2011: Where the Money Went


Three months into the new year, the solar industry is still working to make sense of the roller coaster ride that was 2011. Installations surged, often beating the projections. Prices plummeted, and with that came shuttered doors, new opportunities and a great deal of consternation.

But judging by venture capital investment, 2011 proved to be a strong year, outpacing 2009 and 2010 in both total dollars and volume, according to an annual funding and M&A report by Mercom Capital.

Some highlights from the report:

  • The year finished strong with $511 million in VC investments in the fouth quarter spread out over 29 deals. For the year, there were 111 VC deals, the highest number ever for the solar industry. The $1.9 billion investment surpassed both 2010 ($1.7 billion) and 2009 ($1.4 billion), though it fell far short of 2008 figures ($3.9 billion).
  • Thin-film attracted the most VC funding in 2011, with $596 million raised in 17 deals. Crystalline silicon raised $338 million in 20 deals. Downstream companies raised $339 million in 26 deals.
  • The year’s top 5 VC deals all came in the U.S., led by solar thermal company BrightSource Energy with $201 million. CIGS-based thin-film manufacturers Stion ($130 million) and MiaSolé ($106 million) were followed by crystalline silicon maker Suniva ($94 million) and CIGS manufacturer HelioVolt ($85 million).
  • Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers made eight solar VC deals while GE and Good Energies each made six.
  • The U.S. was the top solar venture capital destination in the world with $1.5 billion invested over 84 deals. All other countries combined for $340 million over 24 deals.
  • Chinese loans, credit facilities, strategic financing and framework agreements amounted to more than $15.5 billion in 2011, compared to $32.6 billion in 2010.
  • The U.S. Department of Energy issued $10.9 billion in solar loan guarantees in 2011. About $10.5 billion were for solar generation projects.
  • Mergers and acquisitions doubled in 2011 to more than $4 billion over 65 transactions in part due to rapid price declines and overcapacity.
  • French oil and gas company Total acquired a 60 percent stake in U.S. solar manufacturer SunPower for $1.4 billion, making it the top M&A transaction in 2011.
  • Project-specific M&A totaled $3.6 billion, including a $2 billion acquisition of First Solar’s 550 MW Topaz Solar by MidAmerican Energy Holdings.

Pakhnyushcha via Shutterstock

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