Korean funds back tenKsolar’s wave solar

Solar startups have been a favorite target for Korean conglomerates looking to boost clean power investments. TenKsolar certainly has caught the attention of one of them, Hanwha, which just led a series B round of $15.5 million, the companies said Wednesday.

The funding announcement came about a year after tenKsolar’s founder and president, Dallas Meyer, told us about the company’s plan to raise this B round. TenKsolar isn’t the first U.S. solar startup investment for Hanwha, which has put money into silicon wafer makers 1366 Technologies in Massachusetts and Crystal Solar in Silicon Valley (Crystal received $15 million). Hanwha also has invested $8 million in OneRoof Energy, a solar energy system installer in San Diego.

Hanwha’s investments reflect a strong interest by Korean companies to put money in U.S. solar technology startups, many of which have been starving for money as VCs in the U.S. shy away from making solar investments because solar manufacturers often requires a lot of money and time to bring their technologies to market. Stion, maker of copper-indium-gallium-selenide (CIGS) solar panels, counts seller of LCD panel factory equipment, AVACO, as an investor. HelioVolt, another CIGS solar company, lined up $50 million from SK Group last year.

TenKsolar, founded in 2008, strings together silicon solar cells in a panel in a way that minimizes a drop in electricity production for the entire panel due to shading (this can happen when cells are wired together in series). The company builds electronics into the back of the panel to monitor and adjust the power output of different groups of cells. It then pairs each panel with another panel lined with a reflective film that helps to capture more light. The company also sells the equipment for anchoring and propping up the panels.

“By using reflective light, we can add a fraction of the cost of the solar panel itself but have that much higher efficiency. That led us down the path on how to integrate the light,” Meyer told us last year. The reflector also concentrates the light so that tenKsolar can use fewer silicon cells in each panel to cut costs. With the reflector film, the panel efficiency could go up as much as 25 percent, Meyer said.

With the new funding, tenKsolar can expand its manufacturing and sales and take advantage of Hanwha’s expertise in the solar business. Hanwha spent $370 million for a nearly 50 percent stake in China-based silicon solar cell and panel maker Solarfun Power in 2010 (Solarfun has since been renamed Hanwha SolarOne). Hanwha’s solar business is called Hanwha Solar, which set up an office in the U.S. last year and recenly inaugurated a $14 million research and development center in Silicon Valley.

Part of the $15.5 million round for tenKSolar also came from ESB Novusmodus, a fund by Irish state utility ESB.

Photo courtesy of tenKsolar