Cool Earth Solar is finding that its business has heated up enough that it will double its space in Livermore and ramp up manufacturing.
Livermore-based Cool Earth Solar has landed $21 million in private financing, including $20 million in venture funding that was preceded by $1 million in angel investments. The company was formed in 2007.
"We have created a new way to do solar energy," said Rob Lamkin, Cool Earth's chief executive officer. "We have been expanding over the last year and developing our technology."
Cool Earth Solar has struck a deal to rent an additional 13,000 square feet on Las Positas Road, next to its existing location, giving the business a total of 26,000 square feet. The alternative-energy company had previously been in 13,000 square feet, according to Colliers International, the commercial realty brokerage that arranged the deal.
The 30-employee company has just hired several workers and plans to add more employees in early 2011, Lamkin said.
"Mostly engineers, scientists and technicians," Lamkin said.
The company isn't alone among East Bay green-tech companies that are seeking more elbow room.
"We're seeing that green and sustainable technology businesses continue to expand in the East Bay," said Michael Lloyd, a broker with Colliers.
One of the big recent expansions involved Bridgelux Inc., a maker of light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, that can be used in indoor or outdoor
Bridgelux had 170 workers in September and said at that time that it wanted to hire another 150. Eventually, Bridgelux hopes to have 800 Livermore employees.
In Oakland, BrightSource Energy, a solar energy firm, has 170 employees. In February, Sungevity moved to downtown Oakland with 54 employees but soon expanded to 75 workers.
Some of the expansions underscore potential or actual synergies among at least a few cleantech companies in the area.
The company 1 Source LED Inc. tripled its operations in Livermore about a year ago. The firm's products include LED light fixtures, said Derek Larson, who co-owns 1 Source LED with Shawn Morgan.
"We buy some components from Bridgelux that we use in our finished products," Larson said.
Several of the emerging cleantech companies in the East Bay often can boast cutting-edge products and energy innovations.
That's the case with Cool Earth Solar, which uses some old-school materials to create new-age solar products.
Cool Earth's signature product is a balloon-shaped solar module fashioned from thin-film plastic of the type that you're as likely to see at a grocery store or floral shop as in a solar energy field. Each module is about 10 feet in diameter.
"The material is like the plastic that's used for balloons, or Lay's potato chip bags, or for wrapping flowers," Lamkin said.
The top half of the inflated module is clear. That lets the sun in. The bottom half of the sphere is coated with aluminum. That reflects the sun's rays. The reflected energy is collected by a circular device that's connected to the module.
"If you want to use solar to meet the electricity needs of the United States alone, you would need to cover an area the size of the Texas Panhandle, or 10 million acres," Lamkin said. "To cover all that, you would rather not use a lot of steel, cement, glass or aluminum."
Instead, the company set out to find the cheapest way to cover the hypothetical 10 million acres.
Some companies such as Solyndra Inc. have innovative products, but the company's production costs may be too high, perhaps $3 to $4 a watt. Cool Earth executives believe the costs have to be driven well below that range.
"People need to get down to $1 a watt," Lamkin said.
Cool Earth is preparing to build its first commercial power plant on the east side of the Altamont Pass, in Alameda County, once it can get government approvals.
"You need to come up with new technologies, new prototypes, testing and retesting," Lamkin said. "We like the results for the stuff we are putting out in the field."
Contact George Avalos at 925-977-8477.