U.S. DOE Invests $53M in Solar Startups, Including VC Deal Opportunities to Watch

As part of the U.S. DOE’s funding announcement of a $53 million total investment in 40 innovative solar R&D projects on October 22, the DOE’s SunShot Incubator Program awarded $14 million to 20 early-stage businesses that are “cutting solar power costs with breakthrough innovation.”

We’ve listed the notable solar startups included in the DOE’s SunShot Incubator Program that received funding, and potential VC deal opportunities:

Clean Energy Collective (CEC), a Carbondale, Colo.-based community-solar project developer, received $699,999 to develop a national online portal to provide access to proven community-solar solutions. Its NCSP (National Community Solar Platform) will make the resources needed to navigate the complex legal, financial, and transactional issues associated with community solar available to EPCs (engineering, procurement, and construction), utilities and community advocates. CEC raised a $13M Series A round in 2012 and is currently raising a Series B venture round as well as project finance capital. The company is five years old and has 80 employees.

Faraday, a Middlebury, Vt.-based company that helps find, reach, and track customers for home solar upgrades, received $1 million to develop its data management platform that uncovers superior customer acquisition strategies in order to improve lead conversion rates. The map-driven tool includes nearly a terabyte of data on 100 million U.S. households and leverages advanced machine-learning algorithms to pinpoint households most likely to invest in solar. The startup raised $880,000 in Series A funding in March from investors FreshTracks Capital, 3Degrees (a strategic), LaunchCapital, and ARB (a family office) follow on round. Robbie Adler, the startup’s CEO, tells us that they are looking to raise a follow on round later this year, with plans to raise a Series B funding round in mid-2015 from venture funds and strategics. They also won the 2013 SXSW Eco Cleanweb track competition, and was a finalist at this year’s Solar Power International’s startup pitch contest.

Village Power Finance, based in Palo Alto, Calif., received $500,000 to implement an innovative Web platform and app to streamline the project development, fundraising, and asset management processes for the dramatically underserved commercial and nonprofit markets funding platform that it provides to community-driven institutions. It received seed capital in December 2013, and the company told CleanTechIQ that it is currently raising $1 million in seed funding, and has already raised $500,000. And it has plans to raise a Series A round in Q1 or Q2 of 2015.  Current investors in its seed round include Madison Parker Capital, individual investors, family, and friends.

Smash Solar, a Richmond, Calif.-based solar panel mounting platform received $1 million for its simple, snap-together, module-integrated photovoltaic (PV) mounting system, which will dramatically reduce the time, effort, and skill needed to install rooftop solar. It received $670,000 in seed funding in 2013 from WS Investments and a private family partnership and is seeking $1.5 million to $2 million of equity financing in the fourth quarter of 2014. It also received $500,000 in DOE SunShot funds in 2013. See CleanTechIQ’s prior profile of Smash Solar.

Picasolar (formerly Silicon Solar Solutions), a Fayetteville, Ark.-based IP licensing company with a patent-pending surface treatment for silicon solar cells that increases efficiency by 15% and reduces silver requirements by 22%, received $800,000 to develop a single step hydrogen treatment to optimize the emitter of n-type solar cells, resulting in improved conversion efficiency and reduced silver gridlines. It won the 2013 MIT Energy Prize ($150,000) and the DOE EERE Clean Energy Prize ($100,000). Picasolar just raised $1.2 million in equity funding last week, and its CEO anticipates additional  fundraising needs. It previously received $500,000 in DOE SunShot funds in 2013.

Solar Grid Storage, based in Silver Spring, Md., received $698,000 to develop a Solar Storage Operations Center (SSOC) to address the unique needs of managing grid-connected photovoltaic (PV) with storage assets. The SSOC will make it possible to bring together multiple storage sites and enhance grid stability with every new PV + storage resource installed, all the while reducing deployment costs. The company is three years old and received $875,000 in angel funding in December 2012. Solar Grid Storage is currently in a funding round lock-up period with an announcement expected in January, according to its CEO.

SineWatts, a Charlotte, N.C.-based company received $1 million to transform the PV power plant for mainstream generation with its patent-pending Inverter Molecule that completely eliminates any inverter footprint by miniaturizing and siliconizing the hardware into the PV panel junction box. It is currently based in the UNC Charlotte Energy Production and Infrastructure Center (EPIC) and is also working with the University of Arkansas and the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory during this phase. SineWatts pitched to VCs during the NREL Industry Growth Forum last week and previously received $500,000 in DOE SunShot funds in 2013.

