Apple investor considers early stage backing for emerging solar technologies

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Share on reddit
Reddit
Share on email
Email

A leading venture capital firm is considering making its first investment in an early-stage solar start-up despite seeing its competitors lose hundreds of millions of dollars.

Venrock, an early investor in Apple computers, has made numerous investments in the energy industry since it was founded by a Rockefeller family member in 1969. But to date, the Palo Alto-based venture fund has not invested in solar technology.

At last week's National Clean Energy Summit in Las Vegas, Matthew Nordan, vice president at Venrock, said that the firm was considering making two seed investments in emerging solar technologies.

Nordan told PV Tech that the entities under consideration would remain confidential unless the investments were finalised, possibly by the end of the year. The Chinese PV manufacturing boom based on silicon had dropped production of modules to a floor price which did not enable reinvestment of capital for new technologies, he said.

“We have some extraordinary leaders at the floor price for modules,” he said. “There are two places you go from there. One is not really about hard technology innovation, it's not about ARPA-E backed projects or things coming out of Stanford or MIT, it's about being able to package technologies we have today.

“The front line of that would be in baseloading solar and attaching batteries so that you can smooth out [output] over the day.”

Instead Venrock is looking at alternative solar technologies.

One of the technologies under consideration uses a nano-sized rectifying antenna (rectenna) that can convert solar energy at a theoretical maximum efficiency of 70%. The other technology uses “quantum dots” as the absorbing PV material rather than silicon, CIGs or CdTe, which could improve efficiency by calibrating to targeted parts of the solar spectrum.

“As an early-stage investor I am worried about what comes next,” he said. “So there are several ways you can take light and power – there's the PV route, which is what the world has pursued [and] there are other ways like being able to use beams of light with an antenna the same way that your car radio tunes into a radio station. You can't get beyond 30% efficiency in today's PV with one junction. But with new technology, the efficiency limits are far higher.

“No one is building companies around those technologies because although we have an extraordinary amount of R&D spending – hundreds of millions of dollars – and we have an enormous amount of asset financing, we have a giant sucking sound when it comes to the money that entrepreneurs are going to go out and do something crazy and build a company like First Solar that could be a national champion. My fear is that we're going to lose a generation of innovation coming out of the labs and ARPA-E because no one will be willing to go first.”

Venture capitalists (VCs) invested $1.76 billion in the second quarter of this year across 214 deals, a 56% increase on the previous quarter, but well off the peak of $7.5 billion across 350 deals in 2008.

23 February 2022
Held annually since 2016, the Energy Storage Summit Europe is the place to be for senior stakeholders in the European storage industry. Designed to accelerate deployment of storage, we examine evolving chemistries, business models, project design, revenue stacks and use cases for storage. The 2022 edition will include exclusive content around longer duration solutions, energy strategies for wide-scale deployment of EVs and "EnTech", the event which sits at the intersection of digitisation, decentralisation and decarbonation of the power system. Come to meet TSOs, DSOs, Utilities, Developers, Investors and Lenders and leave with new contacts, partners and a wealth of information.
7 March 2022
Take your chance to join the most powerful platform in the MENA region. Middle East Energy (MEE), Intersolar, and ees, the leading energy exhibitions are joining hands to co-deliver an outstanding renewables and energy storage event at Middle East Energy 2021. Renewables and energy storage at MEE is the largest gathering of solar and renewable energy industry professionals in the Middle East & Africa, offering the most effective trade focused platform to international manufacturers and distributors looking to meet regional buyers.
8 March 2022
As Solar Finance & Investment enters its ninth year, we sit on the cusp of a new power market with solar at its heart. The 2022 edition of the event will build on our years of expertise and relationships to bring investors and lenders together with top developers. Connect with leaders in the field and use exclusive insights to drive investment and development decisions for the future. Meet new and existing project partners at the largest gathering of European solar investors and lenders.
23 March 2022
When it comes to storage, the US market exceeded a gigawatt of advanced energy storage installations (weighted towards lithium ion) at 1.46 GW, more than the previous six years in total! An exponential growth rate could see the market hit 7.5 GW p.a. by 2025. The summit will provide a wealth of content around this vital piece in the US power puzzle, with sessions dedicated to explore how companies are making money from batteries, the latest chemistries and their applications as they apply to different use-cases. We ask how investors can match ESG criteria to batteries and we will bring case studies of successful deployment and project execution onto the stage to examine how you can ensure your own projects are successful.
29 March 2022
Now in its 10th sell-out year, Large Scale Solar returns to Lisbon in 2022. We are excited to gather together face-to-face with the European solar industry as we provide unique and exclusive access to a powerful selection of the market's key stakeholders. Join this elite summit to find out how the market is maturing, which new markets are becoming more exciting, how technology is evolving and who's driving the market forward into the 2020s. Always senior, packed with developers, EPCs, utilities and investors this is the event for companies serious about European solar PV.
7 April 2022
Solarex Istanbul, Turkey’s first and unique exhibition on solar energy, provides a huge opportunity to Turkey on the way to being a solar energy hub. Solarex Istanbul will take place on 7-9 April 2022 for the 14th time. It will be a commercial platform to have the latest technologies and combination of new products from all around the world. It takes place annually at Istanbul Expo Center, Turkey. It is also called the most important platform for manufacturers, suppliers and dealers of the solar industry in Eurasia.

Read Next

January 27, 2022
Renewables owner and operator Brookfield Renewable has tripled its US development pipeline to 31GW through the US$650 million acquisition of clean power developer Urban Grid.
January 27, 2022
Hecate Energy’s first stage application for a 500MW solar PV plant in the state of New York has been accepted by the newly formed New York State Office of Renewable Energy Siting (ORES).
January 27, 2022
Italian asset manager Green Arrow Capital (GAC) has signed a framework agreement with Spanish solar company Progressum Energy Developments (PED) to acquire 508MW of ready-to-build solar PV projects in Spain in a deal worth over €400 million (US$446 million).
January 27, 2022
Tesla’s solar installations jumped 68% in 2021 to 345MW despite a slight dip in additions year-on-year during the fourth quarter.
January 27, 2022
Major European solar developers have called on the European Union (EU) to develop a PV supply chain strategy to avoid cost increases and disruption to projects, with the group calling for 20GW of manufacturing capacity by 2030.
PV Tech Premium
January 26, 2022
s solar finds itself deployed in further and more far flung climes, it is also having to operate in increasingly harsher climates. In this article, VDE Renewables assesses how such climates affect PV performance and what must be taken into consideration when formulating O&M strategies.

Subscribe to Newsletter

Upcoming Events

Solar Media Events
February 23, 2022
London, UK
Solar Media Events
March 8, 2022
London, UK
Solar Media Events
March 23, 2022
Austin, Texas, USA
Solar Media Events
March 29, 2022
Lisbon, Portugal
Solar Media Events
April 25, 2022
Berlin, Germany