Solar Cell Maker Suniva Moves to Next Phase in DOE Loan Guarantee


Updated: Suniva gave the impression that it was “selected for a loan guarantee” from the Department of Energy last week, but it only moved to the due diligence phase of the loan guarantee process. Many greentech companies have actually moved into that phase and not received the loan guarantee. (More from the Wall Street Journal on the Press Release Fail: Mich. Governor Flubs Suniva Loan Guarantee“).

Suniva, a startup that produces low cost, high-efficiency polysilicon solar cells, has snaggedmoved to the due diligence phase of one of the coveted Department of Energy loan guarantees. This morning the Norcross, Georgia-based company said it has been selected for a $141 million loan guarantee, pending final due diligence and negotiations of the terms of the deal.

The loan guarantee win puts Suniva in exclusive company, with Only a handful of these DOE loan guarantees have been given out to companies, including solar thermal company BrightSource Energy, the power company Southern Company for the first two nuclear plants in the U.S. in almost three decades, and thin film solar firm Solyndra.

These loan guarantees, which were called for in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 but were long delayed until DOE Secretary Steven Chu and the stimulus package kick-started the program, can help companies get over the valley of death between technology validation and small scale production. By moving into large commercial scale, they can potentially create a significant amount of jobs. Most of the loan guarantees have gone to companies building plants, factories and facilities.

Suniva says it will use the loan guarantee to start construction of a new manufacturing plant in Saginaw County, Mich., which will create 500 direct jobs at Suniva, and 2,000 jobs in Michigan. Suniva says the loan guarantee will help it triple its exports over the next five years.

Suniva is already well-funded by investors, having raised $75 million last summer from Warburg Pincus, APEX Venture Partners, New Enterprise Associates, HIG Ventures and Advanced Equities, and $50 million in late 2008.

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. Yet Suniva’s cells retain 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.

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