fredag 19. februar 2010

SoloPower takes a run at Solyndra with new $45M, and more on the way

SoloPower, maker of thin-film solar modules for rooftop installations, has just raised $44.9 million in debt financing, according to a filing with the SEC. But this bridge round is only a harbinger of much more to come as the San Jose, Calif. company sprints to raise $100 million more in private financing to match a potential $200 million loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Energy for two manufacturing plants.
While it competes with the likes of neighboring Solyndra and flexible thin-film maker Uni-Solar, SoloPower says it differentiates itself, not only by offering the most lightweight, flexible, and efficient option on the market, but also with its cost-effective manufacturing processes. Its assembly lines are designed to conserve materials and use less of the priciest components, reducing costs by a factor five.
Granted, Solyndra seems to be on top for now, with a $535 million loan from the DOE, an IPO filing in the hopper, and a huge new facility in Fremont, Calif. But, SoloPower CEO Tim Harris says if all goes according to plan, his company will definitely hit profitability. This recent round of funding has given it the runway and confidence to start ramping up this summer, he tells VentureBeat.
The short-term goal is to expand SoloPower’s existing manufacturing line in San Jose, and to build a brand new flexible module factory just a half mile away. Together, the facilities would create 500 new, permanent jobs in the south Bay Area, Harris says, not to mention many more construction jobs. At first, they would be expected to churn out 300-megawatts worth of panels every year (enough to power 300,000 homes). But this number is sure to scale as the technology is refined, Harris says.
Right now, SoloPower’s modules are about 10 percent efficient — meaning that about 10 percent of the light captured is converted into usable energy. This is a bit higher than average for thin-film photovoltaics, but low for standard models. SunPower, maker of rigid solar panels, has hit commercial efficiencies of up to 22 percent.
That said, SoloPower markets its products very differently. It wants to appeal to installers with roofs that are not suitable for large, heavy traditional panels. Because its products are flexible and capable of being resized for custom applications, they are ideal for roofs with strict weight limitations and uneven surfaces, Harris says.
“Because our modules are so lightweight, the whole installation is dramatically cheaper and works a lot of places most existing solar panels would not,” he says.
While Harris, who only recently became SoloPower’s CEO at the start of February after leading high-precision equipment maker Celerity, would not disclose the names of investors at this time, the company’s board of directors includes representatives from Hudson Clean Energy Partners, Firsthand Capital Management, Crosslink Capital and Convexa Capital. He said existing backers have already committed $25 million toward its open, targeted $100 million round of funding.
Founded in 2005, SoloPower has never had to struggle for financing. It raised a massive $200 million in the fall of 2008, and took in $30 million the previous summer. It also competes with thin-film companies NanSolar and Miasole.

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