Author: Dr. Becca Jones-Albertus    Published: 1/19/2021         SETO


A letter from Dr. Becca Jones-Albertus, director of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO).

Dear solar stakeholder,

As we start the new year, I want to share highlights of our work in 2020. I hope these will excite you about what more we can accomplish together in the year to come.

In 2020, we announced $200 million in funding and selected 72 new projects (SETO 2020 and EMPOWERED) that will work to advance a wide array of new technologies. We will share the progress these projects will make and look forward to your applications for our next funding opportunities.

With 2020 being a record for new U.S. solar installations, our focus on how to best integrate solar on the grid becomes even more important. SETO’s systems integration research is working to ensure that solar integration is reliable, affordable, safe, and secure. As part of that work, we initiated the development of a power electronics testbed with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)’s Advanced Research on Integrated Energy Systems; announced funding for a Grid-Forming Research Consortium; and launched the North American Energy Resilience Model with the DOE electricity, wind, and water offices.

As the solar fleet grows, we are developing a better understanding of the performance and degradation rates of those systems. In 2020, our Photovoltaics (PV) Fleet Performance Data Initiative worked with industry to collect 2.5 gigawatts of data. As we gather even more, NREL is using this data to develop a benchmark that will enable more efficient operation of PV installations and improve performance prediction accuracy for current and future PV power plants.

But that’s not all. Here are some more highlights from our projects last year:

  • A supercritical carbon dioxide power cycle integrated testbed project was launched that will demonstrate and de-risk this new concentrating solar-thermal power system.
  • The National Community Solar Partnership grew to include more than 350 members from 230 partner organizations. Thirty partners are receiving technical assistance, and 20 are in collaborative working groups to grow community solar across the country.
  • To date, over 380 communities have received a SolSmart designation, a more than 25% increase from 2019, helping to streamline permitting and encourage solar business development.

We had some intense competitions last year, too, which you can follow into the new year. We launched the Solar Desalination Prize, and Round 4 of the American-Made Solar Prize is underway. And more than 525 students from 52 collegiate institutions participated in the Solar District Cup Class of 2020. Now 59 teams from 56 institutions in the Class of 2021 are reimagining distributed energy systems, with 21% of the teams at minority-serving institutions.

Finally, we congratulate the three National Lab solar project teams that received research & development (R&D) 100 awards!

Thank you for your interest in our work, and I hope that you continue to stay engaged with us. You can always visit SETO’s website to get up to speed on the latest research.

We look forward to continuing to work to support the growth of solar in 2021 and beyond. Please feel free to reach out with any questions by emailing

Wishing you a happy new year!