GreenVolts loses ABB as investor, lays off bulk of staff

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.

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