Solar start-up Solaria lands $50 million investment

One of several companies pursuing solar concentration, start-up Solaria gains backing of cell producer Q-Cells.

Start-up Solaria said on Monday that German solar heavyweight Q-Cells has led a $50 million investment in the company and committed to a long-term solar cell supply deal.

Based in Fremont, Calif., Solaria has designed a solar panel around proprietary plastic lenses that magnify the light on solar cells. By concentrating more sunlight onto traditional cells, Solaria says, it can create more productive and cost-effective solar panels.

Q-Cells was the lead investor in a third round of funding, which included existing investors Sigma Partners, NGEN and Moser Baer.

As part of the deal, Q-Cells said, over the next 10 years it will give Solaria access to 1.35 gigawatts of Q-Cell's solar cells, the material in panels that converts light to electricity.

The companies said it was one of the largest solar-cell supply arrangements to date, allowing Solaria to produce 2.7 gigawatts worth of solar panels.

"We not only see Solaria as an important partner and customer within our core business areas, but also seek to help develop Solaria's highly promising approach through our investment and tailoring R&D and products to their needs," Q-Cells CEO Anton Milner said in a statement.

Q-Cells has invested in a number of emerging solar technology companies, including those exploring thin-film cells and other techniques.

Solaria's plastic lenses can magnify light by two or three times, a relatively low magnification. Rather than have a single sheet made from silicon, its design breaks up the silicon into smaller strips. This design uses 50 percent to 60 percent less of the material--which is relatively high-priced but also the most commonly used material for solar cells--while still fitting into standard panels, it says.

The initial target customer for Solaria's solar modules is large installations such as corporate customers, the company CEO Suvi Sharma said in February.

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