Big money continues to back residential solar

Residential solar leader SolarCity landed $227 million in cash equity financing from John Hancock for a portfolio of residential, commercial and industrial solar installations. According to a release, the instrument will fund 201 megawatts of generation capacity in a portfolio where residential customers have an average FICO score of 744, while commercial installations will include national-brand retailers. The projects are in 18 states, and most of the installations were completed last year.

Houston-based Sunnova, the fourth-largest residential solar energy company in the U.S., secured a $175 million warehouse credit facility from Goldman Sachs. This funding follows a recent $300 million equity commitment from Energy Capital Partners. The total amount of funding raised by Sunnova over the last three years is nearly $1.5 billion. 

VC funding for solar, batteries, EV charging and the grid edge

Silicon wafer manufacturer 1366 Technologies of Bedford, Mass. just added $10 million from Hanwha Investment Corporation to its now $32.5 million Series C. The funds will help build 1366’s first large-scale commercial factory, scheduled to be on-line in 2017 in Genesee County, New York. The startup has raised a total of $80 million from investors including Tokuyama Corporation, North Bridge Venture Partners, Polaris Venture Partners, VantagePoint Capital Partners and Energy Technology Ventures (a JV involving General Electric, NRG Energy and ConocoPhillips), Hanwha Chemical, Ventizz Capital and Haiyin Capital. In addition, 1366 has won several million dollars in DOE grants, as well as a $150 million loan guarantee offer from the DOE's 1705 program, which will be drawn down for the build-out of the factory.

1366 Technologies will be the "anchor tenant" at the Science and Technology Advanced Manufacturing Park in New York’s Finger Lakes region. And with SolarCity's gigawatt-scale solar factory not too far away, New York state is now positioned to be the leading solar cell producer in the country. The intention is to eventually scale that factory to 3 gigawatts of cell capacity and hundreds of millions of wafers per year.

The company's technology falls in the kerfless wafer category, in which silicon wafers are created directly from molten silicon. Other companies in the kerfless silicon sector include Solexel and Crystal Solar.

Nexeon, a VC-funded Imperial College (U.K.) spin-out developing silicon anode technology for lithium-ion batteries, completed a $43 million round from existing investors and new investor Woodford Investment Management. Previous investors include PUK Ventures, Invesco Perpetual and Imperial Innovations. 

As Jeff St. John reported, ChargePoint, the Campbell, Calif.-based startup, just grabbed a $50 million investment led by Linse Capital, along with Braemar Energy Ventures and Constellation Energy. The Series F round brings ChargePoint’s total investment to north of $164 million, with previous backers including Kleiner Perkins, Rho Ventures, and strategic investors BMW iVentures and Siemens. ChargePoint has about 28,000 public charging systems in its network and is the largest EV-charging provider in the U.S., ahead of such contenders as NRG Energy’s EVgo network, and Car Charging Group, owner of the network of Blink stations built out by now-bankrupt Ecotality.   

Origami Energy is "developing the technology and financial mechanisms (i.e., the marketplace) that are required to connect, control and actively manage a large network of existing energy-generating/energy-using/energy-storing assets connected to the electricity grid." The Cambridge-based startup closed a $20 million Series A round from investors including Cambridge Innovation Capital and Octopus Ventures, according to Tech City News.

Verdigris reported an earlier funding of $9 million for its internet-of-things platform that "helps commercial facilities avoid downtime and reduce energy consumption" from investors including Jabil Circuit, Stanford-StartX Fund and Capital. Early Verdigris customers include Starwood Hotels, Hyatt Hotels and Flextronics. The startup was incubated at StartX and According to a release, "In the past six months, Verdigris has achieved increased traction in hospitality, manufacturing and commercial property verticals, with 5x growth in the number of subscribing customers, and 75% of budget-qualified pilot customers converting to paying contracts."

Siva Power: There is a company other than Solar Frontier that still believes in the CIGS photovoltaic materials system. Siva Power, possessing an all-star team of thin-film solar technologists, just won $5 million in Series D financing from DBL Partners, Acero, Symmetry Group, Red House Capital, Banner and Siva Power CEO Brad Mattson. Funds will be used to build a solar-module manufacturing pilot line at its new headquarters in Santa Clara, Calif.

