Benefits of Joining with NREL to Team with Solar Innovators

Summary: ADL Ventures is a Power Connector for NREL’s American-Made Solar Prize. We invite other forward-thinking organizations to join us as Connectors. Connectors recruit and mentor Solar Prize entrepreneurs who seek non-dilutive funding from DOE as well as mentorship from Connectors and the National Labs. In addition to the financial rewards outlined below, Connectors benefit from a public affiliation with NREL, engagement with other solar leaders, and the ability to build relationships with the next generation of American solar innovators.
There is no cost to the organization to be a Connector. While there is also no time commitment, NREL and ADL hope that Connectors will be able to harness their networks and skill sets to have a meaningful impact on the American solar ecosystem.
Connectors (corporates) can learn more and apply at NREL’s American-Made homepage. Entrepreneurs can learn more at ProblemSpace.

By the end of September 2019, the U.S. had deployed over 2 million solar PV systems, totaling about 71,300 MW of solar capacity and making solar power the fastest growing renewable energy source in the U.S. However, the rapid deployment rate does not mask the relative weakness of the U.S. solar manufacturing market.

From 2012 to 2016, 25 U.S. solar cell manufacturers ceased domestic production, moved their facilities to other countries, or declared bankruptcy due to the fierce competition from Chinese manufacturers. In 2017, one of the last two U.S. solar cell manufacturers declared bankruptcy and ceased production. The vast majority of remaining operations do only low-skill or low-value module assembly work and account for well under 5% of global manufacturing share.

In light of the mass commoditization of the global solar manufacturing market and the intrinsic difficulty of the hardware innovation, ADL Ventures has been collaborating with other organizations to engage and support U.S. manufacturers and innovators working on differentiated solutions with broad relevance across the industry value chain. 

In 2019, ADL Ventures partnered with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to found Manufacturing Hub, a knowledge center that provides hardware entrepreneurs with educational resources that help them overcome the notorious “valley of death” before successfully launching their products to the market. Here is a webinar led by ADL’s Frank Yang and Chris Richardson on learning from hardware innovation failures.

This year, ADL Ventures starts a new initiative as a Power Connector for the American-Made Solar Prize, a competition organized by DOE and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) to incentivize and fund solar innovation. A group of prominent solar industry players, known collectively as the American-Made Network, has been formed to connect and support competitors in the Solar Prize. The Network is made up of national laboratories, cleantech incubators, investors, manufacturers and others. Each of these organizations have various roles and are known as either Connectors, Power Connectors, Facilities, or Partners. A complete list of existing American-Made Network members and their roles can be found here.

Responsibilities of a Connector

As a Power Connector in the Network, ADL Ventures is working with NREL to expand the existing Network to include more members in the Connector role. The responsibilities of a Connector can vary with the nature or expertise of the organization, but some of the typical tasks of a Connector include: 

  • Discover and recruit solar technology innovators to apply for the competition
  • Help competitors refine their technical solutions or business plans
  • Connect competitors with other non-federal/industry funding sources 
  • Provide or connect competitors with tools and facilities that can help them fabricate or test their products. 
Benefits of a Connector

Why become a Connector? There are a variety of benefits these organizations acquire for their services:

  • Receive institutional recognition for affiliation with an Energy Department- and NREL-led program
  • Establish relationships with startups who could emerge as future clients/customers 
  • Connect with industry leaders and experts in the Network
  • Experience early exposure to new technologies developed for the solar industry 
  • Share and receive industry event invitations through the Network Newsletter
  • Apply for occasional Power Connector opportunities for additional funding.

In addition to the aforementioned benefits, a series of financial rewards has also been established to acknowledge Connectors’ contribution to the competition: 

  • A $25,000 Engage reward will be distributed among up to 25 Connectors that excel at recruiting new competitors.
  • A $100,000 Mobilize reward will be distributed among up to 60 Connectors that recruit and support competitors who win the first phase of competition, the Ready! Contest.
  • A $50,000 Mentor reward will be distributed among up to 30 Connectors who are identified as significant supporters to competitors who win the second phase of competition, the Set! Contest 
  • A $20,000 Mentor reward will be distributed to up to 6 Connectors who are identified as significant supporters by competitors who win the final phase of competition, the Go! Contest.


If you are interested in becoming a Network member, please visit the American-Made Network application page to answer the questions proposed on the webpage, and note down “ADL Ventures” under the question, “Where did you hear about the American-Made Network?” If you have any questions, please contact us via the form below. We’re happy to share our perspective on this opportunity for Connectors to engage with solar innovators.

If you are an entrepreneur looking to participate in the American-Made Solar Prize, please click here.

Author: Chris Richardson