Concentrated solar attracts big-name investors

Kleiner Perkins and Goldman Sachs both show interest in veteran CPV systems manufacturer.

Candace Lombardi
In a software-driven world, it's easy to forget about the nuts and bolts. Whether it's cars, robots, personal gadgetry or industrial machines, Candace Lombardi examines the moving parts that keep our world rotating. A journalist who divides her time between the United States and the United Kingdom, Lombardi has written about technology for the sites of The New York Times, CNET, USA Today, MSN, ZDNet, Silicon.com, and GameSpot. She is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not a current employee of CNET.
Candace Lombardi
2 min read
Amonix large-scale concentrated solar panels. Amonix

The concentrated photovoltaics industry got another nod of confidence Wednesday.

Amonix, a CPV manufacturer, announced it has raised $129.4 million in Series B funding, with Kleiner Perkins named the lead investor. The Seal Beach, Calif.-based company said it will use the funds to expand manufacturing in an effort to get its CPVs out the door more quickly.

Concentrated photovoltaic (CPV) solar systems differ from regular solar panels in that they use lenses or mirrors to concentrate sunlight on solar cells to maximize the amount of electricity you can generate from solar rays. The technology, while more expensive than regular PVs, is believed to offer more efficiency in terms of electricity and the amount of land or space needed to use them.

Amonix makes large-scale systems that would be sold to and used by utilities.

It's not a new technology per say, but one that's become perfected to reach scalability and attract the kind of investment needed to spur its popularity in the market. Amonix, in particular, claims to have gotten costs down by using less-expensive Fresnel lenses for amplifying sunlight and concentrating that onto its solar cells.

Even among green-tech developers offering clean energy options, there are environmental hurdles to be crossed, as solar farms take up space and still require transmission lines to tie in to the electric grid. Environmental agencies and the U.S. government are working to offer land solutions and avoid time-consuming legal challenges to developers. Concentrated solar, because it can offer more electricity from less physical space, is becoming more attractive as its technology gets less expensive. That's why Amonix, and its main rival SolFocus, has also been scoring big with investors and projects.

SolFocus garnered a $103 million (80 euro) deal with Empe Solar, a Spanish group promoting solar energy projects in 2008. In March of this year, SolFocus announced a deal with a California community college to install a 1-megawatt high-concentrator photovoltaic (CPV) solar farm on 6 acres of its campus.

So unlike most green tech investment stories you read about, Amonix is not a start-up. Rather, it has been developing solar technology for years. The company was actually founded in 1989 and by 1994 it had made a solar cell with 25.5 percent efficiency. R&D Magazine lauded that solar cell as one of the most significant breakthrough products of the year.

Amonix has already raised $25 million in Series A funding from the Goldman Sachs Group and MissionPoint Capital, as well as garnered $15.6 million in Department of Energy grants and $9.5 million in federal stimulus funds.

Other investors in the deal include Adams Street Partners, Angeleno Group, PCG Clean Energy & Technology Fund, Vedanta Capital, New Silk Route, The Westly Group, and existing Amonix investor MissionPoint Capital Partners.