Is Oakland becoming the nexus of solar technology development? It would appear that way on Thursday as a solar incubator program co-hosted a meet and pitch for startups from the U.S. Department of Energy's SunShot program.
The event aimed to bring together startups, potential customers, investors and regulators. The DOE runs an annual summit that showcases the companies it funds, but that one event doesn't provides enough time for networking. So the meet up on Thursday was a first attempt at creating more networking opportunities. The second meet up like it will take place in Boston.
SunShot is the DOE's own incubator program, which aims to bring down the cost of installing a large solar power projects to $1 per watt by 2020. The program has funded both solar materials and equipment development companies as well as software and data analytics companies that help to reduce the non-hardware cost of installing a solar energy system.
"We hope we will have a Tesla come out of this concept," said Mike Carr, principal deputy assistant secretary at DOE's Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy office, during an opening remark before the company pitches began.
Tesla Motors recently paid off its DOE loan early and saw its shares crossing the $100 mark. The electric car maker faced many financial and technical setbacks while it was a venture-backed startup. It went public in 2010, and it wasn't until last November that its CEO, Elon Musk, proclaimed that the company had crossed the so-called "valley of death" -- an tough period when it was rolling out its Model S sedan and needed to show it had the chops to mass-produce vehicles.
Located in an airy and expansive third-floor office of the solar incubator program called SfunCube (Sfun stands for solar for universal need) at the Jackson London Square, the gathering included 32 companies who set up posters -- and videos in some cases -- to describe their technologies and business models. The companies include both recipients of SunShot funding and SfunCube's companies. Sungevity is the "founding sponsor" of the incubator.
Each company gave a one minute pitch before people started to mingle. Some of the companies should be familiar to those who follow solar technology development. Mosaic has been making the news about its crowd-funding model to raise money for solar power projects. Qbotix has developed a robot that moves along a track to tilt solar panels so that they would follow the sun's movement. Genability collects utility rates across the country and use those massive data to help solar installers and financiers to more accurately calculate energy and money savings from going solar. EnergySage has created an online portal that allows homeowners to compare shop for solar energy installation and financing services.
A few energy storage companies were also part of the show-and-tell. Seeo, for example, develops lithium ion batteries and has worked with SunEdison to pair batteries with a solar panel installation.
Lead image: Start-up via Shutterstock