The Energy Department’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy today announced a total of $11 million for 16 projects intended to develop innovative, early-stage solutions in both photovoltaics (PV) and concentrating solar power (CSP).

Ten of the projects are small-scale research and development (R&D) projects designed to push the limits of PV technologies, potentially advancing the state of the art in new cell and module architectures, efficiency, energy output, service lifetime, and manufacturability. These awardees will be funded under the Small Innovative Projects in Solar (SIPS) program developed to support progress toward leveling the cost of solar electricity to approximately $0.02 to $0.03 per kilowatt-hour by 2030.

The small, early-stage PV projects will receive nearly $2 million to demonstrate the potential for expanded work in novel or emerging areas of PV research. These first-of-their-kind, single-year projects in the SunShot Initiative’s PV R&D portfolio are designed to allow researchers to test a concept and, if successful, develop data to support further research. This approach allows researchers to take a year to demonstrate that their ideas merit greater investment in the future.

The other six awardees are CSP R&D projects focused on the most expensive component of a CSP plant, the collectors, and aim to make dramatic performance improvements and cost reductions. The Concentrating Optics for Lower Levelized Energy Costs (COLLECTS) program targets a more ambitious cost-to-efficiency metric for CSP collectors than what was set forward in the 2020 SunShot targets. Solar collectors currently account for up to 40 percent of the total plant cost and are the largest capital cost component of a CSP plant. These six CSP awards through SunShot’s COLLECTS program total nearly $9 million dedicated to the design and manufacture of lower-cost solar collectors, which could in turn reduce the overall cost of a CSP power plant.


CSP awardees are as below:

Project Name: Unique Single-Axis Tracking Planar Waveguide Optical Collector for CSP Modules
Location: Boston, MA
SunShot Award Amount: $628,478
Awardee Cost Share: $160,375
Project Summary: Agira will develop a very low-cost, flat optical collector based on refraction and total-internal reflection at optical interfaces between silicone polymers of different refractive indices. Incoming sunlight is progressively bent and eventually trapped within a glass substrate. Additional benefits include ease of installation and low operations and maintenance costs. The result will be a novel CSP collector which, when manufactured at large scale, will help to bring the cost of electricity below the SunShot target of $0.06 per kilowatt-hour.

Project Name: Development of a Planar Focusing Collector for CSP
Location: Urbana, IL
SunShot Award Amount: $1,381,879
Awardee Cost Share: $345,879
Project Summary: The goal of this work is to develop a flat solar collector that acts like a conventional curved trough collector. The planar focusing collector (PFC) is a potentially lower-cost alternative to the conventional parabolic trough concentrator (PTC). The PFC will be manufactured using specially designed metasurfaces. These metasurfaces are made from nano- and micro-structured thin, metallic surfaces that change the behavior of light in ways that are counterintuitive to an observer. Novel roll-to-roll manufacturing will also be developed to meet the design specifications of the PFC and cost requirements at large scale. The final deliverable will be a flat focusing element that focuses sunlight with 97% efficiency or higher.

Project Name: CSP Based on Active Microfluidic Mirror Arrays
Location: Oakland, CA
SunShot Award Amount: $1,750,000
Awardee Cost Share: $491,330
Project Summary: Giant Leap Technologies will develop a means to electronically form mirrors, lenses, and diffraction elements on demand inside an optically transparent medium. An observer looking at a Microfluidic Light Steering (MLS) collector would initially see nothing more than a solid transparent slab. However, once an external signal is applied, the transparent block of material will jump to life and internal mirrors dynamically form to redirect sunlight. This steering of light is substantially independent of wavelength, polarization, system size, and power level. The capability is ultimately based on micron-scale capillaries containing a refractive Index Matching Fluid (IMF) distributed within a transparent solid. The physical distribution of the fluid within the capillaries allows light to be steered to a solar receiver, where it can be captured and turned into energy.

Project Name: Dielectric Metasurface Concentrators
Location: La Jolla, CA
SunShot Award Amount: $2,000,000
Awardee Cost Share: $500,000
Project Summary: This project will increase the acceptance angle of solar concentrators using planar dielectric metasurfaces. Metasurfaces are extremely thin surfaces with unique properties that change the behavior of light in ways that are counterintuitive to an observer. Currently, existing solar concentrators only work for direct light, which requires a multi-axis tracking system to follow the sun’s path. By achieving a wider acceptance angle, tracking systems will not have to move as much, which has the potential to lower the cost of the solar collector for a comparable efficiency performance.

Project Name: Low-Cost Concentrated Solar Power Collector
Location: La Jolla, CA
SunShot Award Amount: $1,483,299
Awardee Cost Share: $1,540,256
Project Summary: Hyperlight Energy will demonstrate, at large scale, the performance of its linear Fresnel reflector CSP collector, which captures the sun’s energy with large mirrors that reflect and focus the sunlight onto a linear receiver tube. Hyperlight uses lightweight, low-cost materials to hold the mirror surfaces in position. The primary bearing surface is a waterbed enclosed on four sides by low profile walls. The bottom of the waterbed is a commodity pond liner, which is ubiquitous in the agricultural space because of its low cost, rugged durability, and life span of over 30 years.

Project Name: Green Parabolic Trough Collector Inspired by an Architectural Paradigm
Location: Livermore, CA
SunShot Award Amount: $1,740,564
Awardee Cost Share: $435,141
Project Summary: This project seeks to drive down the material and assembly costs of the traditional parabolic trough collector by using an outdoor-proven structural material that is 15 percent of the price of congenitally-used steel, and a different structure using trusses on the concave side of the parabola. This structure minimizes the amount of material needed to achieve the stiffness that it requires, and reduces the number of assembly fixtures and process steps in construction. The project aims to develop the concept by designing, building, and testing an outdoor full-scale prototype.

Since its launch in 2011, the SunShot Initiative has been focused on driving down the cost of utility-scale solar to $0.06 per kilowatt-hour by 2020, without subsidy. These new programs, developed within the SunShot Initiative, provide a framework for post-2020 technical and cost-reduction goals.

The Energy Department’s SunShot Initiative is a collaborative national effort that aggressively drives innovation to make solar energy cost competitive with traditional energy sources before the end of the decade, without subsidies. The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy works with private industry, universities, and national laboratories to accelerate the development and deployment of energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies that strengthen U.S. energy security, environmental quality, and economic vitality.