At ADT Solar, we’re still sometimes amazed at the technology we install every day. The idea that you can install something on your roof that generates energy from sunlight is kind of mind-blowing.

But this past week, we went to RE+, the largest convention for renewable energy technology in the country, and the new technology we saw was amazing. Hundreds and hundreds of companies showcased their latest innovation. Everything from flashy semi-transparent solar panels and whole-house batteries with built-in inverters and car chargers to improved mounting brackets and bolts for rooftop solar systems was on display.

Everything is getting bigger

Solar Power World dove into the super-sizing of solar components. Both solar panels and solar batteries are getting bigger, with the standardization of panel size a thing of the past.

Editor-in-chief Kelly Pickerel was particularly blown away by ADT Solar partner Silfab’s back-contact integrated panel. It eliminates the need for busbars and the maintenance problems that sometimes originate with them. The new technology leads to a uniformly sleek black panel that will look great on customers’ roofs.

Solar Shark Tank

There were lots of panels and on-stage interviews about the promises and challenges of renewable energy, with almost everyone cheering on the transformative Inflation Reduction Act and the opportunity it brings for real change in energy generation in the United States.

One of our favorite presentations was the American Made pitch sessions.

The American Made Prize was created in 2018 by the U.S. Department of Energy to encourage innovation in the solar energy field. Entrepreneurs bring their ideas to an accelerating series of challenges. There are three steps to each stage, as the contestants move their project from idea to reality with the support of investors, labs, learning and research institutions and incubators, with big dollar prizes at stake for each step.

There have been multiple rounds in the prize’s nearly five-year history. The fifth round was divided into software and hardware, with two prizes for each. It included a separate category, JEDI, for technology with an emphasis on justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion.

Each of the round five finalists took the stage to a packed GridEdge Theatre on the convention floor on Tuesday afternoon to pitch their work in a Shark-Tank-type setting, and the winners were announced via live stream later in the day.

Two software track winners each took home $200,000.

Illu, has created a software tool to improve operations and maintenance workflow with an eye toward the growing field of distributed power generation and microgrids. The team, with a background in microgrids, highlights the labor intensity of maintaining and monitoring scattered generation sites and the challenges of the increasing labor shortage in the solar industry. Its AI-driven platform would create efficiencies to ensure that workers were maximizing their time in the field.

SolarGrade won for its management software to improve inspection, operations and maintenance of PV systems, with a focus on coordinating and documenting jobs performed on utility-scale solar projects.

Midday Tech took home the $100,000 JEDI prize, for its voluntary carbon offset marketplace connecting consumers with solar projects in underserved communities. The platform is already up and running, allowing subscribers to purchase carbon offsets that help fund rooftop solar in states with limited incentives. They are currently focused on lower-income communities in Missouri.

The hardware winners scored $500,000 each, both with a focus on the structures supporting solar panels.

TECSI Solar Inc. showed off a residential solar assembly that combines racking, flashing, hardware and power components in a single product for easier installation and ordering. The streamlined mounting assembly can speed the time needed for the installation of rooftop residential installations, lowering the cost per kW and shortening the break-even timeline for most home installations.

Origami Solar has developed PV frames from U.S.-made steel to lower shipping-based emissions while supporting the U.S. supply chain. As the vast majority of aluminum frames are imported from China and manufactured using fossil fuels, the American-made steel components would take a big step toward safeguarding against future supply chain disruptions while also lowering the carbon footprint of residential solar panels.

The American Made solar prize is an ongoing project. Round 6, with a whopping $4.1 million available for awards, is open for submission until October 6th.