In this year like no other, solar, storage and cleantech investors are finding reasons for optimism — driven, in part, by an incoming Biden administration aiming to enact a $2 trillion climate plan.
Here’s a rundown of these year-end investments.
Investments in solar software and CSP
$50 million for solar software: It took a pandemic, but the U.S. residential solar (and storage) industry has finally figured out how to lower customer acquisition costs — move everything online. Aurora Solar, a SaaS startup developing software that enables solar installers and financiers to design and sell residential solar remotely, raised $50 million in a Series B led by Iconiq Growth, along with existing investors Energize Ventures, Fifth Wall, and Pear VC. This brings the company’s total investment to over $70 million. Aurora is aiming to shift the solar industry from manual and in-person processes — to doing everything online. Aurora’s software lets solar installers perform remote solar shading analysis, design solar and storage rooftop systems, forecast energy generation, calculate savings, and produce sales proposals with financing choices. BloombergNEF is confident that Americans will install a record 3 GW of solar on their homes this year and 3.6 GW will be installed in 2021. Other solar software investments this year included Terabase Energy and Station A.
$39 million for next-gen concentrated solar power: Bill Gross’s CSP startup Heliogen received $39 million, to “develop, build, and operate a supercritical carbon dioxide power cycle integrated with thermal energy storage, heated by concentrated solar thermal energy supplied by a newly built heliostat field,” according to the DOE website. Heliogen’s proposed CSP plant uses sCO2 — essentially, CO2 halfway between gas and fluid — instead of steam to generate power. Since 2007, the DOE has provided about $575 million in support for CSP research. Heliogen is backed by Bill Gates, Steve Case and cancer drug entrepreneur Patrick Soon-Shiong. (reporting by K Kaufmann)
247Solar, an MIT-spinoff, and microturbine maker Capstone Turbine tested a commercial turbine that can generate electricity using hot air at atmospheric pressure, without combustion — made possible by a heat exchanger using a nickel-chromium-aluminum-iron alloy engineered for operation at very high temperatures. The plant is driven by a CSP system that heats air to a high-enough temperature to drive the turbine to produce electricity. According to the company, the hot-air-driven Brayton Cycle system “operates at atmospheric pressure and requires no steam, molten salts, or heat transfer oils.” The system stores up to 20 hours of energy as heat, using ceramic pellets instead of molten salts. Source: 247Solar
Investing across the energy storage value stack
Li-Cycle, the largest lithium-ion battery recycler in North America, closed a Series C funding round led by Moore Strategic Ventures to fund development of its Rochester, New York hub. Terms were not disclosed. Li-Cycle CEO Ajay Kochhar said, “Without sustainable and economically viable lithium-ion battery recycling, we believe it’s likely that electric vehicle proliferation will be substantially hindered.” Li-Cycle claims that its recycling process enables recoveries of at least 95% of all materials found in lithium-ion batteries, compared to the industry norm of less than 50%.