Quick update: The total VC round for HelioVolt was $85 million. The $50 million from SK International closed out the existing round from New Enterprise Associates, et al.
Thanks to GigaOm's Katie Fehrenbacher for the SEC Form D digging.
It's been an interesting few weeks in the CIGS photovoltaic panel world.
Earlier this week we reported on HelioVolt receiving $50 million from SK Innovation, South Korea's biggest refiner and a company that accounts for 10 percent of South Korea's gross domestic output.
Since then we've spoken to B.J. Stanbery, Founder and CSO; Iga Hallberg, the VP of Business Development; as well as Board Member Scott Sandell of New Enterprise Associates.
Here's an update.
There were rumors of an acquisition for HelioVolt (in some cases spread by me), but this is an equity investment alongside existing investors. SK Innovation's stake was not revealed.
The firm will be expanding operations in Austin and the purpose of this financing is "to test manufacturing scalability and take the next step," according to Stanbery.
HelioVolt's monolithic-construction panels have the same form factor as First Solar with what HelioVolt claims is a comparable efficiency of 11.7 percent. Like First Solar, these are frameless panels with an edge treatment and power output in the 75-watt to 80-watt range.
Halberg said that monolithic integration on glass is the way to go. Although a cell-based architecture (like NanoSolar) might get to market faster, HelioVolt was in it "for the long haul."
Every CIGS company has their own twist on the deposition process and HelioVolt is no different. Stanberry, the CEO, claims that "there appears to be an inherent advantage to their deposition method; the underlying motivation was to decouple the deposition from the CIGS synthesis, normally a high-temperature process." With deposition at low temperatures, there is less energy input and an "improvement in robustness, uniformity and reliability." Stanbery claims a yield of over 90 percent, with yield being a challenge for all traditional CIGS manufacturing techniques. The executives did not address current capacity.
In Hallberg's words, "We believe that this industry is going through a transformation and the way to cross the chasm is being able to partner up. The days of raising $1 billion or going public before it's time -- those days are over." The relationship with suppliers and the issue of bankability is tranformed by their partnership with SK and access to that firm's immense resources, according to Hallberg. As we've noted, this pattern is being repeated througout the greentech industry with examples such as the Total/SunPower combination, the Areva/Ausra combination and many more.
Investor NEA's Scott Sandell offered these words: "Volume manufacturing in Asia is driving down the cost of solar technology and wiping out the marginal companies. The ones that will survive are the disruptive ones. SK funded HelioVolt becasue of its disruptive nature."
According to Scott Sandell, a general partner with VC firm and HelioVolt investor New Enterprise Associates, in an earlier interview with Reuters, the Austin, Texas-based company's investors decided a few months ago that "we really needed to find a partner that could bring a lot more capital to bear."
HelioVolt was founded in 2001, received its initial VC funding in 2005, and aims to fabricate CIGS solar panels using a process the firm calls "reactive transfer."
Ten years since their founding and about $150 million in venture funding later, HelioVolt has shipped no commercial product of consequence.
The firm does boast a monolithically integrated module structure (as opposed to a selected cell architecture like Nanosolar), as well as some encouraging NREL efficiency test data.
HelioVolt has been backed by Masdar Clean Tech Fund, Morgan Stanley, New Enterprise Associates, Paladin Capital Partners Fund, Solucar Energia, Sunton United Energy, Texas Emerging Technology Fund, and Yellowstone Capital.
An incomplete list of thin film solar firms, VC-funded and otherwise:
CdTe: Abound Solar, Primestar, Solexant, Bloo Solar, Willard and Kelsey, Xunlight26
a-Si: Sharp Solar