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Solar power offers plenty of exciting technological advances to talk about. If those advances were all that mattered, nobody would have to worry about whether the business is profitable or efficient. Yet those nasty little details persist, making or breaking companies like Borrego Solar, an installation outfit that just received a $14 million investment.
Borrego is a veteran California company that puts solar racks on homes and businesses. It and its peers have flourished over the past couple of years as solar panels have become popular. Several, like SolarCity and SunRun, have attracted venture capital for figuring out how to creatively finance their customers with leases and power purchase agreements.
However, Borrego is more of a nuts and bolts company, without any immediately obvious innovations, so it seems a bit surprising that it could attract so much cash. Its main trick is improving the actual installation process, that is, the science of bolting a rack of solar panels to a roof, and possibly trimming down the high cost of doing so.
The hefty investment going to Borrego could mean that investors are shifting their attention away from making geeky technology advances, and instead backing companies that hope to use marketing and cost management to edge out otherwise identical competitors. As Michael Kanellos suggests at Green Light, it’s time to “pay more attention to installation.” Other companies are emerging to focus on the technology of installation, like Solar Red, which hopes to halve the costs.
On the other hand, there’s no real indication yet that venture capitalists think they can squeeze high returns from investing in straightforward installation businesses. Borrego didn’t disclose where it got the funding, but did say that it’s a strategic investment from a larger company, not a VC.
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