Terabase wins a $6 million Round A led by SJF Ventures, an early funder of Nextracker, for an integrated software platform to make building utility-scale solar more efficient, smarter and cheaper.
September 9, 2020
Terabase Energy is on a mission to drive down utility-scale solar power prices to below $0.01 per kWh by 2025. Using its software, automation and â€śdigital-twinâ€ť modeling, the new company aims to modernize solar power-plant optimization.
Terabase is no stranger to world-record low, utility-scale solar pricing â€” the startup recently provided digital and engineering services for the 800-MW Siraj-1 solar power plant in Qatar which will sell power for $0.01449/kWh.
Matt Campbell, the company CEO, told pv magazine that while solar hardware has gotten cheaper â€” soft costs have been stubborn and a more significant piece of the total project cost (a similar situation to the residential and commercial solar segments.)
SJF investing in a SunPower spin-out team
The startup just closed a $6 million Series A round to further develop its platform â€”Â led by SJF Ventures along with follow-on investments from Powerhouse Ventures, CityLight Capital and Trancoso Partners.
We spoke with Dave Kirkpatrick, managing director at SJF Ventures, who noted that this was the first investment heâ€™s made via video conferencing â€” without meeting the cofounders (all six of them) in person.
The startup is cofounded by SunPower alums: CEO Matt Campbell, Chris Baker, Amine Berrada, Dan Cohen, Pierre Gousseland and Thang Le. When SunPower exited the utility-scale business in 2019, the startup effectively spun out the core utility-scale team and acquired some relevant intellectual property from the solar pioneer.
For Kirkpatrick, â€śIt is rare for us to be able to back such a veteran team â€” in this case six cofounders with experience from development to EPC to product development to global capabilities.â€ť
Still managed with Excel
The CEO spoke of breaking the construction mindset: â€śThis is more manufacturing than construction â€” with tens of thousands of identical units. Itâ€™s not complex like a dam. Its just big.â€ť
â€śIt needs to be managed like row-crop farming and more of a modern integrated supply chain. Most projects are still managed on Excel spreadsheets â€” that should be in a unified plan with a scheduler and installation planner.â€ť
Campbell said, â€śAs projects gather more information on site constraints, developers struggle to manage all that data and to maintain version control for the design. Our cloud-based platform can now host a 3D digital twin for the project.â€ť
The best 500-MW solar plant
More than 200 companies are using the Terabase Platform to develop solar power plants in 28 countries, according to the firm.
Campbell said, â€śWeâ€™ve been involved in many of the record-low UAE tenders and we have insight into whatâ€™s going on â€” itâ€™s not a stunt.â€ť He notes that EPC costs are lower by 15 cents per watt outside the U.S. and the project comes with a long-term PPA with governmental low-cost finance as a backstop.
Lead investor Kirkpatrick said that utility projects can now have a replicability that can be automated and has already resulted in Terabase â€śbeating neighboring projects by 20% to 30% on cost.â€ť He added that Terabase can help local EPCs and construction firms â€śbuild the best 500-MW solar plant.â€ť
How does the US get lower prices?
These low utility-scale solar cost numbers tends to happen in global markets with lower labor costs than the U.S. And projects are getting bigger. Campbell notes that a project in the UAE had 15 contractors withÂ 3,000 laborers speaking 100 languages.
How do we get to the same pricing in the U.S.?
â€śWe have to keep fighting to reduce the cost,â€ť said Campbell. â€śThereâ€™s a big difference between solar at 1.0 cents per kWh versus 1.5 cents per kWh.â€ť
And the way to get there, according to the CEO is with smart software â€śacross the whole life cycleâ€ť from procurement to oversight of construction to operations â€” â€śall on a common interconnected digital platform.â€ť
The company already has revenue and a growing client base with â€śa lot of traction outside the U.S.â€ť
Campbell told pv magazine, â€śIf you really want to compete with fossil fuels, you need solar to be as cheap as humanely possible.â€ť