Rumor: Nanosolar worth $2 billion, Solyndra $1 billion

Demand for solar cells continues to grow, and two start-ups want to cash in. Who knew that Web 2.0 math would come to the energy business?

CIGS looks like it could pay off.

Nanosolar and Solyndra, which both develop copper-indium-gallium-selenide (CIGS) solar cells, are looking at raising additional funds, according to sources, and both companies have put large valuations on themselves.

According to sources, Nanosolar is telling investors it will have a valuation, after another round of funds, of around $2 billion. Solyndra says it is worth $1 billion. Not bad for companies with combined current revenues at the moment that probably would have difficulty rivaling the take of a reasonably located convenience store. Nanosolar just started shipping a few solar cells to customers at the end of 2007, and Solyndra is ramping up toward production.

I haven't confirmed these rumors, and they might be wrong, but they have been consistent.

Nanosolar CEO Martin Roscheisen has said that Nanosolar does not have a term sheet, a document that provides details about business prospects and a funding proposal, at the moment. Roscheisen, however, has not discussed valuation.

Both Nanosolar and Solyndra were contacted for official comment, but no response has yet been received. Companies generally don't comment this early on financial issues such as valuation.

The high valuations seem to be driven by the current dynamics of the solar business. Demand continues to outstrip supply. The shortage of silicon continues to hamper manufacturers of silicon solar panels. CIGS solar panels aren't as efficient for converting sunlight into electricity as silicon panels, but advocates say they will cost less. The active materials in CIGS panels also aren't in dire supply at the moment either.

The love affair that investors have had with First Solar, which makes thin film solar panels with cadmium telluride, also persists, which lends some glow to CIGS companies. First Solar went public at $20 per share in late 2006 and now trades at $207. (Before the recent swoon on Wall Street, it hit $283.) First Solar has also seen tremendous growth in revenue and earnings with each passing quarter.

When it went public, First Solar was valued at close to $2 billion. It currently is valued at $16.3 billion. Some believe the company is overvalued, but those are the numbers.

First Solar, however, was not your ordinary start-up. The company's founders started tinkering with cadmium telluride technology in the 1980s. By the time the company went public, First Solar had already begun mass production.

Tech Culture
About the author

    Michael Kanellos is editor at large at CNET, where he covers hardware, research and development, start-ups and the tech industry overseas.


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