Apple has a bigger cash reserve than the U.S. Treasury.  Unemployment remains stubbornly high. Venture capital confidence is low. 

But over the last few months, we've reported on more than $10 billion in various forms of funding going toward solar in the United States from banks, venture capitalists, the DOE, the U.S. Treasury and firms like Google.

If one wants to call it a trend, it looks like we're seeing the onset of solar as a more mainstream investment and perhaps the return of an appetite for tax equity. VCs continue to channel money into solar startups although motivation to invest in early-stage, capital-intensive solar entrants seems to have waned. Utility-scale solar is here in a big way in the U.S. and the multi-gigawatt scale of the U.S. market is going to be as important a global market driver as the German and Italian markets.

Here's a rundown:

Big Billions in Loan Guarantees for First Solar, et al.

The DOE Loan guarantee office provided $4.5 billion in loans to three massive First Solar PV solar farms in California. The awards will allow First Solar to supply approximately 20 million solar panels to the three projects from U.S.-based manufacturing sites. Yes, that's 20 million panels.

Providing First Solar placates the locals, the list includes:

  • A conditional commitment for a $680 million loan guarantee to support the Antelope Valley Solar Ranch 1 project
  • Conditional commitments for partial loan guarantees of $1.88 billion in loans to support the Desert Sunlight project
  • Conditional commitments for partial loan guarantees of $1.93 billion in loans to support the Topaz Solar project.

1366 Technologies received a $150 million loan guarantee offer in June for their method of fabricating silicon solar cells directly from molten silicon, a process that could be cheaper and require less material. Calisolar, FRV, and Cogentrix also received offers for loan guarantees for $275 million, $45.6 million and $90.6 million, respectively. The Cogentrix project is for an Amonix CPV deployment in Alamosa, Colorado.


Google Gets Into the Solar PV Race With SolarCity

Solar City won $280 million in residential solar financing from Google. The fund is SolarCity’s largest project financing fund and the largest residential solar fund created in the U.S. SolarCity has built 15 project funds with seven different partners to finance more than $1.25 billion in solar projects.

Until now, the money has mostly come from the banking industry. "I'm a big believer that corporations and utilities need to get into this space," said Lyndon Rive, the CEO of Solar City, adding, "The top 200 corporations in the U.S. are sitting on more than $1 trillion in cash on their balance sheets."

SolarCity, which closed on additional VC funding in July, is on many people's short list of imminent IPO candidates.


Venture Capital

VCs invested more than $360 million in solar startups in the second quarter -- along with another $50 million in July. The largest solar VC deal of late was Suniva, which chose to forego their DOE loan guarantee offer.


Capital Raises From Public Companies

One of the leading CPV players, Soitec, raised a $212 million "capital increase," of which half to two-thirds will be devoted to the CPV efforts of the public firm, according to Hans-Joerg Lerchenmueller of Soitec in a briefing at July's Intersolar tradeshow in San Francisco.


From the DOE, Bank of America, and Prologis. -- Project Amp

U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu offered a conditional commitment to provide a partial guarantee for a $1.4 billion loan to support the 4-year, $2.6-billion Project Amp.  Supported by funding from the Recovery Act, the solar generation project includes the installation of approximately 733 megawatts of photovoltaic panels, nearly equal to the total amount of PV installed in the U.S. in 2010

Project Amp will enable a wide distribution of solar power over approximately 750 existing rooftops owned and managed by Prologis, an owner of 400 million square feet of warehouses across the U.S. NRG Energy is the lead investor for the first phase of the project, which will use at least 90 percent U.S.-sourced components with power sold to Southern California Edison.

Bank of America Corp.'s Bank of America Merrill Lynch is providing $1.4 billion in loans for the massive undertaking, one of the largest financing packages for a U.S. rooftop solar-power project. The financing is part of Bank of America's goal of putting $20 billion of capital into renewable energy and greentech.  


Solar Leasing Funds From SunPower ($105 Million) and Borrego 

SunPower (NASDAQ: SPWRA, SPWRB) and Citi (NYSE: C) announced a new fund for approximately $105 million in residential solar lease projects. SunPower will use the fund to extend its SunPower Lease to customers in eight states. Citi is contributing $80 million to the fund.

Borrego Solar, a designer, installer and financier of grid-tied solar PV systems, closed its latest fund with its partners U.S. Bank and East West Bank to finance new commercial solar energy projects in Massachusetts, New Jersey and California. The latest round of projects brings the total amount of solar financed through the Borrego Solar PPA to more than $100 million in the last 12 months. 

CleanPath, a New Type of Renewable Energy Investment Firm

CleanPath closed on a $200 million equity and credit facility to invest in the development and construction of large-scale solar PV projects in North America. The firm plans on managing two revolving facilities to invest over $800 million into more than 1,000 megawatts of large-scale solar PV projects over the next 60 months.

John Balbach, the Managing Director described CleanPath as a renewable energy investment firm which develops, builds and delivers high-quality renewable energy assets to long-term owners. The firm was founded by Matt Cheney and Karin Berardo of MMA Renewable Ventures.

CleanPath will focus on later-stage solar projects that either run out of money, don’t have the right team, or for some reason are unable to deliver on their solar PPA deals. Balbach said that the firm is a blend of development with financing but not an IPP.