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NREL helps four solar start-ups to ramp up

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is helping four solar start-ups ramp up innovations through its Department of Energy (DoE) funded Incubator Program.

By Kari Williamson

Companies with new ways to lower the cost of solar energy have been awarded US$5.8 million to work with NREL under DoE's SunShot programme.

"When these companies work with NREL researchers, they increase the likelihood that they reach their performance and reliability objectives and reach them soon,” NREL Incubator Manager Brian Keyes says.

The selected solar companies will work with NREL to overcome technical and practical barriers to commercialisation and must meet stringent performance deadlines or be dropped from the programme.

In this round, companies were selected in one of two categories: Tier 1, representing the development of commercially viable prototypes, receiving up to US$1m over 12 months; and Tier 2, representing the development and manufacturing scale-up of pilot-scale processes receiving up to US$4m over 18 months.

This year’s awardees include:

  • Halotechnics of Emeryville (CA) was awarded US$1m to develop a two-tank thermal energy storage system operating at 700ºC. It uses a molten salt that has a low melting point and maintains high stability while transferring heat and storing material. In early tests, it has demonstrated unprecedented efficiency with thermal storage, making it a promising technology for concentrating solar power (CSP);
  • Renewable Power Conversion Inc of San Luis Obispo (CA) was awarded US$793,325 to improve its solar photovoltaic (PV) inverter technology. Its inverter gives indications of lasting 25 years while maximising system efficiency, which, sold commercially, would help reduce the levelised cost of renewable energy loaded onto the grid;
  • Solaflect Energy of Norwich (VT) was awarded US$999,595 to further develop and refine the design of its Suspension Heliostat. It’s a new heliostat design that could disrupt the market by using 60-65% less steel than a traditional design, thus reducing significantly the cost of the mirror field in a concentrated solar power plant; and
  • Tigo Energy of Los Gatos (CA) was awarded US$3,026,000 to ramp up to pilot production its low-cost DC arc-fault detector. The detector is said to enhance the safety of solar arrays, reduce ongoing operations and maintenance costs for system owners, and complies with all applicable codes and standards for new and retrofit applications in residential, commercial, and utility-scale solar systems.

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Photovoltaics (PV)  •  Policy, investment and markets  •  Solar electricity