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Summary:

Despite a history of underwhelming track records, Nanosolar still has investors who believe the thin film company could make it big. Nanosolar just raised a $20 million round for what it hopes will be a new beginning for a company.

Nanosolar Germany

Solar thin film company Nanosolar is well known for having plowed through hundreds of millions of dollars in funding and over promising what it can deliver. But looks like Nanosolar still has investors that believe the company can make it big — Nanosolar just raised a $20 million round for what it hopes will be a new chapter of its history.

The funding announcement came about a month after Nanosolar promoted Eugenia Corrales from the head of engineering and operations to CEO, who in a statement described the funding as a shot at “the beginning of an exciting new period of growth for Nanosolar.”

Certainly, the Silicon Valley company seems to be finally making progress on scaling up production of its copper-indium-gallium-selenide (CIGS) solar panels. Its shipments went from zero to 10 MW during the year and a half when Corrales was whipping the company into a bona fide manufacturer while she was heading its engineering and operations.

Shipping 10 MW is a “personal best” for Nanosolar, but that shows Nanosolar is falling behind many of its fellow CIGS solar manufacturers. MiaSole said it shipped 60 MW in 2011. Avancis, Solibro, Global Solar Energy all shipped more than Nanosolar last year, according to GTM Research. The biggest CIGS company is Solar Frontier, which boasts a new 900 MW factory and is shipping at much greater volumes.

The median, total-area efficiency of Nanosolar’s panels is now at 11.5 percent, the company said. Total-area efficiency counts not just the cells in the panels that generate power but also the frame (sometimes companies talk about “aperture efficiency” to describe only the efficiency of the cell area of the panel, so that number is higher). Customers, such as project developers, care about total-area efficiencies because those numbers help to determine how many panels will fit in a given space and how much power the entire project will generate.

Missed milestones

Nanosolar has built a reputation for not delivering on its promises. Part of that came from it co-founder Martin Roscheisen, who said the company began commercial production of solar panels in Dec, 2007, which meant it should have begun to steadily increase its shipments, line up more customers and expand production. But he then divulged few details that would show progress, such as its technology, factory capacities, customers or projects, and he did so for long enough to draw suspicion, then ridicule from analysts and competitors.

It turned out the company wasn’t ready for prime time. Nanosolar announced in Sept. 2009 that it was only entering mass production then. After that the company became more circumspect about its work and opened its factory in San Jose, Calif. for tours to show it was making progress.

Nanosolar has announced some big contracts, technology improvements and completion of projects by its customers since Roscheisen’s successor, Geoff Tate, took over. But the company also was trying to right itself during a time when the solar market was beset by an oversupply of panels and falling prices for solar panels. Many of the much larger solar manufacturers have closed factories, laid off a big percent of their workforce, or gone bankrupt.

Can Nanosolar grow to become a major player? We don’t know. But it helps that it’s got faithful investors who believe it’s still possible. Two existing investors, Mohr Davidow Ventures and OnPoint Technologies, contributed to the $20 million round, along with the new comer Aeris Capital.

Mohr Davidow already was billed as a returning investor when it put money into the $75 million C round announced in 2006. Overall, the company has taken in over $400 million, including a $300 million round in 2008, since its start in 2002.

Photo courtesy of Nanosolar

  1. Here is the deal. All VCs and private equity passed on the deal. I personally know this through my connection with Hercules Capital. The $20 million put in by the existing investors is to simply give the company runway to try and sell it to someone. Tate was a failure and was canned. He ran up so many bils there with lavish perks that not only did the account run dry, but so did company morale. Brian Stone, similarly was ineffectual. How anyone with his personality is in sales or marketing is beyond me. The guy basically is someone who lives in his mother’s basement (not just my opinion, dude is over 40 and single…). Eugenia is a joke, but she’ll do whatever it takes in terms of manipulating future yields. She leverages the finance department extensively to toy with the account polices in order to make the cost per watt seem more impressive than it really is. That’s it folks – anything else you read is spin.

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    1. Whoa! Thanks for the peek inside the company, Ray. It is apparent that the company needed money as a bridge to something, since it’s been struggling for a while. But I wonder who will want to buy it. MiaSole can make panels at a greater scale and efficiency, and it’s looking for a buyer, too.

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  2. James Robert Seidel Wednesday, February 22, 2012

    20 million smackerooos…………
    what would 20 million get to hold the company afloat for a whole three years from now?
    exactly what type of shape of solar panel would the firm make that the masses would actually purchase?
    what outlet, or market zone would the bigshots target?

    why not just spend the money only in little amounts, a simple plan to keep the lights on.

    OH, and a internet site that 12 year olds can understand.

    That is what America has become.

    Since 1979, from watching Shell and Sovonics [ now ECD unisolar ] and even Astro-power,
    nothing has really changed in terms of how the average American simple pv products
    made these days lack quality……….s

    will the product really be able to perform? If so, then,
    James Robert Seidel thinks we need several final-assembly pv fabs at every college campus
    also, does Nanosolar still not answer email?

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