SoloPower continues to amass funds for solar factory

Thin film solar startup SoloPower continues to fund-raise amid a difficult market for next-gen solar manufacturers. According to a filing, SoloPower has just raised $20 million in debt and options that will help provide fuel for the company’s earnest drive to set up a factory to mass-produce its solar panels in Oregon.

The funding follows on SoloPower’s work this summer raising $15 million in equity, with a plan to raise $44 million total from that round. In March of this year, the company had raised about $13.5 million in equity while gunning for $20 million, and in January of this year, SoloPower also raised a $51.58 million round by selling equity and rights to buy shares later.

Needless to say, manufacturing solar panels is an expensive business, as Solyndra execs can tell you all too well. And like Solyndra, SoloPower develops solar panels using copper, indium, gallium and selenium (CIGS) instead of conventional silicon to convert sunlight into electricity.

Like Solyndra, too, SoloPower has a loan guarantee from the Department of Energy, and SoloPower’s guarantee, which was finalized in August, is for $197 million. The loan guarantee will help the company secure about 54 percent of the $364 million project cost, according to the DOE website.

SoloPower is among a cadre of CIGS solar panel manufacturers who have completed product development and either have recently started or planned to begin mass production within the next year or two. Its peers include Stion, the now-bankrupt Solyndra, MiaSole, Sulfurcell and Nanosolar. Q-Cells, based in Germany, also is a competitor and has started selling its CIGS panels in North America.

SoloPower launched a set of flexible CIGS solar panels last year. Instead of using glass to protect the solar cells from moisture, flexible panels use special polymer materials to encase the cells. Flexible solar panels are lightweight and can be built into roofing materials. But since glass is such a solid protective material, many CIGS solar panel manufacturers have opted to use glass instead of the newer and more expensive polymer materials.

However, roofing materials with built-in solar cells haven’t taken off in the market yet. The vast majority of the solar panels, regardless of whether they use CIGS or silicon solar cells, are mounted on the rooftop or on the ground.