Monday, June 25, 2007

VC-style investments in solar, through DoE!

"The Department of Energy will fund 10 photovoltaic technology start-ups with up to $27 million through a new milestone-based grant program.

Hedging its bets, the department is backing a broad range of early-stage developers, competitors among them, each aiming to reduce the scourge of solar: high cost per watt.

Two recipient companies, Blue Square Energy Inc. and CaliSolar Inc., use cheaper, lower-grade polysilicon to make equally powerful PV cells. Four recipients, Enfocus Engineering Corp., MicroLink Devices Inc., SolFocus Inc. and Solaria Corp., work on increasing efficiency through solar concentration methods. And four: Ava Solar, Plextronics Inc., PrimeStar Solar Inc. and SoloPower Inc., develop technology for thin-film PV modules that avoid expensive polysilicon altogether. Each project will receive between $2 million and $3 million from the DOE through the Photovoltaic Module Incubator program after presenting the energy department with functioning prototypes of its products. The companies also committed to invest about $44 million combined in addition to the federal contribution, mostly coming from financial backers such as venture capitalists.

The DOE evaluated 56 applications in this first round of the program that will make grants every nine months and required that chosen projects are at or near pilot-run stage, scalable through an affordable manufacturing process and are based on significant innovation compared with current products on the market.

"The program is structured around tight milestones, focuses on delivering proof of hardware, and moves quickly," said Craig Cornelius, acting program manager for the DOE's Solar Technologies program.

The DOE would evaluate the progress of its portfolio companies at least every nine months when it would also issue grants to new applicants, he said. The advantage of requiring shipment of hardware samples to the DOE, said Cornelius, is that it 'frees companies from government paperwork to focus on what they do best: tech development.'"

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