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Solar Energy Innovation Network

The Solar Energy Innovation Network is a new three-year private-public collaboration managed by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and supported by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) SunShot Initiative, designed to remove soft cost (non-hardware) barriers to wide-scale integration of solar photovoltaics (PV) within the U.S. electricity system.

The Network brings together stakeholders from across the United States to develop innovative solutions that explore new approaches to solar market barriers, reduce integration risks, and increase market opportunities—with the support of the nation's premier energy research organizations. Insights gained from these collaborations will inform foundational solar research and development pathways, and allow for pilot testing of new business models and technology solutions.

Teams composed of electric utilities, regional planning commissions, state and local governments, and others working on innovative initiatives such as testing new financing mechanisms, deploying PV-enabling technology, and scaling up utility programs are invited to apply. The Network will support selected project teams through in-person, facilitated peer learning and targeted research and analysis over an 18–21 month period.

The Network seeks pioneering teams made up of multiple partnering stakeholders that would benefit from sustained external support to boost their ideas, goals, and projects from early stages toward implementation at scale. The composition of project teams is flexible and can include entities such as state and local organizations, electric utilities, regional planning commissions, solar industry members, technology solution providers, universities, NGOs, and other stakeholders.

Project teams will be grouped into cohorts based on shared challenges. This grouping of teams facilitates exchange of ideas and the identification of common research and analysis needs that can be addressed through the Network structure. Each thematic grouping of teams will have a lead facilitator and access to subject-matter experts that will be available to address both thematic analysis needs and team-specific issues, as needed. Teams should plan on significant cross-team interaction with others in their thematic group, even as they work toward their individually defined goals and objectives. The program will culminate in a public conference where all thematic groups and individual teams will share lessons learned, so that innovative solutions can be replicated in other contexts.

Teams will benefit from both direct support and indirect technical assistance, including working side-by-side with program staff, peer teams, and other subject-matter experts; assistance with stakeholder mapping; coaching to address institutional and technical challenges; and access to laboratory staff, modeling tools, and analysis capabilities.

Teams commit to full participation for the duration of the program, including sending team representatives to quarterly, in-person, facilitated meetings or technical workshops and more regular conference calls and webinars for peer information exchange. At the 1–2 day, in-person meetings, teams will share progress with others, learn from peers, define analyses or other assistance that will address barriers, and access technical expertise.  Some cost share from teams will be requested, which can be in the form of staff time, materials, travel costs, or other contributions directly related to the initiative. At the end of the program period, teams are required to develop appropriate mechanisms such as workshops, presentations, brochures, and websites that convey solutions, innovations, and lessons learned during the program. These products will be distributed broadly and publicly showcased as part of a Replication Conference hosted by NREL.

Teams applying to the Network may be working within one of the topic areas listed below. These categories serve as guidance for understanding the types of activities that would be appropriate for this program, but should not be viewed as bounds. The specific activities ultimately undertaken will be driven by market need, as expressed through the team applications.  While topic areas are flexible, in their application teams must specify an action-based goal or initiative, such as piloting a solution, developing and implementing a plan, or informing a decision-making process through research and analysis.

Example topics include:

  • Addressing barriers to achieving high solar futures

  • Using solar photovoltaics as grid infrastructure

  • Developing a regional solar road map

  • Using solar PV for resiliency and disaster recovery

  • Investigating technology solutions to take advantage of surplus solar generation

  • Exploring advanced rate designs and solar valuation

  • Removing barriers to customer solar adoption

  • Integrating solar into utility business models.

Informational Webinar 

NREL hosted an informational webinar on July 19 to provide additional information about the program and how to apply.

Download the webinar slides and recording, along with frequently asked questions

Application Process

Electronic applications were due August 1. Applicant decision notifications are expected to take place in early October.

Contact

Please direct questions to the program administrator at SEIN@nrel.gov.