Solar firms dominated cleantech investments in 2008 — will the sector continue its stranglehold on VC dollars in 2009? Well, solar funding is off to a promising start. On Friday SolFocus, which builds solar power plants that concentrate the sun’s rays onto photovoltaics, will announce it has raised $47.5 million in the first tranche of a series C round. The company had reportedly been looking to raise closer to $60 million to $80 million for this round, and SolFocus confirmed with us that the entire round will likely be closer to $60 million to $70 million, with the second tranche of funding likely closed later this month.
The large round was led by Apex Venture Partners and also included New Enterprise Associates and NGEN Partners, and SolFocus says the funds will be spent on boosting manufacturing from a half a megawatt in 2008 to 100MW by the end of 2010. Yes, they will need a lot of money for that. The company has already raised $95 million, so this will bring the company to a very sizable $143 million.
In addition to the funding, SolFocus said Mark Crowley, who has acted as SolFocus’ president since August of 2008, will take over as the company’s CEO. SolFocus former CEO Gary D. Conley will remain as the company’s chairman and founder, positions he presently holds. It’s not uncommon for a company to bring on a new CEO as the company moves into larger scale production and commercialization.
When it comes to concentrating photovoltaics (CPV), SolFocus is one of the leaders. The technology uses mirrors and lenses to concentrate sunlight onto tiny, highly-efficient solar cells. Smaller cells means the solar project can cut down on the expensive silicon-based solar panel. The systems usually deliver considerably more power than a solar panel on a rooftop but not as much as the massive solar thermal plants that are being built in the deserts.
While there are dozens of CPV players emerging (here are 13 of them) SolFocus is moving faster into commercialization than most. In November the company, which has a European headquarters in Madrid, Spain, announced that it signed a $103 million (€80M) agreement with EMPE Solar to install more than 10 megawatts (MW) of its concentrating photovoltaic (CPV) technology — enough power for 40,000 residents — in Southern Spain. SolFocus says this will be the largest CPV deployment in the world. The company also completed its portion of a 3 MW CPV installation owned by Spain’s Institute of Concentration Photovoltaic Systems (ISFOC).