Solexel, SolFocus, Sopogy Raise Money in Tough Solar Environment

Given the uneasiness investors have expressed about investing in capital intensive solar businesses since Solyndra, the recent bankruptcies, and industry woes, it’s noteworthy that three solar companies raised funds in the last week or so.  

California-based Solexel raised $25 million to build a pilot plant for its manufacturing process, which employs silicon gas to make solar wafers. SunPower (SPWR) is an investor, along with Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (KPCB), Technology Partners, DAG Ventures, and others.

They need to show the manufacturing process is scalable, having been proven on a small scale.

Solexel’s technology produces "ultra thin" solar cells with an entirely different process: instead of making silicon ingots in furnaces and slicing them into wafers, it deposits a gas to grow wafers. Much less silicon is used and wasted, cutting costs, and the resulting solar cells are more efficient.

The company plans to scale at a 100-acre Malaysia plant, starting with a 200 megawatt (MW) production line.

SolFocus also completed a capital raise of $10.75 million for its Concentrating Photovoltaic (CPV) technology, after raising $77 million in 2009.

They won their biggest contract to date in Mexico – a 450 MW project in Baja that starts construction later this year. Finally,

And Sopogy, based in Hawaii, raised $1 million for its Micro-scale Concentrating Solar Power Concentrators, smaller versions of the systems used in large scale projects. The systems come in pre-engineered kits in 1MW, 5MW and 10MW increments.

The first quarter was a mixed bag for solar companies seeking venture capital, reflecting a more cautious approach to the industry on the part of investors.

5 companies raised about 60% of the total funding in Q1 2012, led by SolarCity with $81 million, followed by CIGS companies MiaSolé, Nanosolar and AQT Solar, which raised a combined $94 million.

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