Intrinsiq Materials, a Rochester, N.Y.-based company that manufactures printable electronic inks, raised $450,000 to develop nanoparticle-based electronic inks that enable solar cell and electronic device manufacturers to print copper and nickel silicide in open air at a fraction of the price of silver. It raised $4.1 million in seed capital in 2013 from investors including Rochester Angel Fund, Cayuga Ventures Fund, and Trillium.

kWh Analytics, an Oakland, Calif.-based company that produces “big data” information tools for risk management in solar project investment, received $500,000 to create a risk management software platform centered on a predictive score (“kWh Score”) that enables investors to statistically quantify production risk for any solar investment in the United States. The company is part of the Hawaii Renewable Energy Development Venture’s “Energy Excelerator.” It also received $450,000 from the DOE SunShot initiative in 2013.

Mosaic, an Oakland, Calif.-based solar project crowdfunding platform received $650,000 to introduce a simple, low-cost home solar loan product and installer platform integrated into residential solar developers’ sales processes, which will lower capital costs and dramatically increase project leads and close rates for partners, driving down overhead and customer acquisition costs. It received $15 million in Series B venture funding in 2013. It previously raised $2 million in DOE SunShot funds.

STEM Inc., a Millbrae, Calif.-based developer of customer-sited energy storage received $875,000 to develop a software platform for energy storage evaluation and automated storage system control. The project will improve the application of distributed storage in areas with high photovoltaic penetration while lowering grid integration costs and improving grid stability. On Sept. 16 it raised $100 million from New York’s B Asset Manager to offer its energy storage finance packages to corporate customers and raised $15 million in a Series B funding round in 2013 from Angeleno Group, Iberdrola, and GE Ventures. The company reports that it isn’t focused on raising venture funding at this time.

To see a full list of companies that received grants from the DOE SunShot Incubator Program, click here

And, as part of the DOE’s Supporting American Solar Manufacturing Initiative, it also invested $24 million into 10 U.S.-based solar manufacturers working to develop and implement innovative technologies that will reduce costs and increase efficiency in manufacturing processes used to make PV and CSP technologies.

Notable solar manufacturing companies that received funding, and possible deal opportunities, include:

Enki Technology, a San Jose, Calif.-based maker of solar PV coatings, received $2 million to partner with Flextronics International USA to deploy a fully integrated solar glass coating manufacturing line in Flextronics’ U.S.-based module assembly facility. This project will verify both the manufacturing performance and costs of employing Enki’s highly durable, anti-reflective, and anti-soiling coating product in a commercial U.S. silicon module assembly facility. It was named to The Global Cleantech 100 list in October and is a RockPort Capital portfolio company, which invested in Enki’s Series A financing.  They also have been funded by corporate strategic partners, such as Applied Materials. The company’s CEO told us that they anticipate raising a $3-5 million Series C funding round in approximately three-to-six months.

1366 Technologies, a Bedford, Mass., maker of Silicon PV wafers, received $1 million to demonstrate the potential for substantial silicon usage reductions and increased cell efficiencies with innovative kerfless wafer geometries employing their Direct Wafer technology. It was selected as a Bloomberg New Energy Finance “New Energy Pioneer” in April and received $2.5 million in Series C funding in December 2013 from Tokuyama Corporation, North Bridge Venture Partners, Polaris Venture Partners, VantagePoint Capital, and Energy Technology Ventures. Its CEO tells CleanTechIQ that it is in high-growth mode and expects to raise additional funding in the future. 

Siva Power (formerly Solexant), a San Jose, Calif.-based solar thin-film maker received $3 million to develop and demonstrate a 2-meter-wide linear high-temperature evaporation source for high-speed, large-area CIGS module manufacturing. It received $15 million in venture funding in June 2014 from Trident Capital, DBL Investors, Acero Capital, and the city of Wuxi.

Suniva, a Norcross, Ga.-based maker of high-efficiency silicon solar cells, received $2.3 million in collaboration with Georgia Tech Research Institute to develop and manufacture high-power n-type solar cells with efficiencies ≥ 22.5% using high-volume compatible, low-cost manufacturing based on a new disruptive technology that aims to address the traditional tradeoffs between higher performance and cost of manufacturing. It has received $225 million in total funding to date.

Cogenra Solar, based in Mountain View, Calif., received $2 million to automate the manufacturing of its proprietary dense cell interconnect (DCI) technology, which eliminates ribbons, solder-joint, and inter-cell gaps to deliver significant gains in performance, reliability, cost, and aesthetics. Cogenra isn’t focused on raising venture funding at this time, according to the company.

To see a list of all the DOE Supporting American Solar Manufacturing Initiative investments, click here.






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