U.S. Department of Energy

Past Solar Incubator Projects

Photo of two male researchers looking at results on a computer screen.

Bob Reedy, left, and Manuel Romero work with a secondary ion mass spectrometer to analyze silicon ink dopants laid with Innovalight's screen-printing approach. Photo by Dennis Schroeder, NREL

Funding Announcements

On Jan. 20, 2010, the DOE announced $12 million to fund four projects: Alta Devices, Semprius, Solar Junction, and Tetra Sun.

In May 2009, the DOE announced $6 million to fund 13 PV technology pre-incubator projects: 1366 Technologies, Ascent Solar Technologies, Banyan Energy, Crystal Solar, EPIR Technologies, International Solar Electric Technology, Lightwave Power, Luna Innovations, MicroLink Devices, Semprius, SpectraWatt, TiSol, and Vanguard Solar.

On Sept. 29, 2008, the DOE announced $17.6 million to fund two Phase II projects: Abound Solar and CaliSolar; and 10 Phase I projects: 1366 Technologies, Innovalight, Skyline Solar, Solasta, Solexel, Spire Semiconductor, MicroLink Devices, PlexTronics, PrimeStar, SolarSolFocus, and SoloPower.

On June 20, 2007, the DOE announced $27 million to fund 10 projects: Abound Solar, Blue Square Energy, CaliSolar, Enfocus Engineering, MicroLink Devices, PlexTronics, PrimeStar Solar, Solaria, SolFocus, and SoloPower.

Projects funded under the Solar Incubator Program yielded technical breakthroughs and insights. Learn more about current projects. Descriptions of completed projects follow:

1366 Technologies ($500,000 Pre-Incubator in 2009 and $3,000,000 Incubator in 2008)
Lexington, Massachusetts—Standard wafer manufacturing involves a multistep, batch process of ingot casting, blocking, squaring, and sawing that wastes up to 50% of the costly silicon. 1366 Technologies, which was spun out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2008, has developed a single-step, high-throughput "direct wafer" technology that rapidly solidifies a thin sheet directly from molten silicon to form a standard, 156-millimeter multicrystalline wafer.

Abound Solar ($2,430,000 in 2007)
Fort Collins, Colorado—Abound Solar simplified a thermal process to fabricate low-cost, high-efficiency thin-film CdTe power modules. A module efficiency of 10.0% was achieved on a 65 megawatt (MW) manufacturing line. The cycle time from glass-to-finished modules was reduced to about 2 hours, and the film thickness achieved was less than 3.0 microns. Before closing in 2012, the company also developed a new packaging scheme that does not use the more expensive ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA) sheet in the finished PV product.

Alta Devices ($3,000,000 in 2009)
Santa Clara, California—Alta Devices used its DOE funds to develop an innovative high-efficiency (more than 20%), low-cost compound-semiconductor PV module, with market entry expected in 2011. To improve the production economics of high-efficiency PV applications, the unique Alta cell/module architecture employs front and back contacts with minimal efficiency loss, antireflection coatings, and optimized cell geometry and matrix interconnect schemes. Progress to date includes a verified thin-film sub-module efficiency of 20%. Source: Alta Devices. (June 2011). "New Science Demonstrated as Alta Devices Makes Rapid Solar Efficiency Advances." Press release.

Ascent Solar Technologies ($315,037 in 2009)
Littleton, Colorado—Under the DOE funding, Ascent Solar developed a proprietary process that uses a zinc-magnesium-oxide (ZnMgO) window layer to replace the standard window layer of a copper indium gallium diselenide (CIGS) solar cell. Eventually, the new material could replace all the top layers of the device. Because ZnMgO increases the absorber layer's bandgap, this approach could potentially overcome performance-limiting aspects of conventional CIGS solar cells, taking an essential step toward larger bandgap and multijunction polycrystalline thin-film devices. More flexible and lighter weight thin-film PV technology can allow solar power to be integrated into products and applications like building-integrated PV (BIPV) and electronic integrated and electronic portable power products (EIPV), among many others. In addition, the unique flexibility of Ascent Solar's modules enables solar power applications with fabrics and non-flat surfaces.

Bandgap Engineering ($1,000,000)
Woburn, Massachusetts
Bandgap is working to increase solar cell efficiencies by about 10% by integrating Si nanowire cells into standard processing, which increases power density and reduces costs. In this project, Bandgap aims to provide nanowire-coated wafers to cell manufacturers and cooperatively develop the fully integrated manufacturing process.

