Google, BP, Investors Fund BrightSource for $115M

BrightSource Energy, the solar thermal startup that scored one of the industry’s biggest solar power plant deals in April, has just raised a massive $115 million in Series C funding and has added some big new names to its list of investors including Google.org, BP Alternative Energy, StatoilHydro Venture and Black River. Return backers include VantagePoint Venture Partners, Morgan Stanley, DBL Investors, Draper Fisher Jurvetson and Chevron Technology Ventures. This pushes the Oakland, Calif.-based startup’s funding over $160 million.

BrightSource says it intends to use the funds to start building its five large solar thermal plants in the Mojave Desert of Southern California, which could cost $2 to $3 billion. The company has signed a series of power purchase agreements with Northern California utility PG&E for 900 MW, and the company says it could start construction as soon as 2009; the plants could start churning out solar power as early as 2011.

This is the second solar thermal funding from Google.org. In March the news was out that the Goog branch invested in Bill Gross’s solar thermal startup, eSolar. Google is looking to invest hundreds of millions of dollars into funding large-scale renewable energy sources and startups that can deliver power cheaper than coal. Google particularly wants to fund “high-risk” clean energy projects that have proven difficult to finance, like solar thermal plants.

BrightSources’ new funding continues to heat up the solar thermal race in the deserts of the Southwest, where at least 11 companies are all working to secure land rights, sign power purchase agreements and lobby for new transmission lines to get their power plants up and running.

BrightSource uses a central power tower design, which includes an array of mirrors that reflect the sun’s light onto a central receiver full of water, creating steam and powering a turbine. Competitors including Solel, which uses a solar light-catching trough design, and Ausra, which uses linear Fresnel technology, have also signed deals with PG&E to build plants. Other startup competitors include: Stirling Energy Systems, Infinia, SolarReserve and SkyFuel. Then there’s also the big international players Abengoa Solar, FPL Energy and Acciona.

The above video is from BrightSource and is of the construction of their Israeli pilot plant.

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