Last week, the U.S. Department of Energy awarded prizes to five companies that focus on the soft-costs of solar power through the SunShot Initiative’s Catalyst Prize.

Since 2011, SunShot has funded more than 350 projects with focuses including solar photovoltaics (PV), concentrating solar power (CSP), system integration, technology to market, and balance of systems costs. According to the DOE, while solar hardware costs have been falling steeply, the balance-of-systems costs ("soft-costs") of solar projects have been slower to drop and can represent as much as 64% of the total installed price of a new solar system. These statistics make them a prime target for DOE’s SunShot program, which focuses on how to make solar power cost-competitive with other energy sources in the United States by 2020. 

According to the DOE, soft-costs include (but are not limited to) the costs associated with:

  1. Customer acquisition
  2. Financing and contracting
  3. Permitting, interconnection, and inspection
  4. Installation and performance
  5. Operations and maintenance

Each of the companies that received prizes at the SunShot Catalyst Prize competition is hoping to reduce these non-hardware costs for new solar installations, with goals ranging from reducing energy poverty to providing easier access to home energy usage data. The five Catalyst Prize winners from last week's competition included:

1. Gridmates – helps rooftop solar owners combat energy poverty by sharing their surplus of electricity with those in need of access to modern energy services.

2. PVComplete - offers a web-based tool to automates the solar project design process, making it faster and easier to plan new solar installations.

3. Savenia Solar Ratings - helps homeowners, installers, and real estate agents calculate the value of home solar energy systems.

4. Solar Site Design - connects solar industry professionals with potential solar customers.

5. UtilityAPI - gives customers faster, more accurate quotes for solar energy systems by providing solar companies with automated access to home energy usage data.