Banyan Energy ($500,000 in 2009)
Kensington, California—Banyan Energy has taken a fundamentally new approach to concentrating sunlight. The company's innovation is based on an optics breakthrough called aggregated total internal reflection (ATIR), in which light is concentrated, aggregated, and delivered to a focal area via a waveguide. With the DOE funding, the company has developed a flat 7x optic approach for concentrator photovoltaics (CPV), which promises to lower the cost of silicon PV modules and increase the scale of production. With this new technology, silicon module manufacturers can lower their capital-expenditure-per-watt manufacturing costs, increase the scale of module production by as much as five times, and encourage the adoption of silicon modules by tying in to the existing silicon infrastructure (meaning that cells, trackers, installation practices, and grid technologies can stay the same). Banyan has built and conducted electrical and thermal performance tests on working prototype modules.

Blue Square Energy ($1,435,301 in 2007)
North East, Maryland—Blue Square Energy focused on the manufacturing of thin-crystalline-silicon solar cell by growing a high-purity silicon layer onto a low-cost metallurgical-grade silicon substrate, which can produce the high performance and reliability of traditional solar cells with reduced material utilization and manufacturing costs.

Caelux ($1,000,000 in 2010)
Pasadena, California—Caelux is developing a novel solar cell design and manufacturing process that will dramatically reduce production costs by minimizing the amount of semiconductor material used. In addition, the new technology has vast potential to surpass standard device efficiency. Lightweight, flexible, crystalline silicon solar cells will offer the proven performance of multicrystalline silicon wafer-based PV at thin-film costs. Caelux's cells will be interchangeable with today's wafer-based silicon solar cells, allowing for their rapid introduction into the market, while their light weight, high efficiency, and mechanical flexibility will enable more robust, cost-effective PV applications in the future.

CaliSolar ($2,454,000 in 2007)
Menlo Park, California—
CaliSolar (now Silicor Materials) proposed producing cost-effective solar cells from low-cost, abundant, but impurity-rich silicon feedstock materials by focusing on metallization, hydrogenation, and cell processing. They are using upgraded metallurgical grade silicon (UMG-Si) to develop multicrystalline cells with improved contacts and lower the cost of cell production. New techniques were developed that improve both ingot and metallization processes and increase the efficiency of multicrystalline cells. This research has cut the silicon-cost contribution to cells fabrication in half while improving efficiency because UMG-Si has the potential to cost less than $20/kg. CaliSolar successfully demonstrated 17%-cell efficiencies based on the UMG-Si cells. They are now producing 75 MW of 16.5% average efficiency multicrystalline cells in their California factory, exceeding the project goal of "more than 14.5% in routine production." Source: K. Ounadjela and A. Blosse, "New Metallization Technique Suitable for 6 MW Pilot Production of Efficient Multicrystalline Solar Cells Using Upgraded Metallurgical Silicon Final Technical Progress Report." (August 2010). CaliSolar.

Clean Energy Experts ($495,040)
Manhattan Beach, California
Clean Energy Experts is creating a cloud-based software toolkit to reduce customer acquisition costs for U.S. solar companies. The industry-specific software toolkit enables companies—from small installers to large manufacturers—to improve their marketing effectiveness, close more sales, improve customer service, and ultimately reduce costs.

Clean Power Finance ($500,000)
San Francisco, California
Clean Power Finance is building an online marketplace that will increase certainty for O&M by providing back-up servicing for solar photovoltaic (PV) systems. The marketplace will enable various vendors to bid on repair jobs, ensuring service for homeowners and peace of mind for investors. Investors and analysts have cited the lack of large-scale O&M capabilities as a major factor preventing the securitization of solar, which is vital to growing the solar market with competitive capital investments.

Crystal Solar ($500,000 in 2009 and $4,000,000 in 2010)
Santa Clara, California—
Crystal Solar successfully prototyped thin-crystal silicon solar cells on ceramic substrates to reduce the manufacturing cost of silicon by reducing the losses associated with wafer generation and the thickness of the resulting silicon wafer. Using epitaxial deposition of high-quality, single-crystal silicon (50 microns thick) for solar cell fabrication reduces silicon usage by about 83%. The use of ceramic-handling layers enables handling, processing, and packaging of the thin-silicon layers.

EnergySage ($500,000)
Cambridge, Massachusetts
EnergySage is streamlining the solar photovoltaic purchase process for installers while creating a novel reverse auction platform to ensure consumers receive the best prices available while lowering sales costs for installers through its website EnergySage.com. At EnergySage.com a consumer can solicit multiple quotes from pre-screened installers. The quotes are displayed in a standardized format that allows consumers to easily evaluate and compare them to select the best option, fostering price transparency and competition.

