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Summary:

Solar startup GreenVolts says it has laid off more than 60 of its 80 person staff, as a result of investor ABB removing its support. A small staff remains at GreenVolts to offer customer support of its systems and to look to sell itself or assets.

GreenVolts CPV systems

Solar startup GreenVolts has hit a real rough patch. GreenVolts CEO David Gudmundson told me in an interview on Wednesday afternoon that the company recently lost investment support from power company ABB, and as a result has laid off more than 60 of its 80 person staff. Greentech Media first reported troubles at the company Wednesday morning.

“What happened is that we had a sudden and unexpected change in support from our strategic investor, and that has affected our access to funding. This was a surprise given our recent progress,” said Gudmundson. GreenVolts raised $35 million in funding in December 2011, with $20 million of that coming from ABB. Gudmundson told me that ABB had pulled out of funding the company.

GreenVolts still has a small core team in place, and the team’s plan is now to look for a buyer of its technology or assets. The leftover staff will also still continue to offer customer support on the systems level.

GreenVolts is a seven-year-old company that makes solar concentrating photovoltaic systems that use both solar cells and lenses to produce electricity. The company makes a fully end-to-end array that includes modules, trackers, inverters, and energy management software and also installs projects.

This year has a been a very difficult one for solar manufacturers, both solar panel makers and companies like GreenVolts that make solar concentrating photovoltaic systems. The price of solar panels has plummeted, which has led to panel makers selling panels for below market rates. (On the flip side that has led to a boost in solar panel installations.)

Solar concentrating photovoltaic systems (also called CPV) are also a new, unproven technology in the solar industry. They’re a hybrid of using mirrors to concentrate sunlight (like some of the large solar farms being built in the deserts use) and small cells that convert the concentrated sunlight into electricity. Startup Amonix, which also makes CPV systems, also recently laid off its staff and shuttered its factory.

GreenVolts has struggled and pivoted a bit over the years. The company moved away from its original carousel tracker CPV design (images of that here) and had been working on a newer CPV tech (check out more photos on Ed Gunther’s site). I visited the company’s offices and test site last month and took these photos of the system.

But GreenVolts had seemed to be getting on track in recent months. The company announced investment from ABB in December, as well as a partnership with ABB where ABB would sell and market its systems. Having the power player in its corner was a validation of its technology. Was. And now having that company pull out its support is devastating to the company.

  1. A tiny portion of cost was pv material while I presume the rest was in the BOS…mostly off the shelf metal and glass components. Meaning there was no cost reduction pathway other than volume…..fail

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    1. Greenvolts offered a unique combination of “all in”. Their package included inverter and DAS. Open the box, install, turn on. No other CPV player offered that (unless Amonix’s play included Solectria inverters in the box.)

      The unknown about Greenvolts was kWh/DNI, and LCOE.

      RIP, and now there are two.

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  2. CPV: Optical components, lenses more so than mirros, are used to concentrate sun light.

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  3. Unproven? SolFocus has several 1MW plants operating. Amonix has 5MW and 30MW plants operating. What constitutes “proven”?

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  4. Perhaps tariffs on imported (PRC) solar panels would encourage US products.

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  5. Hi Katie, thanks for the excellent article as usual. Why do you consider CPV systems to be “a new, unproven technology”?

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    1. Peter Le Lièvre Thursday, September 13, 2012

      I think the point is that CPV systems are not able to secure project debt as banks dont trust these technolgies yet. They are ‘unproven’ at least in terms of lending risk. One big aspect is that CPV manufacturers don’t have the big balance sheets necessary to underwrite the warrantees that banks need to fund projects. By way of comparison, PV projects are securing hundreds on millions from Wells, Bank of America, Morgan Stanly, GS etc. in funds set up by Borrego, First Solar, Sunpower, Solar City etc. . Brand name panels, listed manufacturers with billion dollar balance sheets.

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  6. If ABB has given up , a company which could have given a good balance sheet for banks to trust the installation warranties , then does it mean end of road for CPV technology ?

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  7. Contrary to the comments in the article, the SolFocus CPV system is getting quite well proven in the marketplace with great performance and reliability on it’s many installations around Europe and now in the U.S. They continue to march down the cost curve, now providing the best levelized cost of energy (LCOE) of any solar technology when used in sunny climates.

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  8. How about offering supplier support????
    We have been trying to contact them for payment of outstanding balance sine we heard the news.
    Bad enough we can’t get paid but don’t even get a return call.

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  9. GreenVolts is auctioning all their assets next week on Nov 13th. More info on the auction is here: Auction Information

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