Venture capital funding in solar, storage and energy intelligence sees a year-end surge


In this year like no other, solar, storage and cleantech investors are finding reasons for optimism — driven, in part, by an incoming Biden administration aiming to enact a $2 trillion climate plan.

Here’s a rundown of these year-end investments.

Investments in solar software and CSP

$50 million for solar software: It took a pandemic, but the U.S. residential solar (and storage) industry has finally figured out how to lower customer acquisition costs — move everything online. Aurora Solar, a SaaS startup developing software that enables solar installers and financiers to design and sell residential solar remotely, raised $50 million in a Series B led by Iconiq Growth, along with existing investors Energize Ventures, Fifth Wall, and Pear VC. This brings the company’s total investment to over $70 million. Aurora is aiming to shift the solar industry from manual and in-person processes — to doing everything online. Aurora’s software lets solar installers perform remote solar shading analysis, design solar and storage rooftop systems, forecast energy generation, calculate savings, and produce sales proposals with financing choices. BloombergNEF is confident that Americans will install a record 3 GW of solar on their homes this year and 3.6 GW will be installed in 2021. Other solar software investments this year included Terabase Energy and Station A.

$39 million for next-gen concentrated solar power: Bill Gross’s CSP startup Heliogen received $39 million, to “develop, build, and operate a supercritical carbon dioxide power cycle integrated with thermal energy storage, heated by concentrated solar thermal energy supplied by a newly built heliostat field,” according to the DOE website. Heliogen’s proposed CSP plant uses sCO2 — essentially, CO2 halfway between gas and fluid — instead of steam to generate power. Since 2007, the DOE has provided about $575 million in support for CSP research. Heliogen is backed by Bill Gates, Steve Case and cancer drug entrepreneur Patrick Soon-Shiong. (reporting by K Kaufmann)

247Solar, an MIT-spinoff, and microturbine maker Capstone Turbine tested a commercial turbine that can generate electricity using hot air at atmospheric pressure, without combustion — made possible by a heat exchanger using a nickel-chromium-aluminum-iron alloy engineered for operation at very high temperatures. The plant is driven by a CSP system that heats air to a high-enough temperature to drive the turbine to produce electricity. According to the company, the hot-air-driven Brayton Cycle system “operates at atmospheric pressure and requires no steam, molten salts, or heat transfer oils.” The system stores up to 20 hours of energy as heat, using ceramic pellets instead of molten salts.  Source: 247Solar

Investing across the energy storage value stack

Li-Cycle, the largest lithium-ion battery recycler in North America, closed a Series C funding round led by Moore Strategic Ventures to fund development of its Rochester, New York hub. Terms were not disclosed. Li-Cycle CEO Ajay Kochhar said, “Without sustainable and economically viable lithium-ion battery recycling, we believe it’s likely that electric vehicle proliferation will be substantially hindered.” Li-Cycle claims that its recycling process enables recoveries of at least 95% of all materials found in lithium-ion batteries, compared to the industry norm of less than 50%.

Battery management wins $6 million: PowerUp, a French startup looking to make lithium-ion batteries more reliable while extending battery life, raised $6 million in funding from Supernova Invest and the EDF Group. With technology based on research by CEA-Liten, PowerUp assesses and measures battery health, while increasing battery lifetime via dynamic charging. The startup looks to start production in 2021, following trials with SNCF Réseau, EDF and Schneider Electric.

Seed funding for a “rolling micro-grid”: Ecolution kWh raised $3 million in seed funding from Brown Venture Group for an energy storage system that creates a “rolling micro-grid” that can dispatch power for mobile or stationary uses, according to the early-stage startup. The “kinetic energy extender” can be used on fleets of heavy vehicles and trains to store and dispatch kinetic energy from vehicle motion. This is the Brown Venture Group’s first investment. The fund was created in 2018 to fund startups led by Black, Latino and Native American executives.

$70 million for long-duration storage: Mateo Jaramillo, CEO of long-duration energy storage startup Form Energy, revealed that the stealthy company closed a Series C funding of more than $70 million, as per Reuters. Funding in the startup now totals more than $120 million. The company has revealed that its fundamental energy storage technology is an “aqueous air battery system” that “leverages some of the safest, cheapest, most abundant materials on the planet” in order to commercially deploy a 1 MW/150 MWh long-duration storage solution.

Batteries under C&I solar panels: Yotta Energy has designed a 1-kWh battery that mounts underneath a roof-mounted solar module. The startup just closed a $5 million seed round to finalize UL certification and begin commercial production. Investors include Fiftysix Investments, EDP Ventures and Skyview Ventures. Yotta believes residential batteries are headed in the same direction as microinverters or optimizers — to module-level micro-storage — and is deploying a 52-pound, 1 kW-hr lithium iron-phosphate battery on the same solar module racking gear that holds the ballast.

LAVLE marine batteries funded by Ocean Zero: LAVLE, a supplier and developer of batteries and energy storage for the renewable energy, marine, rail transportation, aviation, and defense markets, landed a round of funding from Ocean Zero. Founded by TED Curator Chris Anderson and science/finance journalist Stephen Petranek, Ocean Zero invests in innovative startups that can speed up the transition to fossil-free sea transportation.

$200 million for UK storage: Tiger Infrastructure portfolio firm Zenobe Energy, a UK-based independent owner and operator of battery storage and EV infrastructure services, secured a $200 million investment from Infracapital, the infrastructure investment arm of M&G Plc. Zenobe has  approximately 170 MW of contracted battery storage assets and a large portfolio of projects in the pipeline.

Energy intelligence and digital electricity

Energy intelligence: WattBuy landed a $3.25 million Series A round led by Evergy Ventures along with Updater, Avesta Fund and existing investors Fort Ventures, Techstars and Powerhouse Ventures. WattBuy’s online calculator lets homeowners, renters, real estate companies and solar developers get month-to-month electricity cost and carbon footprint estimates for any residential address in the U.S. and make decisions about their electricity suppliers. The startup is moving into enterprise APIs for real estate and personal finance platforms.

$65 million for reducing European household electricity use: Tibber’s website claims, “Welcome to an energy company that actually gives a crap.” Norway’s Tibber closed $65 million in its Series B round led by Eight Roads Ventures and Balderton Capital along with existing investor Founders Fund. Tibber aims to reduce European households’ electricity usage with an app that provides real-time analytics into consumption and pairs with smart home appliances to reduce electricity costs. Tibber has also been working on V2G.

Clean transport

Plug Power raises $1 billion for green hydrogen: Plug Power raised about $1 billion in a bought equity transaction to build what could be the first U.S.-wide network of green hydrogen production facilities to supply fuel-cell-powered vehicles. Plug intends to build a gigafactory to expand production of fuel cells and electrolyzers. Plug supplies fuel cells for forklifts operating in warehouses at Amazon, Walmart, DHL and Home Depot. Source: Greentech Media

We rounded up the traffic jam of EV and battery companies going public via SPAC here.

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