Local Clean Energy Projects Get a Boost Through New SOLVE IT Prize

Community Feedback an Essential Part of Project Development in This $5 Million Prize

Jan. 22, 2024 | By Tiffany Plate | Contact media relations

This story is also available in Spanish.

In certain parts of the country, the cost of energy is high—in more ways than one. Residents in underserved communities across the United States face industrial pollution, smog, rolling blackouts, and many other challenges that could be helped by integrating more cutting-edge clean energy or decarbonization technologies into the local mix.

But many communities lack the resources and capacity to develop feasible action plans to incorporate clean energy technologies into their area—or to even pursue partnerships or opportunities that could make these technologies and alternatives a reality.

An illustration of a group of people surrounded by icons representing different energy sources. Overlain are the words SOLVE IT Prize, and the logos for American-Made, Office of Technology Transitions, Office of Clean Energy Demonstration, and the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy.

The SOLVE IT Prize will distribute $5 million in cash prizes to individuals or entities that can work collaboratively with communities to develop and carry out projects that benefit those communities and reflect their priorities. Illustration by John Frenzl, NREL

The new American-Made Solutions for Lasting, Viable Energy Infrastructure Technologies (SOLVE IT) Prize, which is administered by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), will award $5 million to entities that can implement community-based clean energy projects—with substantial involvement from the communities themselves.

“An essential part of creating change on a community level is having meaningful conversations with the people that live in those communities,” said Debbie Brodt-Giles, American-Made program manager. “The SOLVE IT Prize aims to ensure that those conversations are at the front and center of new clean energy projects so the end result can best serve the residents of those communities while making the most impact.”

Making Changes in the Community, One Phase at a Time

Prize competitors will help execute the vision of the prize over the course of three phases: Embark, Engage, and Establish. Teams may win up to $730,000 each across these three phases.

In the Embark phase, competitors will identify a community, a challenge facing that community that can be addressed by an innovative clean energy solution, and a clear approach for engaging with the community. Teams will also have to demonstrate they have sufficient experience, connections, and resources to plan and implement energy projects. Submissions to the Embark phase of the prize are due April 12, 2024. At the end of the phase, approximately 25 teams will be awarded $80,000 and be eligible to compete in the Engage phase.

In the Engage phase, competitors will engage with their community stakeholders to develop the community’s vision for their future clean energy or decarbonization project. Finally, in the Establish phase, competitors will create plans for carrying out at least one specific, technically novel clean energy or decarbonization project. By the end of the prize, competitors should be poised to start—or already have begun—developing their project, including environmental review, public notice and comment processes, analyses of potential sites, and execution of agreements with financiers, design-build engineers, construction firms, or others partners critical to project success.

Sharing Lessons Learned

Throughout the phases, prize administrators will work with competitors to learn about their experiences in the prize process and in engaging the community in planning their project. The end goal is to evaluate best practices and collect lessons learned that could help support other equitable and community-driven clean energy projects.

“Sharing lessons learned is critical to the long-term value and impact of this prize,” Brodt-Giles said. “We look forward to being able to share best practices with other organizations who want to engage in the same work.”

The SOLVE IT Prize is funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) through DOE’s Technology Commercialization Fund (TCF). Under BIL TCF, DOE’s Office of Technology Transitions (OTT) pursues activities that broadly support the commercialization of promising energy technologies while simultaneously enhancing and improving American infrastructure, competitiveness, opportunity, and equity and addressing the climate crisis. OTT collaborated with DOE’s Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations and Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy to launch the SOLVE IT Prize.

Help advance community-led clean energy projects by joining the prize. Visit the American-Made website and subscribe to the American-Made newsletter to stay up to date on other U.S. Department of Energy competitions designed to spur innovation in clean energy.

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