BrightSource Brings In Massive $150M for Solar Thermal

BrightSource Energy, a developer of utility-scale solar thermal power plants, has raised $150 million in a fourth-round of equity financing. The massive new investment announced this morning puts it in a growing group of greentech startups that have raised more than $300 million.

Earth2Tech’s 10 Greentech IPO Picks

There’s already 19 green IPOs on deck this year. Still more greentech firms have been rumored to be eying the public markets for some time. Here’s our 10 picks for which greentech startups could be next to file this year in the U.S.:

Boeing: The New Solar Thermal King, In Patents

Boeing (s BA) is hardly a high-profile name in the world of solar thermal power development — firms like BrightSource Energy or Abengoa spring to mind a lot quicker. But Boeing, as it turns out, is the lord of solar thermal technology patents, according to a cleantech law firm.

A patent tracker by Heslin Rothenberg Farley & Mesiti shows that Boeing has snagged 14 solar thermal patents in the U.S. since 2002, more than any other company. The technologies covered include the use of molten salt to store energy and the heating of fluids to produce steam for running a generator, according to the Albany, N.Y., law firm’s latest Clean Energy Patent Growth Index (CEPGI).
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Which Greentech Firms Will IPO in 2010?

Will 2010 be the year for greentech IPOs? When lithium ion battery maker A123Systems (s AONE) successfully debuted on the Nasdaq back in September, there was much speculation that the move would ready the market for a following of greentech IPOs. The notion seemed over-enthusiastic then, but three months later solar power startup Solyndra has registered for an IPO, which will likely happen in 2010, and we’ve heard rumors that Tesla is plugging away at its S-1 (Reuters also reported an upcoming Tesla IPO).

Then there’s Silver Spring Networks, which just raised $100 million and looks like it’s getting to that stage where it’s too big to be acquired but will need more financing to compete in the smart grid infrastructure market. Silver Spring isn’t commenting on any IPO rumors, but it is clearly one of the best candidates in the greentech world. If these three — Solyndra, Silver Spring and Tesla — do go public in 2010, it’ll make investor Steve Westly look like a pretty solid market forecaster — he predicted in May that these three would go public by early 2010 and he’s already good for one out of the three.
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China to Get 1GW Photovoltaic Solar Power Farm

ctdc-logoChina’s Qaidam Basin could become the equivalent of the Mojave Desert in terms of solar power projects, if new plans to build a 1-gigawatt solar power photovoltaic farm in China come to fruition. While utilities and startups have sited the Southern California desert for some of the world’s largest solar-thermal and solar photovoltaic projects, the China Technology Development Group Corp. (s CTDC) and Qinghai New Energy Co. signed an agreement with local Chinese officials over the weekend to begin work on a massive plant that would use crystalline silicon and thin-film solar cells, research firm JLM Pacific Epoch reports (hat tip VentureBeat).

To be clear, 1 gigawatt of power — 1,000 megawatts — from photovoltaics is huge. The next-largest PV project we’ve heard of is a 550-megawatt plant being built by OptiSolar in San Luis Obispo, Calif., as part of a larger PG&E (s PCG) plan to bring 800 megawatts of solar power onto the electric grid. A Godzilla-like PV project by Intersolar in Germany, now more than half complete, is set to generate 40 megawatts. While it’s possible that the Qaidam project will falter before breaking any records, even the first phase — about $146 million for a 30-megawatt plant — could put China on the photovoltaics map. According to JLM, construction is slated to begin as early as 2009.

Siemens to Build 123MW Solar Turbine Generator for BrightSource

BrightSource Energy has contracted Siemens (s SIE) to build a 123-megawatt solar-powered turbine generator for its massive Mojave Desert solar-thermal projects, the Oakland, Calif.-based startup announced today. Having raised more than $160 million (including$115 million from Google.org, BP (s BP), and other big investors in Series C financing last May) and snagged a deal to sell California utility PG&E (s PCG) up to 900 megawatts of solar power, BrightSource apparently decided not to let delays in the state approval process slow it down.

Building a steam turbine generator — which converts hot steam into mechanical work — takes years. So while BrightSource plans to begin construction on its Ivanpah Solar Power Complex in 2009 if California regulators give the green light, the company does not expect the Siemens generator (the companies say it will be the largest of its kind ever built) to arrive until 2011 — mere months before the company plans to begin supplying electricity to utilities. That leaves very little room for error if the company is to meet its deadlines.

“It takes time and patience and a lot of planning ahead to make all of this work well,” John Woolard, BrightSource CEO and a partner at VantagePoint Venture Partners, the startup’s lead investor, told the San Francisco Business Times in August. That’s when the Bureau of Land Management ushered BrightSource to the front of the line for approval of applications to build utility-scale solar projects in the federally-managed desert. “Fortunately,” he said, “this is something we’re not bad at.”

What’s There to TokBox?

nullBain Capital must be psychic. Apparently they’ve looked into the future and seen that TokBox, a San Francisco-based startup, will either grow into a large company or find a buyer for what is essentially a Flash-based, in-browser video chat service that’s gotten marginal traction. Sure, the company has a new desktop client that allows you to video chat with anyone, but then so does my iChat.

Bain Capital has led a $10 million investment in TokBox. The move comes less than a month after the company named a new CEO, Nick Triantos, who has worked for many tech firms, but has never before held that title.

The company launched in October 2007 and has thus far raised a total of $14 million from Bain and early investors Sequoia Capital. Scott Friend, Venture Partner at Bain Capital Ventures, in a press release announcing the Series B round, said:

“The company is executing well…We are excited to be investing with our partners at Seqouia in a company we believe has the potential to be the next ‘big thing’ in web communication.”

Just to put his words into context, TokBox recently fired its founder and CEO, Serge Faguet. And according to Compete.com, they had about 179,000 visitors in the month of July, though they did sign a deal with Meebo that stands to get them some traction. (For a list of their competitors, check out NewTeeVee’s round-up of video chat applications.)

From the way I understand it, TokBox is using the built-in video capture capabilities in Flash player combined with the Flash media server to offer in-browser video conferencing. When the company launched, I pointed out that it was an “interesting idea, but more of a feature than a platform for a standalone company or model for a viable, long-term business. If (and that’s a big if) TokBox is going to work, it will need to be rapidly adopted by the marketplace.” Rapid adoption hasn’t quite happened, however, and I wonder if it ever will.

But again, the guys at Bain must be able to look into the future better than us skeptics.