A year after launching, solar software startup Terabase Energy has raised $6 million to keep growing its team and services.
The Berkeley-based company emerged when SunPower wound down its project-development business. Several former SunPower employees built a software tool to manage costs at the kinds of massive solar plants they used to develop: everything from site selection and layout to shipping logistics for millions of panels and the movements of laborers on-site.
The ultimate goal is to find enough incremental cost savings across the board to bring the price of solar below 1 cent per kilowatt-hour in the next five years, said co-founder and CEO Matt Campbell. That would unlock terawatts' worth of solar, making it cost-effective as baseload power in conjunction with longer-duration storage — hence the company name.
“Everything has progressed the way we thought it would,” he said of the software product. “Our thesis has been validated by clients, and we’re involved with a lot of real projects.”
The startup raised seed funding of just under $2 million last year from individual investors and firms including Powerhouse Ventures, City Light Capital and Trancoso Partners. Those three joined the new round, led by SJF Ventures, which invested in NEXTracker and groSolar, both of which exited via acquisition.
“They know utility-scale solar, they like utility-scale solar, they made money in it,” Campbell said.
The circumstances of fundraising in quarantine were far from what the team might have expected a year ago. To close the round, Terabase held dozens of pitch meetings over Zoom in Campbell's garage — the company's original headquarters — with a whiteboard and solar panels as a backdrop.
In the last year, the startup grew to more than 20 employees around the world and attracted more than 200 companies to its digital platform. Terabase broke even in the second quarter with revenue from those early customers, but the Series A will allow new hires to expand the platform, Campbell said. The company also recently hired Allan Daly as vice president of software; he previously held that title at NEXTracker and co-founded BrightBox Technologies.
As for that 1 cent per kilowatt-hour price goal, the global solar industry is getting closer. EDF and Jinko Solar won a 2-gigawatt tender in Abu Dhabi in April at 1.35 U.S. cents per kilowatt-hour. That project benefited from a 30-year contract with the state-run power company, which lowers the cost of financing, as well as the region's large and flat sites with excellent solar resources.
The firm 8minute Solar Energy achieved a solar-only price of less than 2 U.S. cents per kilowatt-hour at its Eland project in California. The actual contract cost more because it included battery storage.
Solar hardware has driven tremendous cost declines already, but those declines will slow as modules become fully optimized, Campbell said. Terabase is looking for additional savings across the development, procurement, construction and operation phases. The company's bottom-up economic model tracks 100 categories for delivering cost reductions.
"Based on our modeling, we think 1 cent is totally achievable," Campbell said. "To me, there’s no silver bullet. You need to do a hundred things better."