Professor Benedetta Piantella's venture selected as semifinalist in solar energy competition

Receives $100,000 for testing prototype

Benedetta Piantella and her collaborator R. David Gibbs

Industry Assistant Professor Benedetta Piantella and her collaborator R. David Gibbs after being selected as semi-finalists in the American Made Solar Challenge

Industry Assistant Professor of Technology, Culture, and Society Benedetta Piantella has been interested in helping solve societal problems since 2004, when she was vacationing in Sri Lanka the very day a devastating tsunami hit. She subsequently founded T4D Lab, a research and development facility that focuses on designing, prototyping, field-testing, and deploying solutions aimed at fostering climate resilience. Her collaborator in the venture, R. David Gibbs, had done his own eye-opening fieldwork during post-hurricane situations, mainly in island nations.

The two are now taking part in the American Made Solar Challenge, a three-tier contest sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). The event encourages the rapid development of innovative solar energy solutions capable of addressing the tough challenges facing the industry; at the beginning of this year, Gibbs and Piantella’s proof-of-concept of a smart charge controller that offers flexible, scalable energy access and emergency backup power, the Solar SEED, was awarded $50,000 to advance the prototyping. The Challenge is divided into three sections: Ready! (for the ideation stage), Set! (for the proof-of-concept stage), and Go! (for refined prototype). As competitors progress through the three contests, they receive more financial support and resources, accelerating the cycles of learning from months to weeks and reducing the overall time it takes to bring their products to the market.

In early June Piantella and Gibbs learned during the Set! Demo Day, hosted at Greentown Labs — the largest clean-tech startup incubator in the United States — that they had been selected as semifinalists (an honor accompanied by a $100,000 prize and additional funding to be redeemed at testing laboratories) and are now competing for the Go! prize of $500,000. Winners will be announced in September.

“I'm looking forward to the next stretch of 90 days of this incredible competition and feel very grateful to the organizations and judges for their support thus far, which is exactly the type of early-stage opportunity that social impact businesses so desperately need,” Piantella said.  "We feel truly honored to be given the chance to continue moving Solar SEED further."