Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Sopogy, Small Scale Solar Thermal Raising Cash

sopogy.jpg Everyone from Google's "green energy czar" to Vinod Khosla to several well-funded startups are looking at solar thermal as one answer to offering massive amounts of utility-scale clean energy. But what about solar thermal on a smaller scale — even on rooftops?

Honolulu-based Sopogy thinks there is a market for lil' solar thermal and the 5-year-old company is in the process of raising a $9 million Series B round, which Sopogy CEO Darren Kimura tells us is already 80% committed.

The company has already raised $3 million from investors Energy Industry Holdings, Kolohala Holdings, and Tradewinds Capital Management, and has a $10 million commitment in revenue bonds from the state of Hawaii to build and operate a solar plant in the company's home state.

Most solar thermal technology uses mirrors to concentrate rays onto tubes of liquid that in turn can power turbines. Several startups like Ausra, Solel, and BrightSource are working on large-scale solar thermal power plants.

Sopogy, on the other hand, says it has reduced the manufacturing process of its collectors so that the technology is lower cost and easier to install than larger solar thermal systems, and delivers on a scale in the single megawatts. CNET says each individual collector produces 500 watts, but that the collectors can be strung to together for more wattage.

We're not sure how the economics will eventually play out, or if industrial and commercial sites will look to this technology for an answer to clean energy. But the startup is testing its technology at the utility Avista's Clean Energy Test Site and is working on getting a 1 megawatt solar system up and running in Hawaii. The company says that Hawaii's "highest electricity rates in the US" give its technologies "a competitive marketplace to develop and mature."