Venture firms love non-dilutive funding from the government and today NREL brightened the days of four solar start-ups and their investors.  

There are more than 250 solar start-ups and NREL made their choice to award cash to a small handful.  NREL is smart and knows solar but is not known for its business acumen.  It would be nice to understand a little more about the selection process, given that some of the firms are in stealth.

Firms awarded funding under this program will work with NREL to transition prototype and pre-commercial solar technologies into pilot and full-scale manufacturing. Here are the four solar start-ups that will receive up to $3 million each as part of DOE's Photovoltaic Incubator Program "to support the development of early stage solar energy technologies and help them advance to full commercial scale," as per the DOE website.   

Alta Devices (Santa Clara, CA) 
Alta Devices will focus efforts on developing an innovative high-efficiency (>20%), low-cost compound-semiconductor photovoltaic module, with market entry expected in 2011.

Solar Junction (San Jose, CA) 
Solar Junction will develop a manufacturing process to produce a very high efficiency multi-junction cell.  These high performing cells will be utilized by concentrating PV (CPV) manufacturers to produce lower cost CPV systems.

Tetra Sun (Saratoga, CA) 
Tetra Sun will focus efforts on a back surface passivation for high efficiency crystalline silicon solar cells. This effort will result in a high efficiency low-cost C-Si solar cell.

Semprius (Durham, NC) 
Semprius will focus efforts towards a massively parallel, microcell-based CPV receiver. This approach combines the benefits of unique-to-solar manufacturing techniques with the performance and operational benefits of microcell concentrating photovoltaics.

Michael Kanellos reported on the very stealthy Alta Devices here with some tidbits about the stealthy Kleiner Perkins and Technology Partners-funded company:

Harry Atwater, the Howard Hughes Professor of Applied Physics and Material Science at Caltech is the founder. Atwater’s group investigates silicon but also group IV materials such as germanium. They also look at lattice and strained structures.   Employees include senior scientist Gregg Higashi, who used to work at Applied Materials and Intel before joining Alta in 2008. 

Here's a recap of the award winners over the last few years.  These are almost all venture funded firms and relatively sane choices, save for the troubled Blue Square Energy and the preponderance of concentrator firms.  At least two of the firms are Kleiner Perkins-funded which might raise a red flag given the NREL-KP EIR connection.

2010 ARRA Awardees (Phase I):

Alta Devices, Inc. (Santa Clara, Calif.)
Semprius, Inc. (Durham, N.C.)
Solar Junction (San Jose, Calif.)
Tetra Sun (Saratoga, Calif.)
2008 Awardees (Phase I):

2008 Awardees (Phase I)

1366 Technologies (Lexington, Mass.)
Innovalight (Sunnyvale, Calif.)
Skyline Solar (Mountain View, Calif.)
Solasta (Newton, Mass.)
Solexel (Milpitas, Calif.)
Spire Semiconductor (Hudson, N.H.)
2008 Awardees (Phase II):

2008 Awardees (Phase II)

AVA Solar (Fort Collins, Colo.)
CaliSolar (Menlo Park, Calif.)
MicroLink Devices, Inc. (Niles, Ill.)
PlexTronics (Pittsburgh, Pa.)
PrimeStar Solar (Golden, Colo.)
SolFocus (Palo Alto, Calif.)
SoloPower (Milpitas, Calif.)
2007 Awardees:

2007 Awardees (Phase I)

AVA Solar (Fort Collins, Colo.)
Blue Square Energy (North East, Md.)
CaliSolar (Menlo Park, Calif.)
Enfocus Engineering (Sunnyvale, Calif.)
MicroLink Devices, Inc. (Niles, Ill.)
PlexTronics (Pittsburgh, Pa.)
PrimeStar Solar (Golden, Colo.)
Solaria (Fremont, Calif.)
SolFocus (Palo Alto, Calif.)
SoloPower (Milpitas, Calif.)