Siva Power is also in the process of raising capital to build its first 300-megawatt production line with a promise of reaching an initial manufacturing cost of $0.40 per watt and the potential for getting to as little as $0.20 per watt, according to a calculation on a document somewhere.  

CEO Mattson has said in past conversations that he's learned from the mistakes of companies that tried to scale too quickly or overestimated their ability to reduce costs. In 2011, when Siva Power was still called Solexant, Mattson took the helm, ditched plans to build a 100-megawatt factory, and focused on R&D. After years of experimenting with different photovoltaic materials and production processes, Siva settled on co-evaporated CIGS on large glass substrates. Historically, co-evaporation has yielded the highest overall efficiency of all the CIGS deposition processes compared to roll-to-roll, sputtering and other techniques. Mattson has called the technology "a gift of physics" that offers the highest thin-film efficiencies and the fastest production process.

Earnings call roundup

Tesla provided its first-quarter 2016 update. During the earnings call, CEO Elon Musk said, "My desk is at the end of the production line. I have a sleeping bag in a conference room adjacent to the production line, which I use quite frequently."

The EV company is moving its 500,000-vehicle production plan ahead by two years to 2018 and is looking to begin mass production of the Model 3 in late 2017. Model S orders were up 45 percent compared to Q1 last year, and Model X production increased from 507 vehicles in Q4 to 2,659 in Q1. Tesla looks to produce about 20,000 vehicles in Q2 and 80,000 to 90,000 in 2016.

Oppenheimer Equity Research reports that Tesla had "a non-GAAP loss of ($0.57) on non-GAAP revenue of $1.6B vs. consensus of ($0.60) and $1.6B." Shipments were in line with the company's April 4 update at 14,800 units. "The more meaningful announcement was that the company plans to build 500,000 vehicles in 2018, two years ahead of schedule. Accordingly, we anticipate the company will be seeking to raise additional capital," Oppenheimer continued.

Baird Equity Research notes, "Q1 results were largely in line with expectations. Importantly, TSLA resolved most of its Model X production issues, reiterated its FY:16 delivery target, and expects production to reach ~2,000 vehicles per week in Q2."

SunPower reported first-quarter 2016 results on Thursday afternoon with larger-than-expected losses on GAAP revenues of $384.9 million. On a GAAP basis, the company now expects 2016 revenue of $2.8 billion to $3.0 billion, gross margin of 13 percent to 15 percent, and net income of $0 million to $50 million. On a GAAP basis, the company expects Q2 revenue of $290 million to $340 million, gross margin of 10 percent to 12 percent, and net loss of $90 million to $65 million.

According to SunPower CEO Tom Werner, "In our power plant business, consistent with our strong, historical delivery execution, we continued construction on a number of key U.S. projects slated for completion during the second half of 2016, including our 100-megawatt project for NV Energy, the 102-megawatt Henrietta power plant and our 68-megawatt project for Stanford University. Additionally, we achieved commercial operation on our 50-megawatt Hooper project for Xcel Energy, a project currently owned by 8point3 Energy Partners. SunPower also achieved notable international success during the first quarter when we were awarded approximately 500-megawatt of power-purchase agreements in Mexico's first electricity auction. This award comprised approximately 25 percent of the awarded solar capacity, or around 20 percent of the entire awarded energy across all resources, and demonstrates the increasing cost-competitiveness of wholesale solar power versus competing technologies. We also expect to begin construction of our second solar power plant project in Chile later this year, with a capacity of approximately 100 megawatts."

Baird Equity Research notes, "SPWR continues to see strong demand for its commercial and residential projects in the U.S., and should be able to significantly expand margins with its Equinox and Helix technologies. That said, SPWR issued weak Q2 guidance (as expected), as 2016 will be 2H-weighted due to project timing. This could act as a near-term overhang, although we want to own the stock heading into a strong 2H:16.
Q1 beat our estimates on the top and bottom lines." The analyst added, "International demand remains robust, with significant opportunities in Mexico and Chile. SPWR will begin a new 100 MW JV project with Total in Chile during 2016, and indicated its total Latin America pipeline is >2.5 GW. Given SPWR’s recent success in the Mexican auction (~500 MW awarded), we believe SPWR is well positioned for grown in Central/South America, and should continue to benefit from its relationship with Total."

