Crowdsourcing Solar Apps for the U.S. Department of Energy

May 8, 2015 Clinton Bonner


Pardon the pun, but solar energy is a hot topic. Whether it’s a keynote from the world’s most famous entrepreneur discussing how a new battery will help solve the challenges of solar intermittency or a simple graph from Reuters showcasing that solar energy is now commercially viable for most of the world’s major economies, solar is having its moment.

The U.S. Department of Energy (“DoE”) is, of course, keenly aware of the huge potential for solar energy. They are also aware that there are barriers to solar uptake. Being a leader in energy innovation, the DoE, along with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (“NREL”) launched SunShot Catalyst. SunShot Catalyst is an open innovation program that aims to catalyze the rapid creation and development of products and solutions that address near-term challenges in the U.S. solar marketplace. Through a series of prize challenges, SunShot Catalyst makes it faster and easier to launch innovative solar companies, while tackling time-sensitive market challenges.

The series of challenges consists of four steps: Ideation, Business Innovation, Prototype, and Incubation. The infographic in this post focuses on prototyping. It illustrates how 17 teams used Appirio’s crowdsourcing platform to design and develop prototypes and minimum viable products (MVPs).

Well over one hundred business model ideas were submitted and curated to yield the Top 17 ideas. These finalists were given access to Appirio’s crowdsourcing platform, along with a challenge budget of $25,000 per team to sprint through the prototyping phase. Having access to a global, on-demand workforce that competed to create these solutions helped the 17 finalists achieve this goal in only nine weeks time.

On May 14th, the 17 finalists will showcase to the world their digital solutions live at the SunShot Catalyst Demo Day. Up to five additional prizes of $100,000 each can be rewarded to help those teams start their businesses and accelerate offering new products and services in the solar marketplace.

We’d like to thank and applaud all who are involved in this ambitious initiative. From the agencies who set the bold vision, to our Topcoder community members who participated in the 108 crowdsourced challenges, to the individual teams that embraced crowdsourcing and used the community as their innovation partner, thank you. The huge variety of business model and application ideas were inspiring.The SunShot Catalyst initiative offers tremendous validation for government organizations or enterprises to use crowdsourcing as a way to attain new application ideas and bring them to market with extraordinary speed.
With the solar market heating up, here’s to hoping crowdsourcing can be the catalyst that helps it catch fire.

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