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Oxford PV lands Statoil investment

06 Dec 2016

First investment in solar technology by the oil and gas giant’s venture wing complemented by deal to develop hybrid perovskite cells with major silicon manufacturer.

The Norwegian energy giant Statoil is one of three new investors to back UK-based perovskite solar cell developer Oxford Photovoltaics with an additional £8.1 million in venture capital.

News of the latest round of finance – which also included Legal & General Capital and an unspecified family fund investor – comes just days after the Oxford University spin-out confirmed that it had agreed a deal to develop hybrid perovskite-silicon solar technology with what is described as a “major solar panel manufacturer”.

Within the past month Oxford PV also revealed that it had acquired a pilot-line site in Germany (previously owned by Bosch Solar) to scale up perovskite production to industrial-standard wafer sizes.

Timetable to commercialization
CEO Frank Averdung said of the latest vote of confidence from investors: “The company has made tremendous progress over the last year and this has been recognized by being able to attract investors of such high caliber and scale.”

He added that the company was now working to bring the potentially disruptive solar technology to market as quickly as possible. “In conjunction with our industry joint development partner, our perovskite technology now has a clear path and timetable to commercialization and the formidable support of global market leaders to enable that to happen.”

Now employing 37 people and with that total expected to grow quickly as hiring for the pilot line in Brandenburg an der Havel, near Berlin, gathers pace, Oxford PV was set up by influential researcher Henry Snaith back in 2010.

Though initially working on printable dye-based cells, the company swiftly switched to perovskites when it became clear that the material was capable of efficient conversion of solar light.

Snaith has been at the forefront of that research effort, and his spin-out firm is now pushing to become the first to produce industrially viable perovskite cells.

‘British brainpower’
While perovskites are capable of good solar conversion on their own, the combination with silicon cells in a hybrid format is regarded by many as the most likely route to volume production.

Combining layers of perovskite with established silicon panels in a tandem format should significantly increase the efficiency of solar conversion – effectively turning a modestly performing but cheap technology into a high-performance solution, without adding greatly to production costs because perovskites are so readily available.

By collaborating directly with a large silicon panel maker, Oxford PV should also guarantee a way to move the perovskite technology to volume scale without taking on what has become a huge industry dominated by large Chinese manufacturers with gigantic economy of scale.

Commenting on the new investment, Statoil Energy Ventures’ managing director Gareth Burns said that the Norwegian energy giant was looking to supplement its oil and gas portfolio with profitable renewable energy.

While the company has previously invested in off-shore wind power, the Oxford PV deal represents Statoil’s first foray into solar technology. “We see it as a great opportunity to be part of a technology development that has the potential to impact the next generation of solar cells,” Burns said.

Set up in February this year, the Statoil Energy Ventures fund is aiming to invest "up to" $200 million over the next 4-7 years. It is set to operate alongside Statoil’s existing venture entity, Statoil Technology Invest, which focuses on early-phase investments in upstream oil and gas.

Legal & General Capital’s head of clean energy strategy John Bromley added: “We are fully engaged with the global transition to a low carbon energy system and we want to partner with the leading brainpower-backed British enterprises that will deliver the transformative change needed to provide reliable, low-cost clean energy on a global scale.

“We have taken the time to get to know Oxford PV, and are impressed by the technology, the scientists and engineers, and an experienced, disciplined management team who we look forward to supporting at this exciting stage of their venture.”

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