The cost and efficiency of solar are tightly linked — more efficient systems tend to have higher production costs than less efficient ones. But Suniva, a startup based in Norcross, Ga., has developed a technology that is focusing on knocking down the cost while also ratcheting up efficiency of its polysilicon cells. Its investors think it can work, and this morning the company announced that it’s raised a sizable Series C round of $75 million, led by Warburg Pincus, and including APEX Venture Partners, New Enterprise Associates, HIG Ventures and Advanced Equities.
The funds will go toward new equipment for manufacturing, which Suniva started in October of last year — just over a year after the startup was founded. The solar cell maker says it plans to triple the capacity of its first plant in Norcross to 96 megawatts by mid-2009 using 64 megawatts’ worth of new production equipment, and with a total capacity goal of 175 megawatts by early 2010.
Suniva’s cells are made from polysilicon, but the company says its screen-printing process uses a fraction of the polysilicon compared with traditional silicon cells. That can help with pushing down the cost of the cells, as polysilicon is one of the more expensive pieces of the equation (although polysilicon prices have dropped significantly since the high prices of last year).
But Suniva’s real trick comes from knocking out the polysilicon yet retaining a decent efficiency — the company says it can achieve efficiencies of over 18 percent in manufacturing, and 20 percent in the lab. (That was verified by the DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory.) Thin film solar makers that cut out the polysilicon often achieve efficiencies closer to 10 percent to 12 percent.
Suniva’s technology has gained the attention of major manufacturer partners, too. The company has signed a $300 million polysilicon supply deal with REC, and has promised almost a billion dollars in solar cells to solar module maker customers — $500 million worth for Solon AG and $480 million for Titan Energy.