On November 6, 2019, the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office awarded $128 million to 75 new projects that will advance solar technologies in five major areas. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) earned a major portion of this funding—nearly $20 million.

Each innovative project will work to improve the growing solar market in five areas: photovoltaics (PV), concentrating solar power (CSP), balance of systems soft cost reduction, innovations in manufacturing, and advanced solar systems integration technologies. NREL is the prime project lead for six projects in these areas and a strategic partner in 15 more.

“This funding will enable NREL to continue to push the limits of solar research and discover tomorrow’s solar technologies,” says Mary Werner, NREL program manager for solar energy research.

Demonstrating this are the following NREL-led projects:

Environmental Design of Cost-Effective, High-Temperature, Sensible Thermal Energy Storage Using Industrial Byproducts

Youyang Zhao is the principal investigator on this project to design a cost-effective structure for thermal energy storage tanks using composite concrete instead of metals, helping to achieve a cost target of $15 per kilowatt-hour. Zhao’s team will also improve the mechanical strength and thermal stability of the tanks’ internal insulation by creating a new composite ceramic material with cenospheres. Cenospheres are small, lightweight, hollow balls of silica or alumina filled with gas, and they will prevent salt from seeping in. NREL was awarded $1.7 million for this project.

Thermomechanical Behavior of Advanced Manufactured Parts, Subcomponents, and Their Weldments for Gen3 CSP

Judith Vidal will lead this $2 million project to develop strategies to prevent corrosion on piping and other metal surfaces in contact with molten chlorides in Generation 3 (Gen3) CSP systems. The team will explore advanced manufacturing techniques for components such as heat exchangers as well as cladding for piping materials. The goal of this project is to extend the lifetime of CSP components and plants.

PV Stormwater Management Research and Testing (PV-SMaRT)

Sherry Stout will lead this project to collaborate with Native American tribes to help address interconnection challenges and other barriers to PV and solar-plus-storage systems on tribal lands. Stout’s team will discuss challenges with stakeholders and then conduct analyses and workshops to design regulatory solutions and find opportunities for solar energy on tribal lands. The team will also provide technical assistance to identify ways for tribes to develop favorable contract terms and conditions as well as create a guidebook with a list of options for Native American tribes across the United States. NREL was awarded $1.4 million for this project.

Reducing Regulatory Burdens through Solar Co-Benefits

In this $800,000 project, NREL will work with partners to identify co-benefits of solar facilities, specifically regarding stormwater management and water quality. Megan Day will be the lead principal investigator for the NREL team. Project tasks include conducting field research on stormwater infiltration and runoff at solar installation sites; validating a model to understand, predict, and manage water resources; identifying best practices for stormwater management; and engaging with local jurisdictions. This project will reduce soft costs and break down regulatory barriers of solar projects.

Improving Solar and Solar + Storage Screening Techniques to Reduce Utility Interconnection Time and Costs

Julieta Giraldez will lead this project to develop a new method for mapping secondary low-voltage circuits in the electric grid, which will help utilities speed up their interconnection processes for approving solar connections to the grid. These tools will enable grid operators to improve resilience and assess their capacity for new interconnections more rapidly. The team will form an advisory board to engage with stakeholders throughout the project and disseminate the findings nationwide. NREL was awarded $1 million for this project.

Replicate and Innovate: Pathways to Expanding Access to Solar for Income- and Credit-Challenged Customers

Paul Schwabe is the principal investigator on this $600,000 project. NREL and its partners will reduce barriers to solar access through innovative financing programs that serve low- to moderate-income communities. Schwabe’s team will research, design, and implement flexible financial credit agreements to increase customer choice and solar affordability. This will address barriers to solar adoption, such as long-term contracting requirements, nontransferable solar subscriptions, low credit, and seasonal income fluctuations.

Project Partners

NREL is also a strategic partner on the following 15 projects, which means the lab will receive part of the funding and support the organization that is leading the project:

  • SonicWafering of III-V Substrates for High-Efficiency Cells: A Path to <$0.50/W (Prime: Arizona State University)
  • Back-Contact Interface Engineering for Higher Efficiency CdTe PV (Prime: Colorado State University)
  • High-Speed, Roll-to-Roll Production of Durable, Low-Cost, Bifacial Perovskite Photovoltaic Modules (Prime: Energy Materials Corporation)
  • Toward Low-Cost, Efficient, and Stable Perovskite Thin-Film Modules (Prime: University of Toledo)
  • Understanding the Mechanism of Light- and Elevated-Temperature Induced Degradation of p-type Silicon Solar Cells (Prime: Colorado School of Mines)
  • On-Device Lead Detention for Perovskite Solar Cells (Prime: Northern Illinois University)
  • Developing a Deep Learning-Computer Vision Framework to Monitor Avian Interactions with Solar Energy Facility Infrastructure (Prime: Argonne National Laboratory)
  • Single-Source Vapor Deposition Equipment for High-Throughput Manufacturing of Thin-Film Perovskite Solar Absorbers (Prime: BlueDot Photonics)
  • Reducing Module Soiling with Scalable and Robust Photocatalytic Coatings (Prime: Swift Coat)
  • Adaptive Protection and Validated Models to Enable Deployment of High Penetrations of Solar PV (Prime: Electric Power Research Institute)
  • Risk-Informed Hierarchical Control of Behind-the-Meter DER with AMI Data Integration (Prime: Eaton Corporation)
  • Advanced Grid-Forming (GFM) Inverter Controls, Modeling and System Impact Study for Inverter Dominated Grids (Prime: General Electric Company, GE Research)
  • Cybersecure Utility DER Networking with Integrated Multi-Party Trust (Prime: Operant Networks)
  • Grid Resiliency with a 100% Renewable Microgrid (Prime: San Diego Gas & Electric Company)
  • Multilevel Cybersecurity for Photovoltaic Systems (Prime: University of Arkansas)