An idea to build solar panels into manufactured homes has given a Portland-based company a big win in a year-long national competition.

The U.S. Department of Energy and Renewable Energy announced Phase3 Photovoltaics along with another team won the first round of the American-Made Solar Prize. The competition aims to to revitalize U.S. solar manufacturing by helping  entrepreneurs turn their concepts into early-stage prototypes.

Phase3 Photovoltaics’ winning concept is to add solar panels into factory-built homes — making renewable energy more accessible for low-to-middle income, new homeowners.

Ethan Good, a co-founder of Phase3 Photovoltaics, said most homeowners find it difficult to afford the high costs of installing solar panels onto their homes.

“We witnessed this distribution and installer model that those companies used sort of bypassing a lot of low-to-middle income homeowners and we saw that being somewhat disproportionately unfair to them,” Good said.

Good said building solar panels into the factory-built homes helps fold the cost into the original equipment of the home – just like the furnaces, hot-water heaters and bathtubs.

“So it gets included in the mortgage payment and that gives these people the ability to finance it at a much lower cost of capital,” Good said.

Phase3 Photovoltaics received a $500,000 cash reward and $75,000 in vouchers to use at the Department of Energy’s National Laboratories and qualified fabrication facilities in the United States.

About 20 million Americans live in manufactured homes, which means Phase3 Photovoltaics’ concept could bring solar power to a large part of the housing sector, said Becca Jones-Albertus, an official with a Department of Energy.

“The team was very focused and knowledgeable and had a depth of expertise in solar to build upon and they had thought through and were addressing potential risks to the business and they had really thoughtful solutions on how to address those,” she said.

So far three prototype homes have been built as part of the competition to serve as model homes for a larger planned neighborhood in California.