BrightSource raises a whopping $80M for solar farms

After ditching its IPO plans in April, solar thermal startup BrightSource announced on Wednesday that it’s raised another $80 million in equity, bringing its total funding raised to $615 million. It’s pretty rare these days that a cleantech startup can close on such a large round — investors are far less willing to put large rounds into cleantech startups in 2012 (see GigaOM Pro’s Q3 wrap up).

But BrightSource has managed to scale up, its first inaugural solar thermal farm Ivanpah is getting close to completion, and it’s got a pipeline of projects waiting to be developed. Lead investors in the round included power company Alstom and venture firm VantagePoint Capital Partners, and additional investors included DFJ, CalSTRS, DBL Investors, Goldman Sachs, Chevron Technology Ventures and BP Ventures.

The boiler on the tower at Ivanpah

Alstom is a massive power company, and BrightSource says through the investment, the two will work on developing solar thermal projects in India and Australia, in addition to their planned partnerships in Africa. VantagePoint is a longtime cleantech investment firm led by Alan Salzman — Salzman said at an event earlier this year: “Embracing incumbents and finding the enlightened ones is essential (for startups) to scale.”

BrightSource develops solar thermal plants and its design uses fields of large mirrors to concentrate sun light onto a large tower. The tower has a boiler at the top which heats liquid, which in term runs steam turbines and produces electricity. The Ivanpah solar farm near Las Vegas is being built on 3,600 acres, and has 2,100 workers that install about one mirror a minute onto poles in the desert ground.

Here’s a video I took when I toured Ivanpah a few months ago:


When BrightSource decided to stop pursuing its IPO plans earlier this year, CEO John Woolard told me that because of the weak public markets, particularly for solar and greentech companies, BrightSource’s potential IPO transaction wasn’t necessarily at the terms that the company and its investors wanted. So, likely, raising more private equity enabled BrightSource to maintain a valuation that its investors and management more closely agreed with.