Enphase Energy had total revenue of $64.1 million for the first quarter of 2016, selling 143 megawatts (AC), or 611,000 microinverters. GAAP gross margin was 18.3 percent, resulting in a GAAP net loss for the first quarter of 2016 of $18.8 million. The company has shipped approximately 11 million microinverters since its founding.

Paul Nahi, president and CEO of Enphase Energy, said, "We continue to execute on our cost-reduction roadmap."

"We expect revenue for the second quarter of 2016 to be within a range of $76 million to $82 million," said Kris Sennesael, CFO of Enphase, adding that he expects "gross margin to be within a range of 17 to 20 percent."  

Oppenheimer Equity Research noted that results were in line with guidance "although modestly below Street expectations," adding, "We believe cash management looks challenged without additional capital or tighter management of working capital. We highlight that 2Q guidance on sales growth looks solid (up 32% Q/Q) and will need to continue for ENPH to reach profitability."

Yingli has finally scheduled its 2015 earnings call -- it's set for a time slot before the U.S. market opens on Wednesday, May 11. Mark Osborne of PV-Tech writes, "As the dust settles on SunEdison’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy, it's time to get back to focusing on another technically bankrupt former solar market leader, Yingli Green Energy," noting, "In stark contrast to the media storm over the rise and fall of SunEdison, the precarious financial position of Yingli Green has been well documented in 2015, yet the company has said very little publicly about its finances since its third-quarter earnings call way back in early December 2015."

According to Fortune's Term Sheet newsletter, Aemetis will acquire Edeniq for $23 million in cash and stock. The Visalia, Calif.-based Edeniq had raised around $100 million in VC funding since 2008 from firms like KPCB, DFJ, Angeleno Group, The Westly Group, Flint Hills Resources Renewables, Cyrus Capital and I2BF Global Ventures, for its process for converting cellulosic biomass to sugars. 


Last week's financial action in cleantech

Silicon Ranch, solar plant operator, raises $100 million

Silicon Ranch Corporation, an independent power producer that develops, owns and operates solar power plants in Tennessee, Georgia, Arkansas and Mississippi, closed on a $100 million equity investment from the $50 billion Partners Group. Silicon Ranch recently completed its first projects in Colorado. Earlier this month Silicon Ranch "entered into a framework agreement for 231.6 megawatts" of First Solar's PV modules for use in Silicon Ranch projects to be constructed in 2017 and early 2018. The company is based in Nashville, Tennessee.

Mosaic raises $200 million solar loan facility

Mosaic, a provider of residential solar loans and financing, just closed a $200 million warehouse facility with DZ BANK (the fourth-largest bank in Germany) acting as "administrative agent and lead lender." NY Green Bank is participating in the syndicate "to further expand residential solar opportunities within New York state."

Billy Parish, CEO at Mosaic, said in a release, “With 40 percent consecutive monthly growth for over a year, we needed partners who could take us to the next level," adding, "The partnership with DZ BANK and NY Green Bank moves us toward our goal of having the ability to originate $1 billion in residential solar loans by the end of year to meet growing consumer demand for a simple, affordable solar finance solution.”

If Mosaic "aims to originate $1 billion in home solar loans in the next year," that's (very roughly) more than 200 megawatts' worth of solar loans.

Vivint Smart Home lands $100 million from Peter Thiel, et al.

Peter Thiel (co-founded PayPal, first outside investor in Facebook, one of the largest shareholders of Airbnb) and Solamere Capital (founded by Tagg Romney) just invested $100 million in Vivint Smart Home, a provider of integrated smart home devices, including door locks, thermostats, cameras and sensors. Vivint has more than 1 million customers and revenue of more than $650 million.

Aquion's sodium-ion battery gets an additional $33 million

As Stephen Lacey just reported, Aquion Energy pulled in another $33 million to support its saltwater batteries for long-duration storage, according to a filing with the SEC. Aquion hopes to raise $60 million in total.

The latest round brings the company's venture funding -- which includes equity investments and venture loans -- to $190 million. Aquion CEO Scott Pearson would not comment on the investors who participated in the round, but he did say that it includes "existing and new investors."

