Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Another U.S. Solar Manufacturer Shuts Down

After raising more than $100 million over the past seven years, GreenVolts, a California startup that makes concentrating photovoltaic systems, has closed its doors after a major investor abruptly withdrew financial support for the company.

“A sudden, and unexpected, change in direction from a major strategic investor has affected GreenVolts’ access to funding,” the company said Wednesday in a statement, referring to ABB, the Swiss power and automation giant. “The impact was at the last minute and so severe that GreenVolts cannot continue normal operation and has reduced its workforce to a small team to provide customer support and engage other options, including working with potential buyers of the system, technology and IP.”

News of GreenVolt’s closure was first reported by Greentech Media.

GreenVolts, based in Fremont, Calif., is the latest maker of advanced solar technology to fall on hard times as an industry shakeout continues. The startup’s concentrating photovoltaic systems use lens to focus sunlight on arrays of high efficiency solar cells. Such systems, which are designed to be deployed as ground-mounted solar power plants, can generate much as much as 40% more electricity than conventional solar panels like those found on residential rooftops.

But concentrating photovoltaic, or CPV, technology is expensive and as the cost of solar panels plunged 75% over the past three years companies like GreenVolts have found it increasingly difficult to compete. For instance, CPV competitor Amonix earlier this year shuttered its Nevada factory.

I first wrote about GreenVolts back in 2007 when the company was operating from a small office suite in downtown San Francisco. Founded by a former Internet marketing executive named Bob Cart, GreenVolts had won a startup contest and managed to secure a deal with a small utility in Spokane, Wash., to build a prototype power plant.

A contract with California utility Pacific Gas & Electric followed as well as the construction of some small-scale power plants. Over the past couple of years GreenVolts has revamped its technology and last December it replaced Cart with a telecom executive named Dave Gudmundson.

The company then raised a $35 million round, including $20 million from ABB in exchange for a strategic stake in the startup that would prove to be short-lived.


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