Enfocus Engineering ($1,179,340 in 2007)
Sunnyvale, California—Enfocus developed a lightweight, low-profile, high-concentration PV module which is fully encapsulated and protected from wind, hail, dust, and moisture, using high-efficiency multi-junction cells to generate higher power outputs in area-constrained applications such as rooftops.

EPIR Technologies, Inc. ($500,000 in 2009)
Bolingbrook, Illinois—EPIR developed thin-film solar cells as a lower cost alternative to conventional silicon-based cells. Thin-film solar cells use materials that are laid in sheets onto surfaces of roof shingles or building blocks, among other substrates. The company reports that it has repeatedly fabricated high-efficiency polycrystalline cadmium telluride (CdTe) solar cells on commercial glass substrates. DOE-supported tests have shown that these cells to have a maximum efficiency rate of 15.2%, representing an impressive increase in efficiency. EPIR's ultra-high-efficiency tandem solar cells, novel coatings, and modules promise to make major reductions in the cost per watt of PV power. Sources: "EPIR Technologies Creates Polycrystalline CdTe Solar Cells on Glass," Solar News & Views. (Feb. 2011). "EPIR Technologies Reports Advance in Thin-Film Solar-Cell Efficiency," Bloomberg. (Feb., 2011).

Genability ($500,000)
San Francisco, California
Genability is creating a suite of automation, optimization, and collaboration software tools for the solar industry. These will allow solar providers, installers, and financiers to optimize the economics and value of solar PV systems. From prospecting and initial estimates, precise avoided costs, system sizing and tariff optimization, to fully modeled power purchase agreement rates and escalators, Genability is streamlining the solar sales process.

Halotechnics ($1,000,000)
Emeryville, California
Halotechnics is developing a thermal energy storage system operating at 700°C using a new high-stability, low-melting-point molten salt as the heat transfer and thermal storage material, and demonstrating unprecedented efficiency for CSP applications.

Innovalight ($3,000,000 in 2008)
Sunnyvale, California—Innovalight developed very high-efficiency, low-cost solar cells and modules by ink-jet printing their proprietary "silicon ink" onto thin-crystalline silicon wafers, using a printing process that significantly reduces both the manufacturing costs and the complexity required to make today's very high-efficiency cells and modules. The process was recognized by R&D Magazine as one of the top 100 innovations for 2011 (R&D 100 Awards).¬†DuPont, which is one of the largest material suppliers for the global PV industry, purchased Innovalight in 2011.

Lightwave Power ($450,000 in 2009)
Cambridge, Massachusetts—Lightwave worked with Iowa State University to develop novel solar energy products based on cutting-edge technologies. One such innovation, a photonic reflector backing, is essentially a tiny lattice of reflecting silver dots that replaces the reflecting backing on a standard solar cell. The lattice traps light at frequencies that boost the cells' ability to generate electricity from light. Furthermore, the cells are made with a nanocrystalline and amorphous silicon superlattice. Combining a superlattice with the photonic structure increases light absorption in a very thin silicon film. The amorphous silicon portion of the structure enhances light absorption; the nanocrystalline part helps to transport light-generated electrons. Using these breakthroughs, large-area thin sheets of repeating nano- and microsized structures can be designed to absorb, convert, re-emit, and guide light. These structures are generally made from common metals and dielectrics, and manufactured on flexible substrates using a roll-to-roll process, lowering manufacturing costs. Source: "MRC Researchers Boost Solar Cell Efficiencies," Iowa State University IPRT News. (Feb. 2011).

Luna Innovations ($499,994 in 2009)
Danville, Virginia—Organic PV (OPV) currently has two primary drawbacks: low performance and low reliability. Luna Innovations is working on increasing performance by using a C80 metallofullerene isomer instead of the more standard C60 fullerene. This project combines the C80 acceptor with high-performance Plextronics donor polymers in an attempt to increase tunability and band-alignment optimization in order to enhance performance. Recent highlights achieved through this work include a 40% increase in open circuit voltage and 4.89% device efficiency.

Plextronics ($3,000,000 in 2007)
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania—PlexTronics pursued enabling the low-cost, high-volume manufacture of organic photovoltaic (OPV) devices for use as alternative energy sources by developing cells and modules with efficiencies greater than 5.8% and 3.5%, respectively, and lifetimes over 5000 hours.

