Tigo Energy raises $5M for smarter solar

As the solar market grows and competition intensifies, technology that can maximize energy harvesting from solar panels will continue to win over investors. The latest example comes from Tigo Energy, which has raised $5 million, according to a government filing on Tuesday.

Tigo develops what are called power optimizers: electronic devices that go on the back of each solar panel to track and tune its power output to reduce power losses. Being able to do so at the panel level is important because the worse performing panels — the result of shades, debris or other problems — can drag down the power production of other panels in a solar array.

The latest round isn’t Tigo’s first. The Silicon Valley startup announced a $10 million round last year, another $10 million in 2009 and $6 million in 2008. The company was founded in 2007 and launched its first product in 2009.

Solar power electronics are becoming more widely used as more of them become available and their prices drop. The ability to reduce power losses makes these devices desirable, particularly in projects where space is a big concern. A rooftop of a home, for example, only has so much space to fit a certain number of panels. So it makes sense to spend more money for devices that ensure you get the most out of those panels over time.

Besides Tigo, other power optimizer developers include Azuray Technologies and SolarEdge, which last week announced its own $37 million funding. SolarEdge told Forbes that it’s eyeing an initial public offering but didn’t offer a timeline. Tigo recently hired a CFO, so perhaps the company could be looking at the public markets, too.

Power optimizers are only one type of electronics that can reduce power losses. Microinverters – which not only track and tune power output but also convert the direct current from each solar panel into alternating current to feed the grid – are another approach that has been gaining market acceptance. Unlike microinverters, power optimizers can’t do DC-to-AC conversion. That job belongs to a central inverter that serves about a dozen solar panels at a time. Companies such as Enphase Energy, Enecsys and SolarBridge Technologies are startups in the microinverter camp.

Other startup companies that are pursuing different materials and processes to convert power and cut power losses include Array Power and Transphorm. Array Power plans to start shipping its very first product in early 2012.

Photo courtesy of Tigo Energy