DOE’s Sunshot Initiative Shines on “Capital Light” Solar Startups

This week, the U.S. Dept of Energy awarded $16 million to 17 solar startups as part of the $60 million in new SunShot Initiative funds that were announced.

Since 2007, fifty-eight startup companies have received at total of $104 million in government funds from the DOE’s Sunshot Initiative, which is designed to help startups cross technological barriers to commercialization and encourage private sector funding. The U.S. DOE claims to have leveraged more than $1.7 billion in venture capital and private equity investment via its Sunshot Initiative.

In addition to providing funding for new capital intensive PV and CSP technologies, the initiative also focuses on funding companies that are lowering the industry’s growing “soft costs” such as acquiring customers, installing and financing solar panels.  According to the National Renewable Energy Lab’s recent estimates, soft costs have climbed to 60% of the total cost of installing solar on residential homes. This is an area where solar companies have been hunting for acquisitions that help them streamline costs as they focus on gaining customers in the residential solar market (i.e SolarCity’s acquisition of Paramount Solar and the Gen110 acquisition by Solar Universe.)

Highlighted below are a few of the  “capital light” solar companies that are focused on reducing the industry’s soft costs and received this week’s DOE SunShot Initiative funds. These companies are either currently seeking venture funding or may be in the near future:

Sun Number ($1,000,000) based in Deephaven, Minnesota and founded in 2012, provides a tool for more effective solar array siting by providing an easy-to-understand assessment of a building’s solar potential and streamlining the solar installer’s customer acquisition process.  The company tells CleanTechIQ that it is currently working on their first round of investment, with a goal of raising $500,000.

– Solar Census, LLC ($735,072), based in Walnut Creek, California, streamlines solar costs by using satellite technology to analyze shade on rooftops to find the best solar system for the home or business. The company tells CleanTechIQ that they are opening up a round of seed or angel funding on Nov 15.

kWh Analytics ($450,000) based in Oakland, California and founded in 2012, produces big-data information tools for risk management of solar investment, creating solar information transparency that enables solar leases to be securitized.  Although they are not currently fundraising, they are “open to partnership and opportunistic situations” says CEO Richard Matsui. The company is part of the Hawaii Renewable Energy Development Venture’s “Energy Excelerator.”

– Geostellar ($750,000) based in Martinsburg, West Virginia, uses big data, analytics and mapping to streamline online procurement, financing, installation, and maintenance of solar.  The company received $14 million in Series B funding in June 2012 from NRG, GeoEye and Flash Forward Ventures and the state of Maryland.  The company has raised 28.5M to date.

SMASHsolar ($500,000) based in El Cerrito, California, produces PV mounting systems that enables quick installation and lowers the cost of residential solar. The company was a semifinalist in the Cleantech Open Western Region competition in 2012.

(Zep Solar, another company that produces solar panel mounting platforms, was acquired by SolarCity for $158 million on October 9.)


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