GreenVolts founder Bob Cart is no longer the company's chief executive. Instead, he has become the executive chairman who will focus on setting company strategies, the company said Tuesday.
The San Francisco-based startup told Greentech Media that it also has re-shaped its strategies to focus mainly on product development rather than power project development. Other companies, including Ausra, also have backed out of developing their own power projects in recent months because of high development costs.
The company, which aims to commercialize a concentrating photovoltaic technology, is known for signing a deal to build a 2-megawatt power plant in California to sell power to Pacific Gas and Electric Co.
GreenVolts confirmed Cart's departure from the CEO post after the Gunther Portfolio reported the executive shuffle last Friday.
The blog said Cart was forced out about two weeks ago, likely by one of its investors, Oak Investment Partners. The story added that GreenVolts laid off about a third of its 40-person staff earlier this year and, at Oak Investment's Brian Hinman's insistence, the company formed a second, competing research and development team to explore technologies that would be different than what GreenVolts first set out to develop and use for its 2-megawatt project.
Gary Beasley, GreenVolts' CFO, is the interim CEO.
GreenVolts declined to discuss some of the details in the blog post. In an email, Beasley said the company didn't fire or otherwise force Cart to step aside. Instead, it was Cart's idea to step away from focusing on the daily operations of the company, Beasley said.
"This was Bob's idea from the beginning – he's always looked forward to the d ay when he could return to his roots as a strong voice for the company," Beasley wrote. He's emerged as one of the most respected visionaries behind the CPV industry."
In Cart's new role as the full-time executive chairman, he's focusing on developing government relationships and business alliances. He wants to be an evangelist for the concentrating PV industry, Beasley said.
Cart proposed his new role when the company was changing its business plan, which prompted the company to layoff some employees at the beginning of the year. GreenVolts declined to say how many were let go.
The layoffs were "done as part of the larger strategic realignment to focus our energies primarily on product development versus project development, which requires a different mix of talent," the company said in a statement to Greentech Media. The startup said it has hired a half dozen people in the last two months and plans to hire more.
The company might have hinted at this change in business plans when it announced last month its licensing and technology development deal with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory to develop a solar cell that could greatly improve the amount of sunlight that is converted into electricity (see Green Light post). The company has been buying solar cells from other companies. The deal with the lab will enable GreenVolts to develop its own solar cells.
Cart said in an interview last month that the plan was to use the cells to build the company's own solar energy systems, not for selling them to other companies.
A few other startups have decided to pull back or give up all together the business of developing power projects. Poor economy and business plan execution were among the reasons for the strategy shifts. Ausra, a Mountain View, Calif.-based company that wanted to be a solar-thermal power plant developer, decided earlier this year to concentrate on developing and selling components for building solar-thermal power plants (See Inside Ausra's Big Change).
GreenVolts said it remains active in its 2-megawatt project called GV1 under a deal it signed with PG&E in 2007. The project was supposed to be completed by the end of this year; the company even promised to deliver the first megawatt by the end of 2008.
The company didn't deliver that first megawatt by the self-imposed deadline. Now it expects to complete the entire project in mid-2010 (see GreenVolts Delays Its 2MW Solar Field). When Cart discussed the delay with Greentech Media last month, he said the company wanted to wait to complete developing a second-generation technology for GV1.
GreenVolts' current technology consists of a system that uses an array of mirrors to concentrate the sunlight onto solar cells for generating electricity. The key component of the system is a dual-axis tracker called CarouSol. The tracker sits low on the ground and tilts the mirrors to follow the sun's movement. The low profile makes the system easy to install and protects it from strong wind, the company said. The design of the CarouSol also reduces shadowing to a minimum.
Cart said his engineers had been making changes to several parts of the system, including the mirrors and the receiver, which is made up of the solar cell, a lens and a device to dissipate heat.
Cart didn't provide more details about the design changes. Or elaborate as to whether there was a second design team created under Hinman's direction to develop alternative approaches.
In an email reply Tuesday, Hinman said the company did look into different technology paths: "In the formative stages of the second generation system architecture, it is true that we were exploring several possible directions. That is healthy vetting process common in best-practice engineering development," Hinman wrote.
Founded in 2005, GreenVolts made a splash by winning a business plan prize at the California Cleantech Open in 2006, which gave each of the winners in different categories $50,000 in cash and another $50,000 in services.