Through the Solar in Your Community Challenge, the U.S. Department of Energy will grant up to $5 million in cash prizes and technical assistance with up to $2 million in seed prizes, $2 million technical assistance, and $1 million in final prizes. The Challenge is a nationwide solar energy funding contest to support innovative and replicable community-based solar business models and programs that will bring solar to underserved communities.
The Challenge is a solar energy funding opportunity that encourages innovators around the country to team up with key stakeholders in local communities and explore, pilot, and scale up new models that will create new solar markets for low and moderate income households, non-profits, and local governments. Participants in the Challenge include teams, experts, and supporters. Teams should consist of multiple stakeholders (e.g. entrepreneurs, financiers, utility representatives, local governments, and community leaders).
The goal of the Challenge is to expand solar electricity access throughout the United States, particularly across low- and moderate-income households (LMIs), state, local, and tribal governments, and nonprofit organizations. The Challenge hopes to spur community-led development of new and innovative financial and business models that serve non-rooftop solar users such as community solar.
According to information provided by the Department of Energy, teams selected to participate in the Challenge are eligible to receive three different types of awards: seed awards, technical assistance vouchers, and final prizes.
Up to $500,000 Grand Prize
Teams will compete to win $1 million in Final Prizes, including a $500,000 Grand Prize for success in demonstrating a replicable and scalable model for low income solar. In addition, selected teams will receive approximately 50 cash seed awards totaling $2 million, and benefit from technical assistance resources and mentoring worth an additional $2 million. Teams will be evaluated based on their innovation, impact, expertise, team composition, plan, and progress. As teams are selected, seed awards (up to $60,000 per team) will be disbursed in increments based on completed milestones over an 18-month performance period.
In addition to final prizes, technical assistance providers (consultants and coaches) will be compensated depending on the extent to which teams choose to use their services throughout the 18-month performance period.
The Challenge is interested in hearing from:
- Teams working to develop a portfolio of solar projects in their communities or create new solar programs that extend solar access to LMI households and nonprofits; and
- Technical assistance providers (consultants and coaches) that assist teams throughout the 18-month challenge by providing the coaching and resources teams need to create innovative new business models.
Teams competing in the Challenge must design and deploy new and scalable business and financial models through the demonstration of solar projects and programs in their communities. To be eligible for the solar energy funding, prizes, projects and programs must directly benefit:
- LMI households, with at least 20% of the energy and benefits assigned to LMI households; or
- Non-profit organizations; state, local, or tribal governments; or community service organizations, with at least 60% of the energy and benefits assigned to one of these types of entities.
- Photovoltaic (PV) systems must be completed during the 18-month performance period and should aggregate between 25 and 5,000 kilowatts (peak DC capacity). A single entity cannot not be assigned more than 1,000 kilowatts from a single solar energy system.
The DOE says that while 20% LMI customers is the minimum, teams with over 50% LMI customers will receive a bonus cash prize. DOE will also show preference for teams that aim to reach 100% LMI households or have 100% of the energy benefit nonprofit/governmental organizations as outlined in the evaluation criteria for winning prizes.
The Solar in Your Community Challenge is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative and administered by The State University of New York (SUNY) Polytechnic Institute. Visit the Solar in Your Community Challenge website to learn more, apply, and get involved.