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Summary:

Infinia, a solar startup which is using Stirling engines to produce solar power, is looking to raise $25 million in funding, and has closed $6 million of that round according to a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Infinia

Infinia, a solar startup which is using Stirling engines to produce solar power, is looking to raise $25 million in funding, and has closed $6 million of that round according to a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

The Utah company’s solar thermal technology uses a parabolic dish of mirrors to concentrate sunlight to heat and expand helium inside a heat exchanger to cause a piston in an engine to run back and forth. That motion then drives an alternator to produce electricity. This type of technology is generally called a Stirling engine.

Stirling engines have long been thought of as a promising technology to build solar farms, but the matchup has yet to become as popular as other types of solar thermal technologies, and at least one company has struggled to get its stirling engines built into a commercial solar project.

California regulators approved two Stirling solar projects using technology from Stirling Energy Systems totaling 1372.5 MW last year, but their developer, Tessera Solar (sister company to Stirling Energy Systems), subsequently sold them to different buyers when it couldn’t line up the financing to build them (Southern California Edison canceled its contract with one of the projects). Since then, one of the new buyers, K Road Power, has planned to use Stirling engines only for a small portion of its project while the second buyer, AES Solar Power, has said it will use solar panels instead. San Diego Gas & Electric told us it canceled the contract to buy power from the AES’s project in spring this year.

Like other solar thermal technology developers, Infinia is marketing its technology as suitable for not just solar electricity generation but also for combined heat-and-power generation. The system harvests the waste heat from electricity generation, and that heat can have a variety of uses, from heating a building to running industrial operations. Solar thermal technology developers such as Abengoa Solar and BrightSource Energy have carried out projects where the steam generated by the sun’s heat is used for cooking, showers and laundry at a federal prison and for extracting oil from wells.

Infinia raised $32 million in debt and options last year, according to another SEC filing, and another $50 million in equity before that. Investors include Equus Total Return, GLG Partners, Khosla Ventures, Bill Gross’s Idealab and Paul Allen’s Vulcan Capital.

But like Stirling Energy Systems, Infinia has seemed to also hit a few bumps in the road. Infinia began laying off employees at its previous headquarters in Washington state a few months back in order to move to Utah. The company’s CEO, Mike Ward, who came on board earlier this year, told a local newspaper, the Tri-CityHerald, that the move was to “accelerate from our R&D roots into a world-class solar generator company with geographically consolidated operations.”

However, Infinia has several installations and new customers in India. Infinia completed the first commercial installation of its technology earlier this year, reported the Tri-City Herald. The city and Infinia broke ground on a 45Kw project last year, but Infinia declined to say whether the project has been completed as planned.  Infinia also has installed a 9 KW system that was built on the rooftop of Belen’s City Hall in New Mexico.

In addition, Infinia recently sold 10 MW of its engines to solar developers in India. The deal in India involves a $30 million loan from the federal Ex-Im Bank to Dalmia Solar Power. Dalmia plans to develop the project and sell the electricity to NTPC Vidyut Vyapar Nigam, a subsidiary of the National Thermal Power Corp.

Image courtesy of Inifina 

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  1. I’m curious how loud the stirling engine is; I’ve heard that Tessera’s (now defunct) stirling engine was as loud as a lawnmower engine, which makes me re-consider whether or not I would want THOUSANDS of these scattered across a desert. Any insight? Thanks!

    1. Infinia claims, on its website, that its Stirling engines are “virtually silent.” I don’t know what that means, exactly, without standing next to them. A company’s claim doesn’t always match reality when the technology is deployed. I’ll keep the noise issue in mind when I write about stirling engines in the future.

      1. Thanks, Ucilia! I started searching for my own answer, too. It’s listed as 65 decibals at 10 meters on their spec sheet. If I did the math right, that’s ~85 decibels at a distance of one meter. That seems roughly as loud as a food processor or sink disposal. Not too bad for one array, but you’d need 312 arrays for 1 MW (AC). 312 food processors in the middle of the desert still seems like a substantial permitting hurdle, not to mention a disruptive project if constructed.

        http://www.infiniacorp.com/media/PowerDish_Spec_Sheet.pdf

      2. Hi, I’ve been pretty close to one of their units, it sounds about the same as a residential heat pump compressor but without the big fan. Not that bad, in my opinion.

  2. Nice little units.

    I wish these boys well.

    I hope they focus more on the residential and commercial markets, and that they get a CHP option as well as an option to feed it propane or natural gas to a burner to run when the sun sets.

    Have a hot water tank nearby and heat up the ewater, then pull what you want off for house, pool, hot-tub, etc.

    A 3kw unit (one of these) could run a good size ranch house.

  3. Infinia is a boondoggle scam. Infinia slithered out of Kennewick, WA like thieves in the night after receiving tax breaks from gullible Washington politicians they manipulated and used. Infinia systems generate solar electricity somewhere between $7/Watt to $10/Watt although that price doesn’t include the price of the land or the installation that requires a huge excavation and large amount of expensive non-green concrete to anchor their powerplant. Compared to First Solar Inc. that produces CdTe photovoltaics for a price now below $1/Watt, one can only wonder why Infinia is still in business. My guess, the company is designed to fail and investors will make big profits when the derivatives pay off. The SEC should do an investigation.

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