The Department of Energy (DOE) launched SunShot Catalyst last May to propel the development of products that address problems and challenges seen in the United States solar industry. The program facilitates collaboration among solar experts, software developers, and entrepreneurs, and provides them with access to a multitude of tools, capabilities, and data sets to build software that eliminates barriers to greater solar deployment around the country.
During the first months of the program, stakeholders in the industry and the general public were invited to identify major problems that could be solved through algorithms, automation, and software applications. The most pressing and compelling issues were selected for the business innovation phase. Some of these included the increase in home electricity usage after solar installation, lower solar panel efficiency in sub-optimal temperatures, and high solar farm inspection costs.
Teams of innovators from around the country were then enlisted to form business plans for products and services that would solve these problems. In January, DOE awarded seventeen teams with $25,000 worth of support to hold coding competitions through a crowdsourcing development platform. Currently, around 700,000 coders, developers, and data scientists are participating in this virtual hackathon to help build software prototypes. Here are a few of the selected projects:
- Rating system to show value of a solar system to potential buyers: Similar to CarFax, Savenia Solar Ratings will allow solar installers and homeowners to easily communicate the value of their systems to potential buyers. Owners will be able to input their system’s data online and then download informational materials that show the value of the system. The company behind the software, Savenia Labs, believes that if prospective buyers can clearly see the market value of particular solar installations, then more will be inclined to purchase a system.
- Peer to peer energy sharing: Gridmates is a cloud based platform for energy transactions. It allows individuals and companies to send units of energy around the country with a phone or computer. Through the system, rooftop solar owners have the ability to send excess electricity generated by their systems to family and friends or donate it to people living in energy poverty.
- Automation of utility bill acquisition for solar companies: One major challenge for solar companies during the customer acquisition process is collecting utility billing history – it’s a manual process that can take up to three weeks. UtilityAPI automates this process so solar sales people will be able to gather billing history in under 10 minutes. The software collects historical data and regularly monitors usage so companies can easily show customers their savings.
- Comprehensive solar project design tool: Even though it typically takes one or two days to complete a residential solar project, it can take several months for the installation to begin to take place after a contract is signed. PVComplete aims to simplify the site assessment, underwriting, design, and permitting processes through a single, comprehensive software platform. The tool will automate these time consuming tasks so that final design proposals and permit packages can be quickly generated online.
After the prototyping process, teams will present their software to a panel of investors and judges. DOE will award up to $500,000 in additional funds to the highest performing projects to aid in commercialization of developed products and services.