The program works because the companies are pushed hard, Symko-Davies said.
If the companies don't pass a Stage Gate review conducted nine months in, they're dropped, they don't get the remaining half of the subcontract dollars, and that money is put back into the pot for the next year's recruits. That happened to three of the 10 companies selected in the first round in 2007. For others, milestones are rewritten or tightened.
|At NREL's High-Intensity Pulse Solar Simulator, NREL's Keith Emery removes an array of multijunction solar cells produced by PV Technology Incubator partner Solar Junction.
President Obama, in his State of the Union Address of January 25, set a goal of 80 percent clean energy by 2035. A key milestone in the minds of the DOE and the White House is to lower the installed cost of a photovoltaic system to $1 per watt by 2017.
If the installed cost of solar energy can plunge from $3 to $1 in six years, it likely will mean new American jobs and lift the United States to global leadership in both solar innovation and solar manufacturing.
The $3 million or so awarded to the chosen companies often leverages much more in terms of venture-capital dollars and federal loan guarantees.
The program has helped hatch companies such as Abound Solar of Longmont, Colorado, which parlayed a $3 million PV Technology Incubator subcontract and a simpler way to make cadmium-telluride solar cells into a manufacturing process that attracted several times that amount in venture capital money and a $400 million federal loan guaranty. The company expects to employ more than 1,000 when its plants in Colorado and Indiana are at full capacity.
And there's Calisolar, which attracted venture capital interest after NREL helped it work out the kinks in a process that allows it to use far less expensive silicon in its manufacturing process. Calisolar now counts its employees in the hundreds and plans to greatly expand manufacturing capacity.
PV Technology Incubator alumnus SoloPower, which has a breakthrough electrochemistry process to fabricate copper-indium-gallium-selenide cells at a fraction of the typical cost, recently received a $200 million federal loan guaranty.