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Solar start-up GreenVolts replaces CEO, shifts plan

Concentrating-solar company GreenVolts is one of a few solar start-ups that has shifted strategies to sell equipment rather than develop renewable energy projects.

California solar start-up GreenVolts has named an interim CEO and decided to pursue a different strategy to adapt to changing business conditions.

The four-year-old company said Tuesday that founder Bob Cart is now chairman of the board and that chief financial officer Gary Beasley will be president and CEO on an interim basis.

In addition, GreenVolts has reorganized its business to focus on designing and selling its concentrating-solar equipment, rather than building solar power plants itself--a decision that other solar start-ups have also made.

GreenVolts concentrating photovoltaic arrays focus light onto hundreds of efficient solar cells for utility-scale solar power. Martin LaMonica/CNET

The new business plan involved layoffs earlier this year, part of a "larger strategic realignment to focus our energies primarily on product development versus project development, which requires a different mix of talent," the company said in a statement provided to Greentech Media. The company has open jobs for product engineers right now.

On Friday, the solar blog Gunther Portfolio noted that there was an internal debate over the next generation of GreenVolt's solar concentrating equipment, which contributed to the company shake-up.

GreenVolts' CarouSol technology is a low-lying structure that holds hundreds of mirrors that concentrate sunlight onto very efficient solar cells. The mirrors move to track the sun during the day to maximize the cells' electricity generation.

California Pacific Gas & Electric contracted with GreenVolts to build a 2-megawatt installation by next year, a project that has been delayed. The company won the California Clean Tech Open in 2006. That win helped launched the venture.

A few other solar start-ups have felt forced to change business plans in response to the difficult financing environment and the fact that utilities are increasingly building their own renewable energy projects, rather than contract with third parties.

Ausra also had plans to construct power plants itself but decided to focus on selling its concentrating-solar equipment to utilities and other industrial customers. eSolar, too, has been able to sell its solar power plant gear to project developers, rather than seek to build projects and sell the electricity to utilities.

Part of the challenge for start-ups targeting the utility-scale power business is the long time frame and high costs associated with environmental reviews and permitting. Raising the financing to construct the plants has also become far more difficult because there are fewer investors in renewable energy than a year ago and they are less willing to take technology risks.