As SoloPower starts up factory, quietly raises $12M


About a week after solar startup SoloPower held a launch event at its new factory in Portland, Oregon, the company quietly filed a statement saying it’s raised $12 million in debt and options. I’ve contacted the company and am waiting to hear back on more of the details the funding. SoloPower will need considerable funds to build out the factory.

The timing isn’t great for a thin film solar manufacturing startup to open up its first factory, and the company’s similarities with infamous Solyndra are discomforting. The company uses the same type of materials that Solyndra did for making thin film solar panels, and also, like Solyndra, charges more for its solar panels. Like Solyndra, too, SoloPower was awarded a federal loan guarantee ($197 million) to help it build out the site.

SoloPower’s solar panel booth

Of course, Solyndra went out in a blaze of glory a year ago after accumulating over $1 billion in private equity and using nearly all of a $535 million federal loan guarantee to build a factory. The market for solar manufactures is just as bad these days. There continues to be a glut of solar panels, and the prices for panels has plummeted. Several dozen manufacturers across the world have filed for bankruptcy or closed factories over the past year and a half.

SoloPower’s CEO, Tim Harris, said to us in an interview last week that SoloPower has more orders than it will be able to fill in the near term, and Harris is expecting to make a profit starting next year. SoloPower has raised over $200 million already from investors including Hudson Clean Energy Partners and Crosslink Capital.

Harris said he expects the company to produce 20 MW – maybe 30 MW — of solar panels per year by the end of 2012 and ship 2 to 5MW of solar panels during the fourth quarter. Harris says SoloPower should ramp up to full-scale production by the end of next year, and eventually complete the 400 MW factory by 2014. The total cost of building the entire 400 MW factory will be about $350 million. Harris told us last week that it is working on lining up investors and partners that can sell and distribute its solar panels.

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