American-Made Program Celebrates $200 Million Innovation Milestone at 2023 Earth Day Event

Top Officials From NREL, U.S. Department of Energy, and White House Join Celebration

May 2, 2023 | By Spring Hericks and Daniella Frank | Contact media relations

Three people in business clothes in front of the American-Made backdrop.
NREL Director Martin Keller, American-Made Program Administrator Debbie Brodt-Giles, and Acting Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Alejandro Moreno offered opening remarks for the 2023 American-Made Earth Day Event. Photo by Joe DelNero, NREL

Last week, the American-Made program celebrated Earth Day and a megamilestone in its mission to supercharge the clean energy revolution. In just five short years, the program—funded by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and administered by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)—has surpassed $200 million in cash prizes and support to competing innovators and entrepreneurs across 58 prizes.

The milestone was announced by American-Made Program Administrator Debbie Brodt-Giles at the 2023 Earth Day Event and commemorated by a host of clean energy champions, including Acting Assistant Secretary for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Alejandro Moreno, NREL Director Martin Keller, and White House National Climate Advisor Ali Zaidi.

“We are at a transformative moment,” Zaidi said. “Climate change presents a tremendous opportunity to not only cut emissions but to lift up places that have been left behind. We’ve found within ourselves the ability to identify the hope and possibilities … and get moving faster and faster. All of you are part of that solution.”

Prizes Designed for Any Challenge

In her opening remarks to American-Made Earth Day attendees, Brodt-Giles emphasized the program’s unique ability to develop solutions to diverse clean energy challenges.

“The past five years have shown how prizes can evolve to address challenges at different scales and scopes,” Brodt-Giles said. “Prizes empower competitors to push the limits of what’s possible and bring rapid solutions to a variety of challenges that stand in the way of the clean energy transition.”

The American-Made program launched in 2018 to boost domestic manufacturing of solar panel technology. Its prize universe quickly expanded to include a wide slate of clean energy technologies in solar, wind, water, batteries, buildings, geothermal, hydrogen, and more.

Over the years, American-Made expanded its challenges to address innovation in technical spaces and beyond, growing to include collegiate competitions and prizes for schools, cities, and utilities. Recently, the program has developed more people-focused prizes to accelerate clean energy development and other sustainable solutions in communities across the country, including underserved, underrepresented, rural, and remote communities. These prizes promote coalition building and community engagement, as well as clean energy workforce development.

A man in a suit behind a microphone and in front of the American-Made backdrop.
Alejandro Moreno lauded the innovation and collaboration inherent in the American-Made program. Photo by Joe DelNero, NREL

The explosion in prizes comes from an increase in the number of DOE offices partnering with American-Made. Twenty offices now fund and support prizes, each focusing on different clean energy challenges and priorities and encouraging innovators from all backgrounds to develop creative solutions.

“The American-Made suite of prizes and built-in support of the American-Made Network have proven to be critical to the innovation pipeline,” Moreno said during his remarks at the Earth Day Event. “Prizes are important to a healthy innovation ecosystem where innovators and entrepreneurs need access to increasingly greater funding streams, clear pathways to commercialization, and real connections to end users.”

Moreno also introduced three new prizes, offering more than $40 million of funding:

  • The $3 million Heliostat Prize is designed to improve heliostat components by reducing costs and validating the performance of novel components.
  • The $30 million MAKE IT Prize aims to catalyze clean energy demonstration projects and enable communities to prepare strategies for vibrant manufacturing activity in their area.
  • The $7.75 million HBCU Clean Energy Education Prize has the goal to expand clean energy learning opportunities, build robust programming for students at historically Black colleges and universities, and establish partnerships that lead to career opportunities in clean energy.

“DOE is proud to have a hand in the creation of a crosscutting program that accelerates opportunities in clean energy for everyone at such a large scale,” Moreno said. “The growing diversity in ideas, backgrounds, and approaches that come from competitors in the American-Made program will lead to more creative teams and viable solutions for the challenges we set out to address.”

An Ever-Growing Network of Partners

The success of the American-Made Network largely comes from the effort and commitment of its network of partners, which skyrocketed from 250 to 400 partners in the past year. The network is made up of incubators, accelerators, prototype facilities, technology facilities, business and entrepreneurial support, and community organizations that provide support to competitors of all levels of expertise, helping empower innovators to participate and thrive in the process.

A man in a suit behind a microphone and in front of the American-Made backdrop.
Martin Keller talked about the American-Made program's unique ability to connect new innovators with national laboratory expertise. Photo by Joe DelNero, NREL

American-Made houses an ecosystem for these partnerships and includes connections with several national laboratories, including NREL. Through voucher programs, prize competitors connect with NREL and other national laboratories to advance their technologies and projects. This not only facilitates the innovative work of competitors, but also gives the national laboratories the opportunity to collaborate with innovators and communities who have not traditionally worked with the national laboratory system.

“Partnerships are critical to influencing the marketplace and moving the needle on clean energy initiatives,” Keller said at the event. “To maximize our impact, we must work with everyone, and American-Made helps build those bridges.”

Looking Ahead: Earth Day and Beyond

The Earth Day Event was more than just a celebration of how far the American-Made program has come; it was also a look at where it is going. Event attendees heard exciting updates about the ongoing innovations that current prizes are inspiring, success stories from past winners, and details about new prizes that represent the growth that can be expected from the program—both in the number of prizes it administers and in the diversity of the partners engaged in their network.

“Our partnerships amplify the kinds of challenges we can take on,” Brodt-Giles said. “Over the next few years, we look forward to continuing to diversify our network to bring to the forefront challenges that are in need of fast, agile, and innovative solutions.”

Zaidi concluded his remarks with an invitation: “Wherever you come from, whatever your background, however it is that you’re bringing your talent, treasure, and time to this task … all of you are part of that coalition that will deliver the solutions we need more than ever.”

To learn more about how American-Made supercharges the clean energy transformation, visit the American-Made Challenges website.

Tags: Partnerships