Huge Venture Capital Deal for Solar Company Amonix Announced

Amonix, maker of concentrating photovoltaic solar cells, has received $129.4 million in financing from Silicon Valley venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and other investors. The deal is the biggest in the solar sector so far this year, and one of the largest in the entire cleantech sector, according to Cleantech Group.

Amonix’s concentrating photovoltaic systems use lenses to magnify the sun’s energy onto special solar cells, called multi-junction cells, that can generate electricity from a wider spectrum of light than normal solar cells. The result is more electricity generated in a smaller amount of space.

Concentrating photovoltaics, or CPV, is more expensive to make than normal photovoltaic panels, however, and there have also been issues with the technology in the past. Amonix says it has lowered the cost of manufacture, as well as addressed technological concerns with small scale projects scattered around the globe, the New York Times reports.

Amonix has been developing CPV technology for 20 years. Its primary product is the Amonix 7700, a 72 ft wide by 50 ft high panel (pictured) that can generate 53 kilowatts of electricity.

From also-ran to major player?

Until quite recently CPV was considered the ugly duckling of the solar power market, stuck between plain vanilla solar panels and high-output solar thermal energy.

But CPV’s relatively small footprint per watt generated gives it an advantage as more solar energy projects flounder over land use issues. The less space a solar energy plant requires to produce electricity, the fewer regulatory hurdles it has to overcome.

Amonix’s 7700 panel can produce one megawatt of electricity in about 5 acres of space, according to the company’s website. By contrast, the Ivanpah solar thermal plant proposed for the Mojave Desert averages 8.5 acres to produce one megawatt of power. That project is still pending after almost 3 years.

The Series B VC funding should allow Amonix to compete for large-scale solar power projects, as well as expand its production facilities.

Good news for renewable energy industry

The Kleiner Perkins deal is also a strong sign that the cleantech sector is rebounding after 2009. The fact that Kleiner Perkins is willing to plop down such a large investment on Amonix’s CPV technology is a sure sign that investors are beginning to regain their appetite for risk, since the future of CPV is hardly a sure thing.

The first quarter of 2010 saw $1.9 billion worth of cleantech deals, an 83 percent increase from a year earlier.

BC (Ben) Upham is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. He has written for the New York Times, and was a writer and editor for News Communications, Inc., a local paper consortium serving Manhattan. When he's not blogging on green issues -- and especially renewable energy -- he's hiking in the Angeles Mountains or hanging out at El Matador.

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