Areva buys solar-thermal start-up Ausra

Strong in nuclear power, Areva purchases concentrating solar-power company Ausra to expand its renewable energy portfolio.

France-based Areva, best known for its work in nuclear power, said on Monday it has acquired concentrating solar-power start-up Ausra for an undisclosed price.

The acquisition will expand Areva's business interests in renewable energy, which already include biomass-based power and development of offshore wind, according to a representative. Areva builds equipment for operating power plants and provides construction and maintenance services, but does not sell electricity to utilities directly, she said.

Ausra's pilot solar-thermal power plant in Australia. Ausra

"Ausra will bring to Areva proven technology and an experienced management team. And Areva will bring market and financial strength and experience in construction, operations, and maintenance," the representative said.

Areva projects that the market for engineering services around concentrating solar power will expand rapidly this decade, forecasting a 20 percent growth rate and an installed capacity of over 20 gigawatts by 2020.

Silicon Valley-based Ausra is one of several companies formed over the past five years to commercialize concentrating solar-power technology for making electricity at large scale. Ausra's technology, originally developed through academic research in Australia, uses Fresnel lenses to heat a liquid to make steam that powers a turbine to make electricity.

The company, which raised $130 million from high-profile venture capital investors, had originally planned to operate utility-scale solar power plants and sell electricity to utilities. But having found little business, the company last year had to change its business plan to sell equipment for smaller-scale projects and other industries, such as food processing, that use steam.

The acquisition, which is expected to close in the next few months, is a sign that a number of green-technology companies started in the past few years will need to find additional funding or be acquired to scale up or continue their operations.

Because concentrating solar power systems produce steam to make electricity, Areva said that the technology is more closely aligned with its nuclear engineering business than solar photovoltaics, where solar cells convert light to electricity. A representative said the price for the acquisition of Ausra, its first foray into solar, was "in line with recent solar market transactions."

The pairing between Areva and Ausra means that the technology is more likely to be deployed at large scale , as utilities customers and financiers are typically reluctant to work with technology start-ups.

 

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