Solaria Raises $40M to Double Its Module Production Capacity

California-based PV manufacturer Solaria Corp. has
raised $40
million
 to double its current production capacity to close
to 500 megawatts by year’s end. 

It’s Solaria’s second significant public investment in as many
years, as it expands production to meet its small but growing share
of the residential and commercial solar markets in the U.S. and
abroad. Solaria produces modules in California in South Korea.

While the private company doesn’t give out current production
figures, Wednesday’s investment will allow Solaria to approach
“close to 500 megawatts” by year’s end, CEO Suvi Sharma said
in a Wednesday interview. “That’s manufacturing capacity —
that’s not necessarily what we’re producing today.” 

The investment, led by Cypress Semiconductors founder
and former SunPower chairman T.J. Rodgers alongside Chilean
investor Isadoro Quiroga, is Solaria’s second in 18 months aimed at
expanding its manufacturing capacity. In January 2018, it raised
$23 million
 from Structure Capital, aimed at tripling its
production capacity to about 300 megawatts by the end of that
year. 

Solaria has raised more than $200 million since its 1999
founding as a maker of concentrating
solar PV
 systems, which use lenses and optics to concentrate
sunlight on photovoltaic cells for heightened efficiency. But
Solaria shipped only about 30 megawatts of those panels before the
technology, along with others premised on competing
against expensive
 crystalline silicon PV, was swamped by the
rise of increasingly cheap silicon PV.   

Solaria pivoted to focus on producing a specialized line of
“high-performance, high-aesthetic” silicon PV modules aimed at
the higher-end residential and small commercial markets, Sharma
said. “We take cells, we cut them into strips, we overlap one
cell over the other, and create a monolithic, high power density,
reliable and high performance solar panel,” he said. 

Solaria started shipping that product three years ago, and
“the business has scaled very rapidly for us,” Sharma said. He
declined to provide any financial figures for the company, besides
saying that it is profitable. 

Relationship with Enphase

Solaria got out of the utility-scale solar business altogether
through its 2013 spinout of its solar tracking business,
NEXTracker, which went on to be bought by Flextronics (now Flex)
for $330 million in 2015. Today, Solaria’s “projects are done 5
kilowatts, 10 kilowatts at a time, by local and regional
installers,” Sharma said. While Solaria remains a small player
relative to giants like China’s Jinko Solar or U.S.-based
SunPower, it is gaining ground in its target markets, he
said. 

Wednesday’s investment will also bolster Solaria’s ongoing
work with its AC module partner Enphase. In part, that’s driven
by the connections between Solaria’s new investors, Rodgers and
Quiroga, both of whom will join Solaria’s board of directors, and
the Petaluma, Calif.-based microinverter maker. 

Rodgers gained a seat on Enphase’s board of directors in 2017,
after he joined Kleiner Perkins chairman John Doerr in a pivotal
$10 million investment
 into Enphase at a time when it was
struggling to survive against steep competition from SolarEdge and
other inverter makers. As for Quiroga, in early 2018, Enphase
raised $20 million in private equity from an entity affiliated with
the Chilean investor, earning him or a designee a board observer
position.

Sharma said that Rodgers and Quirora chose to invest in Solaria
on the company’s own merits, not due to its partnership with
Enphase. But Solaria and Enphase are working closely together, he
said, both on AC modules today and eventually on integrating solar
with batteries, electric vehicle chargers and home energy
management systems. 

Solaria was a key early partner for Enphase’s move into AC
modules, PV panels pre-integrated with Enphase’s microinverters.
The two launched their first AC module in April
2018
, and “we have a nice installer base for that, and it’s
growing,” Sharma said.  

“But beyond that, Solaria is moving forward in providing a
complete solution to our dealers, with solar, storage, car
charging — and we’re leveraging a lot of the Enphase
technology to do that,” he said. He’s referring to Enphase’s
so-called Ensemble
platform
, a combination of batteries, inverters, related
switchgear and controls, and a cloud-based software platform that
can extend control to other key household loads. 

Enphase plans to introduce Ensemble in the fourth quarter of
2019 and make it more broadly available in 2020. While Solaria and
Enphase haven’t made any specific announcements regarding
Ensemble, “the companies are working together to put everything
together, to offer a complete solution,” Sharma said.

Source: FS – Transport 2
Solaria Raises M to Double Its Module Production Capacity



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