CSP Concentrating Solar Power
Despite the staggering capital requirements for the plant build-out, VCs have invested enormous amounts of early-stage funding in parabolic troughs, power towers, and Stirling engines. Once the technology is worked out, the challenge for these firms in 2009 is the financing of these billion dollar projects. VCs can’t do that without help from banks, PE investors, and government.
Ausra: Utility-scale solar thermal using a parabolic trough-based system with a “compact linear fresnel reflector" used in conjunction with a yet undisclosed thermal storage technology. Their most recent funding round was $60.6 million from KERN Partners, Generation Investment Management, Starfish Ventures, Khosla Ventures, and KPCB. Ausra’s first commercial CLFR project, in Australia, will augment power production at an adjacent conventional power station. The firm is also developing a 177MW CLFR power plant for PG&E in central California.
BrightSource Energy: Brightsource Energy is developing utility-scale heliostat/power tower plants using high-temperature solar thermal technology. In its prior incarnation 20 years ago as Luz, the team built over 350MW of solar thermal generation capacity. The firm has raised more than $150 million from investors including VantagePoint Venture Partners, Google.org, BP Alternative Energy, StatoilHydro Venture, Black River, Morgan Stanley, DBL Investors, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, and Chevron Technology Ventures. It has a PPA in place with California utility PG&E for 900MW of thermal power. Like any solar thermal technology driving a steam turbine the firm needs direct uninterrupted sunshine preferably at altitude, access to water, and access to transmission lines.
eSolar: With an April 2008 $130 million investment from Google.org, Idealab, and Oak Investment Partners, eSolar is building large scale (>46MW) heliostat/power tower systems. They claim that their differentiators include the use of smaller mirrors, designing the components to fit efficiently into shipping containers to keep transportation costs low, and pre-assembly at the factory to minimize on-site labor, resulting in a capital cost reduction compared to existing solar thermal power plants. eSolar has signed a PPA with SCE to build 245MW of concentrating solar plants in the Antelope Valley region of Southern California.
Heliofocus: In 2008 Heliofocus received a $20 million investment from Israel Corp Green (ICG) and Musea Ventures. Claiming high optical and high thermal efficiency, the company's system uses a large parabolic dish concentrating sunlight onto a receiver that feeds a turbo generator. HelioFocus looks to build both small modular plants as well as combined cycle solar power plants.
Unlike dish Stirling, HelioFocus uses a gas turbine that can hybridize with natural gas.
Infinia: Infina closed a $57 million B Round in 2008 from investors Foxconn, GLG Partners, Vulcan Capital, Khosla Ventures, EQUUS Total Return, Idealab, and Power Play Energy. Infina uses a “free-piston" Stirling engine with a dish concentrator to produce 3kW of AC power. In 2007 Infinia acquired Stirling Cycles, a Stirling engine developer, as part of its $9.5 million Round A. (Stirling Cycles had been incubated by Idealab.) Targeted applications are micro-CHP, remote power, and tactical power.
Luz II: (an engineering and R&D subsidiary of Brightsource Energy) converts water to superheated steam in a heliostat/power tower architecture. The firm's first installation is being built in Israel as a pilot plant. A series of 100MW and 200MW commercial solar power plants are scheduled to come on line in 2010.
Menova Energy: Canadian CSP firm with at least $3.6M in VC funding and Canadian government funding.
RawSolar: The company's flagship product is a tracking mirrored parabolic dish that captures sunlight to produce steam or hot water.
Skyfuel: Parabolic trough solar collectors using light weight and potentially lower cost reflectors and materials. The company's reflective silvered-polymer film coating material allows for the elimination of glass mirrors in CST applications. It closed a $17 million Round B in April of 2008 led by Leaf Clean Energy.
Solar & Environmental Technologies: China-based CSP start-up reportedly with $3M from Hong Kong’s Entropy Ventures.
Solar Systems: Privately held Australian firm with a $100M investment from Australian utilities and private investors is currently using a dish-based CPV system but moving towards a power tower architecture(?). Solar Systems will work on the Alice Springs solar power station, which is proposing to produce 1800 megawatt-hours of electricity per year, as well as the 154MW, $420M NW Victorian project (using heliostats). Solar Systems placed a large (350MW 10 year) order with Spectrolab for III/V cells.
Solel: Israel’s Solel designs, manufactures and installs parabolic trough solar fields for large scale power generation as well as manufactures solar thermal receivers which use a synthetic oil as the heat transfer fluid. Ecofin, a U.K.-based investment manager, invested $105 million in Solel in early 2008. The company claims to have had over $450 million in backlog in 2008.
Sopogy: While most CSP companies focus on large-scale power generation, Sopogy is targeting “Micro CSP" in ranges from 200kW to 20MW with applications ranging from power generation to AC to process heat. Too large for small residences, too small for utilities, the size is just right for industry, apartment houses, and campuses. It raised ~$9 million in 2008 from Ohana Holdings, Bethel Tech Holdings, Energy Industries Holdings, Kolohala Holdings, Black River Asset Management, et al. Hawaii’s state legislature approved ~$35 million in bonds for Sopogy to build and operate a local solar plant. The firm looks to close another VC round in early 2009.
Starpoint Solar: Starpoint Solar has developed a Stirling Dish technology claiming to generate electricity at half the cost of other solar technologies with production costs equal to new gas-fired power plants. Starpoint is negotiating an LOI for a PPA with Inland Energy. The firm is looking to raise $10M to construct a 4-unit demonstration solar field and prepare for its initial 50MW solar plant.
Stirling Energy Systems: SES proposes to build 30,000 40 foot-wide mirrored dishes focused on 25kW Stirling engines in California’s Imperial Valley to fulfill a contract with San Diego Gas & Electric, enabling SDG&E to meet their 2010 RPS. Transmitting the power will depend on whether Sunrise Powerlink, a proposed 1,000MW power line, gets approved and built. In April of 2008, Irish developer and operator, NTR bought a stake from initial investors for $100 million and will supposedly be investing another $100 million in 2009. Stirling has a contract to provide 300MW to SDG&E by the end of 2010, and an additional 600MW if and when Sunrise is built.
Sundrop Fuels: Solar thermal systems that produce hydrogen and electricity via Solar Reduction of Carbon Dioxide, or Solarec. According to Venture Beat, Sundrop received a $20M investment from KPCB in early 2008 and is also backed by Sun Mountain Capital and Oak Investment Partners.
That wraps up our series on solar startups. Check out the other parts of the series here:
Let us know if we've missed any, your picks for winners and losers, and any comments you might have.