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Hybrid solar system for heat and electricity funded

PVT Solar receives $13.7 million to expand sales of its combination solar system which generates electricity and harvests the heat from the panels.

PVT Solar is entering the solar-panel market with a twist: its system generates electricity as well as heat.

The San Francisco area-based start-up today said that it has raised a series B round of $13.7 million from Sigma Partners and named a former SunPower executive, Vikas Desai, as CEO. The money will be used to expand the company's operations, including sales and distribution.

Price competition in the global business for solar photovoltaic modules is brutal, with prices for panels falling steadily. PVT Solar is seeking to differentiate itself with multipurpose modules that produce electricity and harvest the heat generated by panels.

The company says that its combination system, called Echo, generates twice as much usable energy as a PV panel and offers a quicker payback. It does not disclose the price except to say it's more expensive than PV-only panels.

PVT Solar's system pulls air from vents placed under solar photovoltaic panels and uses the heat in the home for space heating or hot water.
PVT Solar's system pulls air from vents placed under solar photovoltaic panels and uses the heat in the home for space heating or hot water. PVT Solar

Under each row of panels on a roof is a vent which pulls in air from under standard PV panels. The hot air is transferred to a heat exchanger which filters the air and heats water pumped in from a storage tank. That pre-heated water is fed into an existing hot water heater to lower the amount of energy needed to run.

In addition, the system can distribute hot air to heaters in the home. At night, the cool air from outside can be pumped in as well. The system has electronic controls to manage the flow of heat and monitor the energy production, according to PVT Solar.

The idea of hybrid hot water-PV systems has been around for years and there are a number of other companies now making them, including Sundrum Solar and 7Solar Technologies.

Wicking away the heat generated by solar PV panels can actually bump up the output of silicon panels which don't perform as well in high heat. But even though these systems are more efficient, they cost more upfront and involve more complicated installation which would typically involve more than one contractor.

PVT Solar was originally funded by Khosla Ventures, which participated in this round along with Energy & Environment Investment from Japan.