PrimeStar Solar ($2,678,400 in 2007)
Golden, Colorado—PrimeStar focused on developing commercial modules using the CdTe cell, for which NREL achieved the16.5% world record in the laboratory. Using this cell, PrimeStar was going to produce, on a pilot line, 60x120cm2 modules with competitive efficiencies. PrimeStar Solar has fabricated a 12.8% thin-film CdTe module, verified by NREL, in their 30 MW Colorado manufacturing line. They are increasing manufacturing capacity to 400 MW in Colorado and Michigan and have created hundreds of high-tech jobs.

Renewable Power Conversion ($793,325 in 2011)
San Luis Obispo, California—RPC is developing an advanced PV inverter technology, enabling reduced levelized cost of electricity through maximized system efficiency and a true 25-year lifetime.

Semprius ($3,000,000 in 2009)
Durham, North Carolina—Semprius developed CPV modules for use in utility-scale installations. Using the company's proprietary microtransfer printing technology, CPV modules are constructed from many very small, gallium-arsenide-based multijunction solar cells. The large number of cells improves reliability through redundancy, and the tiny size of the cells delivers thermal management at no extra cost. A high-concentration ratio minimizes module cost, and inexpensive optics concentrate sunlight onto the high-efficiency solar cells, which cover only 0.1% of the module area. The unique design, along with the novel manner of assembly, results in less-expensive modules. Source: Semprius website. Accessed September 2011.

Simply Civic ($499,510)
Parker, Colorado
Simply Civic is streamlining management of permitting, inspection, and interconnection of solar energy systems through an innovative, modular online application available to every one of the 18,000 jurisdictions nationally. The tool will seamlessly enable jurisdictions and installers to track the status of solar projects in real-time while making it faster and simpler to process required paperwork.

Skyline Solar ($3,000,000 in 2008)
Mountain View, California—Skyline develops an integrated, lightweight, single-axis tracked CPV system that reflects and concentrates sunlight over 10 times onto silicon cells in order to deliver modules that exceed 12m2 area and 15% aperture-area efficiency. The innovation lies in the details of the design and in the way that it empowers an efficient, streamlined, and swiftly scalable approach to manufacturing operations, supply chain logistics, and installation.

SpectraWatt ($500,000 in 2009)
Hillsboro, Oregon—SpectraWatt is exploring the use of low-cost films composed of absorbing and emitting nanomaterials to improve the performance of standard multicrystalline silicon solar cells. These films could improve the spectral response of solar cells without interfering with the behavior of the platform device. And because the added layer is not part of the active electrical device architecture, this coating approach is potentially applicable to all PV technologies. To date, a 0.5% absolute efficiency increase for factory-quality copper indium gallium diselenide (CIGS) mini-modules has been reproducibly demonstrated, along with a 1% absolute efficiency increase for prototype CdTe devices. This approach could require less-stringent design tolerances for the underlying cell structure and also increase manufacturing yields. Source: "SpectraWatt Selected for NREL Pre-incubator Funding," SpectraWatt press release. (June 2009).

Solaflect Energy ($999,595 in 2011)
Norwich, Vermont—Solaflect is further developing and refining the design of its Suspension Heliostat™—a design that uses 60% to 65% less steel than a traditional design, significantly reducing the cost of the mirror field in a CSP plant.

Solar Junction ($3,000,000 in 2009)
San Jose, California—Solar Junction is commercializing a revolutionary technology platform called A-SLAM™. The platform provides a tunable bandgap that maximizes the absorbed sunlight within CPV modules, increasing the module efficiency and the amount of energy harvested. The platform technology has been verified at 41.4% efficiency to date, and efficiencies are expected to rise beyond 50% within the decade. In addition, A-SLAM solar cells remain lattice-matched, which maintains the reliability of existing multijunction solar cells and should ensure a 25-plus year lifetime. CPV combines economies of manufacturing scale and increased efficiencies that can dramatically reduce both the levelized cost of energy (LCOE) and the costs in terms of dollar per watt. Source: Solar Junction website. Accessed September 2011.

Solasta ($2,721,564 in 2008)
Newton, Massachusetts—Solasta was working on a novel cell design based on an amorphous-silicon "nanocoax" structure that increases currents and lowers the materials cost by collecting light normal to the substrate (thick section) and transferring collected carriers laterally (thin section), effectively decoupling the optical and electronic pathways. Although the absorber material for this project was amorphous silicon, the technology is material non-specific, and further advances in efficiency and reductions in cost can be envisioned.

Solaria ($1,389,206 in 2007)
Fremont, California—Solaria was producing a non-tracking, cost-effective, standard module form factor with 2-3x concentration that can be manufactured in a reliable high-volume automated process that is based on a reliable PV-multiplying process that yields two to three highly efficient cells from one via solar cell singulation and optical amplification.

