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Sopogy Liquidates, Another Casualty in Solar Trough CSP Technology

Sopogy Liquidates, Another Casualty in Solar Trough CSP Technology

Gonzo Carles Creative Commons

Sopogy intrigued investors, but not power customers.

Eric Wesoff
April 23, 2014

VC-funded micro-concentrator solar power firm Sopogy has shut down its operations and is liquidating its assets according to Pacific Business News. David Fernandez, who was the most recent CEO at Sopogy, told PBN that Sopogy closed several months ago.  

Instead of massive CSP projects like BrightSource's Ivanpah in the Mojave, Sopogy promised smaller-size CSP for the distribution grid or even the rooftop. The startup's original CEO, Darren Kimura, was adept at gaining venture capital and hometown support, but less than fluent in the economics of CSP in the face of physical laws and Chinese PV modules.

Kimura founded the firm in 2001 in Palo Alto, California. The startup collected more than $35 million in venture capital and strategic financing from investors including Southern California Gas Company, 3M, Mitsui & Co., Kolohala Ventures, Enerdigm Ventures, Cargill's VC arm, Black River Ventures, eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and TWC.

Kimura and the company always seemed to be on hand to receive an award, bond, or tax credit in Hawaii, but rarely could the firm be found making competitive energy, despite the CEO's claims.

"We have about 75 megawatts under contract and in the process of being deployed," claimed the CEO in a 2011 interview. In a much earlier interview, he spoke of a 50-megawatt solar farm in Spain and $10 million per year in revenue.

Even before the price of silicon photovoltaics plunged, it was difficult to see how Sopogy could ever be competitive.

As we've reported, concentrating solar power via solar trough technology is struggling.

In October 2012, plummeting PV costs, among other forces, drove Siemens to announce its intention to exit the solar business. It would sell off its solar assets, starting with what was once Solel in Beit Shemesh, Israel. The firm has lost more than $1 billion since 2011, according to Bloomberg. Last year, Siemens Solar Thermal sent 150 of its 200 employees home, having failed to find a buyer at the right price, according to reports in Globes.

Trough technology would seem to have lost its advantage not only to photovoltaics, but to solar power tower technology, as well. Three CSP plants on-line or coming on-line:

  • Abengoa’s 280-megawatt Solana parabolic trough project in Arizona with six hours of storage and with a PPA from APS
  • The BrightSource Energy (BSE) 370-megawatt (cumulative) Ivanpah Units One, Two, and Three pressurized steam solar power tower in California’s Mojave Desert with a PPA from PG&E and SCE
  • SolarReserve’s 110-megawatt Crescent Dunes solar power tower outside Tonopah, Nevada, with ten hours of molten salt storage with a PPA from NV Energy

Suntrough also once claimed to find economics in small CSP.  

A combination of plunging PV prices, historically low natural-gas prices and a slowdown in big projects remain strong headwinds for growth in CSP.  

Tags: areva, ausra, brightsource, concentrating solar power, concentrating solar thermal, csp, siemens, solel, sopogy

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