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General Electric seems to be covering its bases when it comes to solar power. The company, which four months ago bought a controlling stake in thin-film solar panel maker PrimeStar Solar, has added concentrating solar to its portfolio with a $2.5 million bet on Soliant Energy, based in Monrovia, Calif.
The two startups are about as different as they come. Whereas thin-film solar, such as PrimeStar makes, is very low efficiency but dirt cheap, Soliant makes panels that focus the sun’s rays on a single point, providing the equivalent of 500 suns’ energy to tiny, high efficiency panels. That approach, predictably enough, costs far more per panel than thin film, although they may be competitive on the cost per watt of electricity.
Each scheme has its advantages, but it’s unclear yet whether thin film, concentrating solar or traditional silicon-based solar photovoltaics will win a majority share of the solar market. Soliant, for its part, has been around longer than some concentrating photovoltaic (CPV) companies. We first covered it in 2006, when it was still called Practical Instruments and had just raised $8 million to help develop its panels.
Nowadays it has plenty of competition, from a slew of companies including GreenVolts, Sunrgi and SolFocus, the last of which recently edged close to $100 million in funding. Soliant’s not quite there yet, but its product is at least completed and has some notable differences to other CPV panels on the market. The company fits a number of lenses and mirrors into a nearly flat array, providing a lightweight setup.
However, like almost all CPV systems, Soliant requires a dual-axis tracking system to keep its panels aimed at the sun, so don’t expect to see the units on home rooftops. Instead, they can be installed on commercial roofs or on the ground. Next year, the company will open its first plant, making 40 megawatts worth of panels annually.
The $2.5 million that GE Energy Financial Services provided is part of a larger $21 million round the Convexa Capital, Rockport Capital Partners, Nth Power, Trinity Ventures and Rincon Venture Partners are also taking part in. Soliant is based in Monrovia, Calif.
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