Solexant ($1,000,000 in 2012)
San Jose, California—Using printable nanomaterial technologies exclusively licensed from leading universities, Solexant developed¬†flexible solar cells drawing energy from the entire solar spectrum. CZTS (copper zinc tin selenide) nanoparticles are printed on flexible substrates, then sintered to produce high-efficiency-film solar cells at greatly reduced costs. These cells are made from abundant, inexpensive, and nontoxic materials. This technology has the potential to replace existing thin-film PV technologies, which rely on materials like indium that can be in scarce supply for large-scale domestic manufacturing.

Solexel ($3,000,000 in 2008)
Milpitas, California—Solexel is commercializing a disruptive, 3D high-efficiency mono-crystalline silicon cell technology that dramatically reduces manufacturing cost per watt by delivering a 15-17% efficient, 156x156mm2, single-crystal cell that consumes substantially lower silicon per watt than conventionally sliced wafers.

SolFocus ($2,241,732 in 2007)
Palo Alto, California—SolFocus developed a 25%-plus efficient pilot-run production module and be on path to achieve a greater than 3 MW annual capacity for a 500x CPV module with a folded reflective design in a compact frame where the design can be manufactured in volume and scalable to GW capacity. SolFocus raised module efficiency from 17% to over 25%, automated module assembly using robotics, and accelerated reliability testing, increasing manufacturability and reducing costs.

SoloPower ($2,167,223 in 2007)
Milpitas, California—SoloPower developed an electroplating-based, high-efficiency, low-cost CIGS cell and module manufacturing technology, where the advantages of this deposition technique include lower equipment costs, reduced processing times, and increased material utilization. By the end of the project, SoloPower demonstrated a roll-to-roll reaction fabrication process to create large-area solar modules with a demonstrated 10% aperture-area efficiency on a 1m2 CIGS module and 12% cell efficiencies on 100 cm2 cells (verified by NREL). Source: Bulent Basol, "Commercialization of High Efficiency Low Cost CIGS Technology Based on Electroplating Final Technical Progress Report, September 28, 2007 – June 30, 2009," SoloPower.

Spire Semiconductor ($2,960,850 in 2008)
Hudson, New Hampshire—Spire was to develop three-junction tandem solar cells that better optimize the optical properties of their device layers; the company is targeting cell efficiencies over 42% using a low-cost manufacturing method.

Stion ($1,000,000 in 2011)
San Jose, California—Stion developed a technology that allows two thin-film devices to be stacked, enabling highly efficient and cost-competitive tandem modules to be installed over a large area.

Sun Number ($402,050)
Deephaven, Minnesota
Sun Number is creating an automated solar assessment tool that can give a score to every building in a city. Homeowners and businesses will be able to quickly and easily determine if their rooftop is suitable for solar energy based on their custom score, which is determined by a complex algorithm that utilizes remotely sensed data and other inputs.

TetraSun ($3,000,000 in 2009)
Saratoga, California—TetraSun developed thin high-efficiency crystalline silicon cells using plasma-enhanced chemical vapor deposition (PECVD) layers for back-surface passivation and contact to replace the standard screen-print-and-fire aluminum/silver back surface. This novel structure offers an alternative to the standard industry back-surface aluminum process, eliminating wafer bowing and allowing thinner cells (less than 160 microns) to be fabricated. A modified back surface for a crystalline silicon cell yields high efficiencies without adding processing steps.¬†During Phase I part of this subcontract, more than 17% efficient 148 cm2 crystalline silicon was demonstrated and verified. On smaller areas, efficiencies exceeding 19% were seen. First Solar, which is one of the world's largest module makers, purchased TetraSun in 2013.

Tigo Energy ($3,026,000)
Los Gatos, California
Tigo Energy is advancing to pilot production a new, low-cost, direct-current, arc-fault detector, which enhances the safety of PV arrays, reduces 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 systems.

TiSol, LLC ($499,100 in 2009)
Pasadena, California—TiSol worked on the development of a viable technology for thin-film deposition in open atmosphere, using a unique flame synthesis methodology, to reduce the cost and to increase the deployment of dye-sensitized solar cells through a reel-to-reel fabrication of layers within the dye cell.

Vanguard Solar ($500,000 in 2009)
Sudbury, Massachusetts—Vanguard worked on the development of a novel nanostructured II/VI semiconductor-based thin-film PV cell that will be an easily manufactured thin-film device with low cost and high efficiency.