Credit Suisse, Abu Dhabi back $77m solar investment

Paladin Capital and a fund led by Credit Suisse, with the backing of the Abu Dhabi government, have invested $77 million in a producer of thin film solar products.

Washington DC-based private equity firm Paladin Capital Group has co-led a $77 million (€57 million) investment in US solar company HelioVolt, alongside the Masdar Clean Tech Fund, which is backed by Credit Suisse and counts Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company as a limited partner. Other investors participating in the Series B funding include New Enterprise Associates, Solucar Energia, Morgan Stanley Principal Investments, Sunton United Energy and Yellowstone Capital.

Austin, Texas-based HelioVolt makes Copper Indium Gallium Selenide (CIGS) thin film enabled solar products. CIGS thin film is cheaper, more durable and more efficient than traditional solar power absorbing materials, which use silicon. The new funding will be used to build HelioVolt’s first factory and bring CIGS products to market.

“CIGS thin film is emerging as one of the most exciting frontiers in cost-effective solar energy,” Paladin principal Ken Pentimonti said in a statement.

HelioVolt is also in the midst of commercialising its proprietary FASST process for manufacturing CIGS products.

Paladin’s prior investments in the energy sector include ORYXE Energy International, which develops environmental fuel additives, and Greater Ohio Ethanol, which develops and operates ethanol manufacturing facilities in Ohio and surrounding states.

The Masdar Cleantech Fund has total commitments of $250 million from LPs including the Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company, Siemens Venture Capital, Credit Suisse and non-profit Cleantech International. It invests in companies with technologies that can be commercialised in the United Arab Emirates, committing approximately $60 million to three to five fund managers and the balance to co-investments. Credit Suisse is the fund’s general partner, but manages it in collaboration with the fund’s partners, according to its website.

The fund is also supported by Abu Dhabi’s larger Masdar initiative, a government sponsored project with the goal of ensuring that Abu Dhabi retains or grows its share in global energy supply, even as oil supplies dwindle, by investing in technologies related to renewable energy, energy efficiency, carbon management, water usage and desalination.

As oil prices continue to rise, alternative energy-related companies have been increasingly popular investments for private equity and venture capital firms, many of whom now have dedicated clean tech funds such as Technology Partners, which will devote half of its recently closed $300 million fund to the sector. In June, Lehman Brothers Merchant Banking bought a stake in Sky Power, a Canadian renewable energy company with solar and wind energy projects across the country. In March, UK middle market firm HgCapital invested €50 million in German biogas project Aufwind Schmack.