who placed in the ACCELerator Challenge include International Business and Technology Service Corporation, Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority, and Florida Solar Energy Center. Without the mentorship, connections, and resources provided by these and other Connectors, the Solar Prize would not have nearly the same impact for competing startups.

The 20 finalists will present their technologies one last time at Go! Demo Day this September. Ultimately, only two teams in each track will win the final prize, each receiving even larger cash prizes and support vouchers to help them bring their technology to market.

Follow the Hardware Track and the Software Track finalists to see their progress as they enter the last contest. You can also follow @AMCprizes on Twitter or sign up for the American-Made Newsletter for competition news and updates.

Tags: Solar,Photovoltaics,Awards,Entrepreneurs,Technology Deployment,Manufacturing