Venture capital investing in the solar industry is alive and well in 2011. You can see the twenty VC investments in solar in 2011 at the end of this article that cover the solar value chain, as well as spanning early and late stage companies.

But the solar industry has matured in the last decade and the commoditization of the industry has changed the investment criteria for venture investors. Venture returns are achievable -- just look at Mohr Davidow's exit from Recurrent Energy in 2010. (Speakers from MDV and Recurrent will be at the upcoming Greentech Media Solar Summit in Palm Springs.) 

And you can count on a few solar IPOs in 2011.

But the rules have changed since the billion-dollar VC factory buildout festival of 2005 to 2008.

Equity investment in photovoltaics and solar power is no longer a new sector. Greentech VCs have almost a decade of solar experience with several billion dollars invested and more than 200 new companies launched. A dozen VC-funded solar startups have already perished and there are many more to follow.

What do the coming years hold for solar startups and solar investors?

We have a pair of seasoned solar VCs and a DOE funding expert in solar manufacturing speaking on the investment landscape for the coming years at the Greentech Media Solar Summit next week.

  • Peter Shannon, Partner, Firelake Capital
  • Erik Straser, General Partner, Mohr Davidow
  • Scott Stephens, Solar Manufacturing Project Manager, Department of Energy

Come hear these investors speak at our 2011 Solar Summit taking place in Palm Springs on March 14 and 15 and hear from leaders from every part of the solar value chain.

Here's that list of VC investments in solar in 2011 so far:

MiaSolé (Santa Clara, California) raised $106 million for their CIGS thin film solar panels. The startup's investors include Kleiner Perkins, Firelake Capital and VantagePoint Venture Partners.

BrightSource Energy (Oakland, California) raised $89.5 million of a $100 million round for their large-scale concentrating solar power technology and deployments.

Solyndra, (Fremont, California), a manufacturer of cylindrical solar PV systems for industrial and commercial rooftops closed $75 million of a secured credit facility underwritten by existing investors. Solyndra had annual revenues exceeding $140 million in 2010 and has shipped almost 100 megawatts of panels for more than 1,000 installations in 20 countries, according to the CEO.

SoloPower, (San Jose, Calif.) a developer of a roll-to-roll process for making flexible CIGS PV modules, raised $51.6 million from Crosslink Capital, Hudson Clean Energy Partners, and Convexa, according to an SEC filing. The firm raised $230 million in 2008.

Kiran Energy (Mumbai, India) received $30 million from New Silk Route, Bessemer Ventures and Argonaut Ventures for India-based solar project financing. The firm has already signed two PPAs, a 20-megawatt PPA with GUVNL, a state-run power generation company, and a 5-megawatt PPA under the National Solar Mission project.

EnviroMission (ASX: EVM; Pink Sheets: EVOMY) secured $29.8 million in debt and equity from AGS Capital Group for their solar updraft tower concept.

1366 Technologies (Lexington, Mass.) added another $2.4 million to its now $28.4 million Round B from North Bridge Venture Partners, Polaris Venture Partners, Hanwha Chemical, and Ventizz Capital Fund IV. The startup is developing technology for lower-cost c-Si.

Sulfurcell (Berlin, Germany) a developer of CIGS/CIGSe thin-film solar modules, raised $25 million in a round led by Intel Capital with London-based Climate Change Capital Private Equity, Copenhagen-based Bankinvest Group, London-based Zouk Ventures, and New York-based Masdar Clean Tech Investments. Paris-based Demeter also participated, as did Vattenfall Europe, GdF Suez and Ventegis Capital. This is in addition to the $135 million the firm received in 2008.

Lincoln Renewable Energy (Chicago, Illinois), a utility solar project developer, won $14 million in venture capital funding from Austin Ventures.

Verengo Solar Plus (Orange, Calif.) raised $9.7 million from Angeleno Group for Verengo's solar installation business.

HelioVolt (Austin, Texas) raised another $8.5M, according to a filing with the SEC.  The company raised $31.5 million in June of 2010, an $8 million Round A in 2005 and $101 million in 2007 for their CIGS solar effort.   

Calisolar (Sunnyvale, California) with a low-cost process for purifying silicon for use in solar cells won an additional $8 million, according to a regulatory filing. Calisolar raised $38 million in 2010 from Good Energies, Globespan Capital, Ventures West, Yaletown Venture Partners, et al.

Beneq (Finland) won $12.2 million from Finnish Industry Investment and Via Venture Partners for nano-scale thin-film coatings used in solar cells and glass coatings.

Magpower (Portugal), a high-concentration PV system developer, raised $9.5 million from Banco Espírito Santo.

Solar Universe (Livermore, Calif.) using a franchise model to provide residential and small business solar installations, raised $7 million in a Round B led by RockPort Capital. The firm has built a network of 21 solar franchisees in six states.

Solarlite (Duckwitz, Germany) raised $6.1 million from BonVenture Management, Sirius EcoTech, et al. for decentralized solar thermal parabolic trough plants for CHP in sizes ranging from 500 kilowatts to 30 megawatts.

Solar Power Technologies (Austin, Texas) received $6.1 million from Austin Ventures, et al. The startup develops equipment that controls, monitors and optimizes the power output of large solar power farms.

NovoPolymers (Belgium), a PV encapsulant developer, won $5.8 million in funding from Gimv and Capricorn Cleantech Investment.

Sopogy (Hawaii) closed on $4.5 million of a proposed $30 million round for their micro-CSP.

C3Nano (Hawyard, California) raised a $3.5 million Round A from GSR Ventures for a carbon nanotube-based transparent electrode with applications in photovoltaics and displays -- an alternative to ITO.

Solar Power Partners, (Mill Valley, California), a solar power producer that manages solar installations and sells power to utilities and commercial firms, raised $3 million in funding. SPP raised a $100 million round in 2008 led by Globespan Capital Partners and Silicon Valley Bank and a $32 million round in 2009.

Sungevity (Oakland, Calif.) a residential solar installation startup, received a $2 million line of credit from Bridge Bank. The debt line follows a $15 million Round C that closed in December from Greener Capital, Firelake Capital, and Brightpath Capital.