China’s Hanergy to buy solar startup Miasole in fire sale

Thin Film Solar Underdog MiaSole Looks Ahead to New Plant, Solar Shingles

The search for a financial suitor is coming to an end for solar thin film startup, MiaSole, which has agreed to be bought by China-based Hanergy, according to a shareholder letter.

Hanergy plans to buy MiaSole for a measly $30 million, according to the letter, and also reported by the San Francisco Chronicle. While the Silicon Valley solar company has been mum about how much venture capital it’s raised since its inception in 2001, published reports have put the figure somewhere between $400 million and $500 million by the end of 2011. Earlier this year, the company raised $55 million.

MiaSole was desperate for a white knight to rescue it from oblivion. After years of research and development, the company seemed to have finally nailed its manufacturing process to making solar panels out of copper, indium gallium and selenium (CIGS) that are more efficient than many rivaling CIGS thin film companies. But it was running out of money and needed to expand its production and attract customers. CEO John Carrington joined MiaSole late last year, and he made a public appeal in December for investors and partners who could bring money and sales and marketing expertise.

Hanergy may not be a well-known company in the U.S., but it’s large renewable energy producer in China. We pointed out in this post back in June that Hanergy is a company worth watching not only because of its large hydropower and solar panel production plants in China, but also because of its involvement in installing solar energy equipment. Hanergy won a 3-year deal to install solar panels on Ikea’s stores in China. The company also has built a wind energy generation business within China.

With the purchase of MiaSole, Hanergy is knitting together a global solar thin film empire. Last week, the company completed the purchase of CIGS thin film maker Solibro from Q-Cells in Germany. Hanergy said it would increase Solibro’s production for the European market. With MiaSole’s purchase, Hanergy, of course, will have a CIGS thin film manufacturing base in the U.S.

Solar startups have been picked off one by one cheaply – or filed for bankruptcy – over the past 19 months because the global solar market has been plagued by a glut of solar panels. The fast-falling panel prices – roughly 50 percent in 2011 alone and 30 percent so far this year – have put an enormous pressure on companies to lower their prices. That pressure is particularly difficult to handle for startups, which often have higher manufacturing costs initially when they are scaling up production of their technology. And many of them indeed were trying to raise more money and make that leap to mass production when the financial market crisis hit in late 2008, followed by the oversupply of solar panels starting in 2011.

One of the remaining CIGS thin film companies from Silicon Valley, SoloPower, hopes to reverse the trend. The company inaugurated its first large factory in Portland, Ore., last week and plans to start making use of a $197 million federal loan guarantee to expand production.

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