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12 July 2007


SoloPower raises $30m in funding following $2.37m DoE grant award

SoloPower Inc of Milpitas, CA, USA has raised $30m on completion of its Series B financing round. The round was led by new investor Convexa Capital, supported by Scatec AS and Spencer Energy AS, and joined by existing investors Crosslink Capital, Firsthand Capital Management and Musea Ventures. Founded in late 2005, SoloPower previously raised $10m in mid-2006 from Crosslink Capital, Firsthand Capital Management Inc and individual investors.

The new funds will support the firm’s efforts to further develop, manufacture and commercialize low-cost, high-efficiency thin-film solar photovoltaic cells and modules.

The photovoltaic cells incorporate copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) materials deposited on a thin flexible foil substrate (optimized for maximum efficiency) using a proprietary electrochemical process that is significantly more cost effective than comparative CIGS and silicon-based approaches, the firm claims. Advantages of the process include lower equipment costs, reduced processing times and increased material utilization, the firm adds.

“SoloPower's manufacturing process is aimed at addressing the two chief success criteria in today’s solar energy market: cost and efficiency,” says Convexa Capital managing partner Bjorge Gretland. “These success criteria are not only key to an individual producer’s market share; they are also pivotal to growing the overall solar energy market by making it more competitive than traditional energy sources.”

SoloPower has already produced solar cells capable of delivering 1MW of power from its pilot production line, and plans to begin sample testing a range of products this year. The firm expects to make cells with a capacity of 20MW within 18 months, at a planned development cost of $29.3m.

The new investors comprise a team of alternative energy entities, bringing significant business and technology resources, says SoloPower. Convexa Capital is a leading Norwegian venture capital firm with portfolio companies in the renewable energy and other technology sectors. Spencer Energy AS is controlled by Arne Blystad, chairman of Songa Drilling. Scatec AS - led by solar pioneer Dr Alf Bjorseth - is a nucleus for the development of new business ideas within the areas of renewable energy and environmentally friendly advanced materials.

Bjorseth is the founder and (until September 2005) president and CEO of solar energy company Renewable Energy Corporation, the world’s largest producer of silicon materials for photovoltaic applications and multicrystalline wafers, as well as a significant producer of cells and modules. Under his management, the REC group became the world’s only fully integrated solar energy company, it is claimed, with production in all parts of the value chain (from raw materials to complete solar modules).

“Our priority was to attract an elite group of alternative energy investors who could complement our existing investor line-up and contribute in a meaningful way to our company’s growth,” says SoloPower’s co-founder and CEO Homayoun Talieh. “Not only do we stand to gain from their financial support; we will also benefit from

their experience of building multi-billion-dollar companies in this sector.”

*SoloPower awarded $2.37m as part of the Solar America Initiative’s ‘Photovoltaic Module Incubator’ program

In late June , SoloPower was awarded $2.37m out of a total $27m in grants awarded to 10 solar start-up companies by the US Department of Energy (DoE ) as part of the Solar America Initiative’s ‘Photovoltaic Module Incubator’ program .

The Solar America Initiative was allotted $148m in federal funding in 2007 to invest in solar power companies. The DoE’s goals are to lower the high cost per watt of solar energy by 2015 and to position 10 US companies competitively in the world PV market by 2010.

The other recipient (of grants of $2-3m each, to continue R&D of solar power materials and products) are: fellow thin-film solar module developers Ava Solar (of Fort Collins, CO) and PrimeStar Solar Inc (of Golden, CO) – both of which use cadmium telluride – and Plextronics Inc (of Pittsburgh, PA); low-grade polysilicon PV cell manufacturers Blue Square Energy Inc (of North East, MD) and CaliSolar Inc (of Menlo Park, CA); and solar concentrator companies Enfocus Engineering Corp (of Sunnyvale, CA), MicroLink Devices Inc (of Chicago, IL), SolFocus Inc (of Palo Alto, CA), and Solaria Corp (of Fremont, CA).

The DoE evaluated 56 grant proposals and required that applicants had products at or near the pilot stage, that the products could be affordably manufactured in large quantities, and that products were innovative compared to current products on the market.

The chosen companies’ technology efforts were flagged as highly promising contributors to the DoE’s broad goal of lowering the cost, increasing the availability and improving the efficiency of solar products.

“SoloPower was selected by the government based on our demonstration of a scalable, affordable manufacturing process that promises significant benefits over existing technologies,” claims co-founder, executive VP and chief technology officer Bulent Basolnoted.

“The program is structured around tight milestones, focuses on delivering proof of hardware, and moves quickly,” says Craig Cornelius, acting program manager for the DoE's Solar Technologies program. The companies are asked to ship prototypes to DoE every nine months, at which point their progress will be evaluated according to specific milestones. Every nine months the DoE will also issue grants to new applicants.

See related items:

Global Solar modules certified to US military MIL-STD-810E standard

Ascent Solar raises over $20m from warrant conversion

Ascent Solar shareholders approve increase in Norsk Hydro stake from 23% to 35%

Honda starts selling CIGS solar cells

Emerging PV technologies growing at 43% annually

Energy producer Hydro invests in Ascent Solar for CIGS-based flexible solar cells