Aquion's long list of past investors is impressive. It includes Bill Gates, Gentry Venture Partners, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Foundation Capital, Bright Capital, Advanced Technology Ventures, Trinity Capital Investment and CapX Partners, Yung’s Enterprise, and Nick and Joby Pritzker.

Aquion's sodium-ion battery is designed for multi-hour applications. According to the company, its batteries can deliver a round-trip efficiency of 85 percent and perform 5,000 cycles. The company's cost target is $250 per kilowatt-hour, with the goal of getting to $160 per kilowatt-hour when its manufacturing facility in Pennsylvania is at scale.

While short-duration lithium-ion batteries are dominating the market, investors are increasingly interested in batteries that can discharge over long periods of time.

ViZn's zinc-based flow battery lands another $10 million

Investments are flowing in the flow battery business, with ViZn Energy Systems the latest to raise funds to scale up its zinc-based chemistry. The startup has raised another $10 million of an ongoing round of investment, according to a regulatory filing, as just reported by GTM's Jeff St. John.

The newly disclosed investment adds to $1.4 million in April 2015 and $5.3 million added in October, and brings ViZn’s total funding in this round to $16.8 million of a target of $22.9 million. Back in June 2015, CEO Ron Van Dell told us the company was seeking about that amount to scale up from its then-pilot scale level of deployments.

Since then, ViZn has landed a 2-megawatt order with Hecate Energy for a storage project in the territory of Canadian grid operator Ontario IESO, as well as establishing a contract manufacturing relationship with Jabil. The company had raised $20 million previously from “high-net-worth individuals,” Van Dell said.

ViZn’s key differentiator is its use of zinc -- a cheap and plentiful metal, but a tricky one to use in flow batteries. Specifically, it tends to gum up the electrode materials in the cells used to generate electricity in flow batteries. ViZn’s solutions, built around technology developed by Lockheed Martin, takes into account “how to do the zinc morphology, how to manage the fluid mechanics of your design, how to deal with shunt current,” the CEO said.

Other zinc-based flow battery makers include Australia’s RedFlow Energy Storage Solutions, which is bringing a residential-sized battery to market, and U.S.-based Primus Power, which raised $25 million in September. While not a flow battery, Eos Energy Storage’s zinc-aqueous batteries have landed multi-megawatt contracts with California utilities.

Tado raised $23 million for smart thermostats and AC controls

Tado, a Munich-based maker of smart thermostat and AC control products, raised $23 million in VC funding from Inven Capital, a VC arm of energy company Cez Group, along with Siemens AG, Statkraft Venture Capital, Target Partners, Shortcut Ventures and BayBG, according to TechCrunch, which reports, "The company’s two current products are a smart thermostat -- resulting in Tado sometimes being called the Nest of Europe -- and a smart AC controller. Both enable a home’s heating/cooling to be controlled via the Tado smartphone app, with a flagship geolocation feature that means Tado is able to know when you have left home or are returning and adjusts your heating or air conditioning accordingly."

The startup has raised $57 million since its founding in 2011. Tado operates in more than 10 European countries.

RayVio's ultraviolet LEDs win $26 million

Startup RayVio just announced $26 million in funding from IPV Capital and Tsing Capital to market its UV LED disinfection technology globally. The company said in a release that its UV LED technology enables point-of-use water disinfection. Existing investors including DCM Ventures, Capricorn Investment Group, Applied Ventures, Augment Ventures, Tolero Ventures and New Ground Ventures.        

VC-funded Crystal IS developed UV LEDs on aluminum-nitride substrates for germicidal water applications and was acquired by the Asahi Kasei Group, a manufacturer of compound semiconductor devices in 2012.  

While visible LED-based solid-state lighting has supplanted the incandescent, the ultraviolet spectrum is a more difficult set of wavelengths for semiconductors. Short-wavelength UV light below 280 nanometers (C-band) interferes with DNA repair in bacteria and renders water free of live bacteria. However, the output from solid-state UV-C light sources remains modest compared to the traditional sources, such as high-intensity discharge lamps. So at the moment, UV-LEDs are limited to light pens and appliances for consumer water sterilization and fall short of the wattage outputs needed for industrial and municipal water treatment applications.