Early on, NREL helps the companies write a statement of work with tough, specific goals, such as raising the efficiency of their cells to 15 percent or cutting manufacturing costs in half.
"We hold them to the plan. If you said you're going to produce a cell with 15 percent efficiency by this date, you had better get it done," said Symko-Davies. NREL has the testing facilities and experts to make sure that these companies are successful in meeting their aggressive goals.
"Initially, these companies are very unhappy with Martha, because they think the goals are too aggressive," Mowafak Al-Jassim, an NREL scientist who works with some of the companies, said. "But almost universally, they come back and say, 'you guys pushed us so hard. Without you we wouldn't have accomplished what we did.'"
Symko-Davies and her team of four oversee the program, but at least three or four NREL researchers are brought in to help each companygrowing the size of the operation, reducing capital expenses, and scaling up the efficiencies. "We're in your face," Symko-Davies said. "If you don't want to accept NREL as your partner, don't apply. But we'll help enable U.S. manufacturing quickly and reliably."