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US Solar-Panel Maker MiaSole Raises $55 Million In Venture Capital

By Cassandra Sweet Of DOW JONES NEWSWIRES Solar-panel maker MiaSole said Wednesday it has raised $55 million in venture capital and plans to continue making panels as it seeks a buyer or one or more partners to expand production and sales. MiaSole has a 150-megawatt factory at its Santa Clara, Calif., headquarters where it makes thin-film solar panels using copper, indium, gallium and selenium. The next-generation technology is different from conventional solar panels, which use silicon. The latest funding round included existing MiaSole investors VantagePoint Capital Partners, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Bessemer Venture Partners, Firelake Capital Management and Passport Capital. While global demand for solar power has continued to grow, an oversupply of solar-panel manufacturing capacity in China and other countries has forced prices down, cutting solar-panel makers' profits and stock prices. It would appear to be a difficult time for a small manufacturer to enter the market. MiaSole Chief Executive John Carrington said he is confident his company and its thin-film technology will prevail because its panels cost much less to make than rivals and several larger companies have expressed interest in the California company. "We're in discussions with a variety of strategic partners," Carrington said in an interview. He added that "it's a very global list" of large companies, some of which are already involved in solar power and others that aren't but want to get into solar. As the market for initial public offerings has become difficult for solar and other renewable energy companies, MiaSole is on the lookout for a large company that would buy all or some of the company. Solar-panel maker SunPower Corp. (SPWR), of San Jose, Calif., got a major boost after French oil major Total S.A. (FP.FR, TOT) bought two-thirds of the company last year. "That's a very good outcome for SunPower and certainly one that we would consider" for MiaSole, Carrington said. MiaSole would need $100 million to $300 million or more to scale up production and expand globally, Carrington said. The company is looking to expand in the U.S., India, Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Aside from a potential sale, MiaSole is also considering one or more commercial partnerships, in which the company would license its technology to a larger manufacturer or create a joint venture with a larger company to make solar panels, Carrington said. The company currently has customers in the U.S., Germany, India and Saudi Arabia. Carrington said he aims to nail down one or more strategic partners by the end of the year. As MiaSole looks to scale up, some of its rivals are scaling back. U.S. solar giant First Solar Inc. (FSLR) said last week it would cut production in line with weaker-than-expected demand. Privately held solar-panel maker Abound Solar announced similar plans last week, saying it would halt production for several months while it upgrades its manufacturing equipment. MiaSole has a fast, inexpensive manufacturing process that has been "proven out" in the semiconductor industry, Carrington said. MiaSole President Bob Baker spent 32 years at Intel Corp. (INTC), of Santa Clara, where he managed global manufacturing, supply chain, corporate services and other businesses. MiaSole hired Intel last year to help it scale up its manufacturing and apply the chip maker's manufacturing expertise to streamline its solar-panel process and boost its yield. -By Cassandra Sweet, Dow Jones Newswires; 415-439-6468; cassandra.sweet@dowjones.com

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