Morgan Solar Raising Funds for Concentrating Solar PV

Morgan Solar at Solar Power International 2010

Morgan Solar, a concentrating photovoltaic (CPV) startup, is raising a B round of between $20-25 million and hopes to complete the fundraising by as early as April, Nicolas Morgan, VP of business development at the company, told us.

The funding will help the Canadian company start a new factory in California to produce the optics for its CPV panels. Morgan Solar, founded in 2007, hopes to start production by the middle of this year, and the factory is set to have 5.5 MW of annual capacity.

The company previously raised $9.2 million in private capital and $10.3 million from the Canadian and U.S. governments. Its investors include energy giant Iberdrola and maker of factory equipment for plastic products, Nypro.

CPV technology uses mirrors and lenses to concentrate light onto solar cells to produce electricity. The concentration makes it possible to use smaller solar cells and save money. A typical CPV system is made up of one panel containing many lenses and corresponding solar cells. The panel, which is much larger than the solar panels you see on your neighbor’s rooftop, sits on a tracker that trains the panel to follow the sun’s movement throughout the day.

CPV developers, like some solar thin-film companies, still have to prove their products work as promised and attract project developers and financiers. CPV technology made a lot of sense several years ago when solar cells were very expensive, but the prices have declined significantly since then.

The struggles of Soliant Energy highlights those challenges. Los Angeles-based Soliant has laid off most of its employees after it couldn’t raise the money to build a 40 MW factory, reported Greentech Media. Unlike other CPV developers, Soliant was working on a CPV system for commercial rooftops. The concept was interesting and caught our attention during Solar Power International last October.

Morgan Solar’s system is ground-mounted, and the company set out to develop slimmer panels. The company slimmed down the panels by doing something different from other CPV technologies, getting rid of the focal distance between the lenses and the cells. The optics may look like Fresnel lenses but they aren’t, Morgan said. Thinner design requires less material, weighs less and presumably costs less to install.

The 3-square-meter panel can concentrate the sun up to 1,000 times and can convert 25 percent of the sunlight into electricity, Morgan said. Other CPV companies, such as SolFocus and Amonix, have developed much larger solar panels, which the companies say lead to more efficient use of land and trackers.

Morgan Solar currently has a panel assembly line at its headquarters in Toronto. The California factory, in the city of Chula Vista, will be critical for the company to move into commercial production. Morgan Solar previously talked about setting up a manufacturing operation with 35MW of capacity in 2011. The plan is to start with 5.5MW and move to 50MW after, Morgan said. A 50MW factory would cost about $13 million to build.

Morgan Solar is planning a 200 KW demonstration system in Lancaster, Calif., this year. The system will power a water pump that irrigates the nearby soccer field and be available for show-and-tell tours, Morgan said. Ground breaking is set to take place in the next few months. The company hopes to raise money to finance 16 MW of projects as well, Morgan said.

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