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  • Writer's pictureKristin Cooper

Funding to advance equity in residential and commercial solar deployment

The Solar Energy Innovation Network is a collaborative program launched by the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office and administered by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). The Innovation Network brings together diverse teams of stakeholders to research solutions to real-world challenges associated with solar energy adoption, laying the groundwork for implementation of those solutions – and replication in other areas facing similar issues.

Project teams may include entities such as state and local governments, community-based organizations, electric utilities, companies, nonprofits, and universities. Teams develop innovative solutions to barriers for solar energy. These solutions are then tested and validated, making them ready to apply to other locations. Over the course 15 months, the teams receive financial support as well as technical assistance and facilitation from NREL and its partners, ensuring academic rigor and stakeholder engagement in the resulting solutions.

Round 3 of the Innovation Network was announced on May 4, 2021. This round is designed to advance equity in residential and commercial solar deployment, aiming to support multi-stakeholder teams from around the country to overcome barriers to solar PV adoption in underserved communities. (Commercial-scale solar is a term that includes offices, warehouses, hospitals, hotels, retail stores, schools, or higher-education facilities.) Selected teams will develop innovative ways to leverage solar deployment to address the needs identified by one or more underserved communities. Projects must include direct community leadership.

Details on the Request for Proposals (RFP), including topic descriptions, evaluation criteria, and deadlines for submissions, can be found on NREL’s website.


Innovation Network teams receive technical assistance and facilitation support from NREL and other expert partners for 15 months to formulate and test their innovations. All of the teams meet together for several multiday work sessions to provide peer networking. NREL groups teams together around common challenges so they can share insights, research, and ideas.

The Innovation Network has the following program design elements:

  • Direct funding for teams to work on community-driven innovative ideas (up to $200,000)

  • Technical assistance and facilitation support from NREL, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and RMI to implement those innovative ideas

  • A networked approach, which deepens participant research learning and strengthens outcomes

  • Technical assistance to enable replication in other locations of solutions developed through the Innovation Network


This program seeks to lower barriers to equitable solar energy adoption and increase the resiliency of the nation’s electric grid. Solutions developed within the Innovation Network are intended to enable communities across the United States to build on their peers’ experience in overcoming similar obstacles.

Technical Assistance for Early Adopters

NREL offers technical assistance to early adopters seeking to translate lessons learned from the Innovation Network to their respective contexts. This TA is open to all U.S.-based stakeholders, which includes, but is not limited to, government entities, regulatory authorities, utilities, developers, or community organizations. Assistance for Early Adopters support is designed to be compact in terms of duration and scope. See topics currently available for Early Adopter Assistance and sign up for the Innovation Network mailing list to find out about additional topics as they become available.

Prior Rounds

Round 3 builds on lessons learned through the experience of two prior rounds of the program:

  • Round 2 launched in 2019, with eight teams across two topics: (a) Solar in Rural Communities and (b) Commercial-Scale Solar. Learn more about the Round 2 teams and their projects.

  • Round 1 launched in 2017, with nine teams across two topics: (a) Options Analysis to Improve Reliability and Affordability and (b) Solar+DER to Improve Grid Flexibility and Resilience. Learn more about the Round 1 teams and their projects.

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