News and analysis about energy in California with an eye toward renewables.

California Solar Startups Get New Federal R&D Funding

Residential solar power inverters like this one are just one tech getting some R&D funding from the feds | Photo: Dennis Schroeder, NREL

Seventeen American startups working on innovation in the solar sector have been awarded grants from the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) to further their research -- and eight of those companies are based in California.

All told, the latest round of funding from the DoE's "SunShot Initiative" will bring nearly $6 million to California startups working on everything from streamlined rooftop solar estimation and design to more efficient power inverters.

That means the California firms have gotten about half the $12 million the Department is awarding nationwide in the SunShot Initiative's eighth round of "incubator" funding. The announcement came Tuesday as part of a $60 million round of funding intended to make solar cheaper, more efficient, and easier to incorporate into the nation's power grid.

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"The tremendous growth in the U.S. solar industry over the past few years is helping to pave the way to a cleaner, more sustainable energy future that protects our air and water and provides affordable clean energy to more and more Americans," said Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz in a press release. "Responsible development of all of America's rich energy resources is an important part of President Obama's Climate Action Plan and will help ensure America's continued leadership in clean energy innovation."

The California startups awarded incubator funding are working on a wide variety of projects. They are:

  • San Jose's Brittmore Group, awarded $684,708 for work in automated manufacture of frameless photovoltaic arrays for large-scale solar projects;
  • San Francisco's Folsom Labs, awarded $350,000 for work in cloud-based computer modeling of PV arrays;
  • Oakland's kWh Analytics, which will receive $450,000 to build information tools designed to help model investment risk in the solar sector;
  • San Luis Obispo's Renewable Power Conversion, which got $994,378 to develop a long-lived, environmentally sealed power inverter that PV array owners can use on a "plug and play" basis;
  • Palo Alto-based SineWatts, which will get $499,735 for development of its "SineWatts Inverter Molecules," which are apparently (we couldn't find much info on the company) miniaturized, modular PV-panel and inverter modules;
  • El Cerrito-based SMASHsolar, awarded $500,000 to develop easy-to-installl, scalable modular PV mounting systems;
  • Walnut Creek's Solar Census, which is getting $735,072 to develop an online tool to model the amount of shade rooftops get, which makes for more accurate cost and power output estimates, and;
  • San Francisco's Sunrun, which has been awarded $1,600,000 to develop its end-to-end design, estimating, and permitting system.

A handful of other SunShot Initiative grants were announced Tuesday aside from the "incubator" program. Stanford University has been granted $1,165,500 to research the factors that cause photovoltaic cells to degrade when used in concentrated PV settings, with an eye toward finding ways to make those cells last longer and put out more energy.
UC San Diego will get $499,900 to develop tools to allow grid operators to incorporate power from distributed solar panels into the grid more readily, and Albany, New York-based AWS TruePower will receive $391,773 to support its work with the California Independent System Operator (CaISO) to help the state's grid operator incorporate rooftop solar in its planning.

The SunShot Initiative, which started in February 2011, is intended to make solar electricity cost-competitive with other sources of power by 2020.

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About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
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