Areva to Buy Solar Thermal Startup Ausra

Whoa — big news on the solar thermal front today, as French power giant Areva says it’s agreed to buy solar thermal startup Ausra. Back in November there were several media reports that said Ausra was in talks to be acquired by one of three companies, and it looks like Areva won the deal. Terms of the acquisition weren’t disclosed.

Areva, which has a large nuclear portfolio, says it will use the Ausra acquisition to become “the world leader in concentrated solar power,” and will sell solar thermal tech to utilities and independent power producers. Solar thermal technology uses mirrors and lenses to concentrate the sun rays to power turbines, and utilities have been turning to it in droves as of late.

During 2009 Ausra changed its strategy from looking to build and operate its own solar thermal power plants to providing its equipment to solar power producers. Building and operating these solar power plants would have taken a ton of financing, which, in a hard economy, would have proven to be a difficult route. Proof of that came at the end of last year when Ausra announced that it will sell its Carrizo Energy Solar Farm project, a proposed 177MW project still under development in San Luis Obispo, Calif., to industry thin-film solar giant First Solar (s FSLR). And in September Ausra said it had been chosen to provide its equipment for a 100MW concentrated solar thermal power project being developed in Ma’an, Jordan.

When Ausra’s acquisition talks emerged in the media, Katherine Potter, its VP of communications, told us: “As our recent string of announcements have shown, our business strategy of focusing on being a solar steam systems provider is working and producing results.”

Without knowing the price of the acquisition or the valuation, it’s hard to tell how well Ausra investors will make out in the deal. Ausra’s investors include Kleiner Perkins, Khosla Ventures, Al Gore’s Generation Investment, Alberta, Canada-based KERN Partners and Melbourne, Australia-based Starfish Ventures. The 4-year-old company has raised around $130 million to date. I’ll do more digging, but I think this is the first (or one of the first) exits for Kleiner Perkins in the cleantech market.

Areva will have to compete in an increasingly crowded market including eSolar, BrightSource, Infinia (which is raising $75 million) and Stirling Energy. The acquisition is expected to close in the next couple of months and is subject to regulatory approval.

More on Ausra:

Solar Thermal Startup Ausra Looking to Sell?

First Solar Buys Ausra Solar Project; PG&E Power Purchase Deal Is Off

Ausra Gets a Piece of 100MW Solar Thermal Plant in Jordan

Solar Thermal Startup Ausra Tracks Down $25.5M

Ausra Turns On Solar Thermal Power Plant

Ausra: Financial Markets Could Effect Utility Solar Projects

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