July 25, 2006 8:23 AM PDT
Start-up bags funding for solar concentrators
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Venture capital firm New Enterprise Associates led the series A round, which SolFocus said will eventually total $32 million.
SolFocus joins the growing roster of start-up companies betting on solar technologies that are more cost-efficient than traditional silicon panels. Another company, Nanosolar, has raised about $100 million to build a plant to make solar cells from CIGS (copper-indium-gallium-selenium).
The funding at SolFocus, which complements a seed round of $3.5 million in March, will be used to test and ramp up production of SolFocus' concentrators and to hire more people, said Gary Conley, the company's founder and CEO.
As previously reported, SolFocus was incubated at Xerox PARC, which is investing in so-called clean technologies like solar photovoltaics.
Solar concentrators, which have been used for years in satellites, intensify light to draw more electricity from photovoltaic material. Several other companies are using this technique as a way of making power generation more competitive with traditional electricity delivery.
SolFocus' concentrators magnify the light 500 times, which Conley called the "sweet spot" between higher energy production and excessive heat.
The products are aimed at the commercial market, such as retail stores or office parks. Placed on a roof, solar concentrators can cool off a building and generate power on-site. SolFocus also intends to build large-scale power generation, where a field of panels could generate several hundred megawatts of power, Conley said.
The company intends to have a 100-megawatt manufacturing facility in India operating at the end of next year, he said. SolFocus then intends to replicate that plant in China, Europe and somewhere in the Americas.
"We believe that at several hundred megawatts, we're getting down in price and compete with natural gas (power generation)," Conley said. "And we're going after coal and oil."
The company's first-generation products are being tested with a few customers now. Its second-generation concentrator, which will have a higher number of individual cells, is expected in two or three years.