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Plug pulled on concentrated PV developer GreenVolts

13 Sep 2012

Californian company suspends operations with immediate effect, adding to wider CPV concerns.

GreenVolts, the Fremont, California, start-up that has been developing its own version of concentrated photovoltaics (CPV) technology, has suspended its operations, effective immediately.

In an announcement dated September 11, the company said that all of its current marketing, sales and manufacturing efforts would cease, reducing its workforce to a small team that will provide customer support.

“A sudden, and unexpected, change in direction from a major strategic investor has affected GreenVolts's access to funding,” the company said in a brief statement.

“This turn of events is especially surprising given the recent positive announcements and support from the customers and partners of GreenVolts. The impact was at the last minute and so severe that GreenVolts cannot continue normal operation.”

Chinese burn
Although many PV and CPV companies in the West are under pressure as rivals in China continue to slash the cost of silicon-based PV modules, GreenVolts had appeared to be in a relatively healthy situation.

As recently as last week, the key GreenVolts investor and Switzerland-based power generation giant ABB – which provided $20 million of a $35 million funding round for GreenVolts last December – said that it would introduce “the world’s first fully integrated solar power generation plant controller and smart grid interface” as part of its CPV system at the Solar Power International conference and exhibition being held in Orlando this week.

In its statement, GreenVolts did not specify whether ABB was the “major strategic investor” to have pulled the plug on the company, but according to an article published by Gigaom quoting CEO David Gudmondson, that was indeed the case. The same article says that the current staff of 80 will be cut to just 20.

>$100 million backing
ABB wasn’t the only company to be attracted to the GreenVolts plan and technology, which used both lenses and parabolic reflectors to concentrate sunlight onto high-efficiency PV cells to generate power. In all, the company had raised close to $110 million in funding since its 2005 inception.

Optics featured heavily in the company’s module designs, with no fewer than 24 sets of optical components delivering a concentrating power of x1300. Key components included Fresnel lenses and a secondary optic to aid the need for high-precision tracking, which is exacerbated at such high concentration levels.

Back in March 2011, ABB had also purchased a 35% share in Novatec Solar, a German maker of Fresnel mirrors designed initially for thermal concentrating systems – though ABB said that the technology was also compatible with GreenVolts’ designs.

GreenVolts will now look to sell its technology and other assets, though that will likely prove difficult in what is very much a buyers’ market at the moment. The withdrawal of ABB’s support adds to growing worries in the CPV sector, which has seen the market-leading Amonix shut down its factory in Nevada just a year after it had opened.

In response to the Amonix news in July, analysts at Lux Research had highlighted the importance of having stable investors such as ABB, describing it as critical for the credibility of the emerging CPV sector. Ed Cahill from Lux said that the involvement of ABB, as well as Siemens’ support of Semprius and Morgan Stanley’s connections with SolFocus was a promising sign.

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