GE, Convexa fund solar panel maker Soliant

Concentrator solar panel manufacturer Soliant Energy has raised $21 million from Convexa Capital, GE Energy Financial Services, Nth Power, Rockport Capital Partners and Trinity Ventures.

The Monrovia, Calif-based company makes low-cost high-efficiency panels for commercial and residential rooftops. GE Energy Financial, which invested $2.5 million in the venture round, said it expected the commercial rooftop solar panel business to reach $13.2 billion by 2010.

Commercial and industrial buildings comprise 60% of the roof area in the United States, GE Energy Financial said.

Engineers from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., founded Soliant in 2005, in part with funding from Rockport Capital Partners.

Soliant said it will ship its first products for commercial rooftop applications in late 2009 when it opens a 40-megawatt-per-year production plant in Tijuana, Mexico, about 20 miles south of San Diego.

Concentrator solar panels are more efficient—turning more sunlight into electricity—than conventional solar photovoltaics because they collect light over larger areas and focus it on smaller areas to make electricity. The cost per panel is more, but it would take fewer panels to make the same amount of electricity.

Soliant was also funded with $4 million from the U.S. Department of Energy for innovative solar technologies. The company claims it seeks “to bring high-risk technologies to market, but by effectively engineering the solar technologies that are available today into a practical solution that allows consumers to begin saving money now.”

GE has a unit that makes more conventional photovoltaic solar panels. GE Energy Financial Services often invests in companies that compete directly with GE. This is not such a case as GE does not make concentrator solar panels, said Andy Katell of GE Energy Financial Services. —Reuters