Catalyst and the Capital: the US Department of Energy Takes a Shot at Solar

Dept of Energy via flickr
Dept of Energy via flickr

In 1995 43% of all photovoltaic, solar, panels were produced in the United States. By 2000 that number had sunk to 27%, and in 2010 it had dropped all the way down to 7%. Enter the US Department of Energy initiative: Sunshot. Launched in 2011, Sunshot is focused on making solar power available and affordable to all americans.

The Catalyst public innovation challenge, built on IdeaScale, brings citizens and residents together to face today’s solar challenges together, with their collective knowledge and the Department of Energy’s resources. The challenge is broken down into 4 stages:

1. The Ideation Contest: Between 5/21 and 6/20 submitters presented current problems in the technology, manufacturing, and engineering of solar. Participants in this public forum could comment on submissions, beginning a conversation around these problems and how to start coping with them.

2. Business Innovation Contest: Individuals and teams will have between 7/24 and 8/13 to build a business plan around 1 of the ideas suggestion in the first challenge phase. Teams will create a 5 minute video description of their plan for the public to view.

3. Prototyping: Up to 20 winners will be selected from the Business Innovation Contest to move on to the prototyping phase. All participants of the third phase will be granted access to $25,000 worth of software to develop their solution. The Department of Energy will provide training and consultation at the onset on this development phase. After 60 days, each team will participate in Demo Day to publicly present their minimum viable product.

4. Incubation Contest:  Judges will award 5 winners from the Demo Day presentations, each will receive $30,000 to develop their product. After 6 months these winners progress will be evaluated by the judges, those that successfully meet their development targets will be awarded an additional $70,000.

The Catalyst Challenge is financed by the America COMPETES Act for creating opportunities to meaningfully promote excellence in technology, education, and science. SunShot aims to increase solar power to 27% of the US’s total energy consumption by 2050. A major factor in making this goal a reality is decreasing the cost of solar in the upcoming decades to a point where it matches less renewable sources. Making solar a financial option will fuel its growth, which in turn will create an estimated 390,000 jobs.

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