“This is cheaper than First Solar.”
High-concentration photovoltaics (CPV) firm Amonix raised a long-rumored $129.4 million Round B led by Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers along with Adams Street Partners, Angeleno Group, PCG Clean Energy & Technology Fund, Vedanta Capital, New Silk Route, the Westly Group and return backer MissionPoint Capital Partners. Amonix had previously raised $25 million in Series A funding from Goldman Sachs Group and received $15.6 million in grant funding through the DOE's Solar America Initiative (SAI).
I spoke with KP partner Ben Kortlang this morning at KP's Menlo Park, CA offices, and with new CEO Brian Robertson via phone.
N.B.: I have not been the CPV industry's biggest supporter to date. In my judgement, the promise and hype of the technology has far exceeded the actual deployments. But investor Kortlang and CEO Robertson make a compelling case for what distinguishes Amonix from other CPV aspirants.
First, "the 14MW of CPV installed to-date using Amonix technology is more than half of the CPV installed worldwide," according to Kortlang. Next, Amonix has been doing this for more than 15 years and is on the seventh generation of their product. Interestingly, each successive generation of the CPV system has gotten bigger and bigger. The company's current unit is a massive 72-kilowatt DC (53 kW AC) system. Both the investor and the CEO pointed out that the same 72-kilowatt output would require 1,000 panels from First Solar, not to mention lots of wire, mounting, and fasteners.
A colleague and respected solar consultant had this to say: "Amonix is the only company that has more than a few years of on-the-ground performance data. Their product reflects the learned reality that CPV as a utility-scale product shouldn’t try to look, smell or feel like PV (SolFocus) or attempt to minimize installation resources or cost (GreenVolts). They don’t try to hide the cranes and large equipment needed to construct their systems. They also spin/track ten times the kilowatts per unit compared to any of the other CPV competitors."
Amonix's 72-kilowatt system arrives at the installation site in twelve pieces, does not require flat land, and needs only four acres per megawatt versus twice that amount of land for solar thermal. Kortlang said, "A 72-kw Amonix system can be installed by one guy with a crane. It minimizes installation and labor costs in harsh environments."
Kortlang realizes that the reasons that CPV hasn't taken off historically have revolved around cost and reliability. But the KP partner claims that Amonix will have the "lowest levelized cost of energy in the solar industry in sunny climates." He went on to say that "developers and utilities are choosing Amonix systems because of their 15-year track record in the field, high reliability, ease of deployment and industry-leading efficiency,” adding, "Amonix is seeing strong demand for its product in the U.S."
Brian Robertson, the CEO, declined to specify the number of systems that the company was deploying. He said that he did not want to engage in "pre-announcements of braggawatts." He did however say that wholesale distributed generation in the 2-megawatt to 30-megawatt range was their sweet spot and that "significant projects were deploying this year and next."
My anonymous solar consultant added, "Brian Robertson and his team are bringing the business savvy that enabled SunEdison's rapid growth in the global PV integrator market to an already compelling HCPV product. Amonix's product reflects significant technical learning to which all aspiring utility scale HCPV companies should adhere: reduce part count, increase kw per tracking unit and don't be afraid to think big."
Robertson added that that he felt the role for CPV was as a "much more attractive technology substitute for CSP" when CSP gets shut out because of "interconnection or water issues." He felt that Amonix's footprint more or less overlaps with CSP in high DNI applications. "Our customers look at the total installed cost of the project, so we think we're competitive today and will be more so in the coming year."
So how can Amonix be cheaper? According to Kortlang, "The denominator in all solar is efficiency" and Amonix is the most efficient solar system available at 25 percent AC efficiency
Kortlang concluded with the observation, "this is cheaper than First Solar."