Solar startup Stion raises $130M, lands in Korea

Thin film solar startup Stion has raised a massive $130 million round of funding led by Korean investors. Looks like the days of investors pumping money into thin film solar startups aren’t yet over.

Stion announced on Tuesday that the $130 million in funding was led by AVACO and Korean private equity funds and also included investors Khosla Ventures, Taiwan Semiconductor, Lightspeed Venture Partners, Braemar Energy Ventures, and General Catalyst Partners. Stion raised a Series D round of $70 million in June of 2010, and had also been considering an IPO, though the IPO markets in 2011 have been weak for greentech firms.

With the funding, Stion will open up a Korean factory and Korean subsidiary. Korean conglomerates seem to have the funds and interest to scale up these CIGS solar companies. Korean company SK Group also pumped $50 million into thin film solar company HelioVolt.

Stion makes solar panels that use copper, indium, gallium and selenium (CIGS) instead of conventional silicon to convert sunlight into electricity. The company has a Mississippi factory, which is supposed to eventually reach 500 MW of production capacity and require $500 million in investment, and which will start commercial production next month.

Stion hopes to mass-produce solar panels at much lower costs than its rivals, a goal that is shared by many startups and is increasingly difficult to accomplish. Wholesale prices of solar panels have plummeted in the past three years as manufacturers in the U.S., Asia and Europe built many factories.

Chinese manufacturers, in particular, have expanded production rapidly thanks in part to the low cost huge loans they received from government-run banks. The stiffened competition already has forced three American companies, including CIGS solar panel maker Solyndra, to file for bankruptcy over the past few months.