Terabase Energy raises funding to break the $0.01/kWh utility-scale solar barrier with software – pv magazine USA

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 “digital-twin” modeling, the new company aims to modernize solar power-plant optimization.

Terabase is no stranger to world-record low, utility-scale solar pricing — 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 — 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 —  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 he’s made via video conferencing — 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, “It is rare for us to be able to back such a veteran team — in this case six cofounders with experience from development to EPC to product development to global capabilities.”

SJF Ventures has a record of growing successful solar startups. Its portfolio includes Nextracker (acquired by Flex), Community Energy, and groSolar (acquired by EDF Renewables). 

Still managed with Excel

The CEO spoke of breaking the construction mindset: “This is more manufacturing than construction — with tens of thousands of identical units. It’s not complex like a dam. Its just big.”

“It needs to be managed like row-crop farming and more of a modern integrated supply chain. Most projects are still managed on Excel spreadsheets — that should be in a unified plan with a scheduler and installation planner.”

Campbell said, “As 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.”

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, “We’ve been involved in many of the record-low UAE tenders and we have insight into what’s going on — it’s not a stunt.” 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 “beating neighboring projects by 20% to 30% on cost.” He added that Terabase can help local EPCs and construction firms “build the best 500-MW solar plant.”

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 with  3,000 laborers speaking 100 languages.

How do we get to the same pricing in the U.S.?

“We have to keep fighting to reduce the cost,” said Campbell. “There’s a big difference between solar at 1.0 cents per kWh versus 1.5 cents per kWh.”

And the way to get there, according to the CEO is with smart software “across the whole life cycle” from procurement to oversight of construction to operations — “all on a common interconnected digital platform.”

The company already has revenue and a growing client base with “a lot of traction outside the U.S.”

Campbell told pv magazine, “If you really want to compete with fossil fuels, you need solar to be as cheap as humanely possible.”

Source: https://pv-magazine-usa.com/2020/09/09/terabase-energy-raises-funding-to-break-the-0-01-kwh-utility-scale-solar-barrier/

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