06:00 PM

3.5.07 Cleantech companies litter the Valley

The Chronicle ran a front-page look at the Valley's cleantech industry (or "green tech" - reporter David Baker emphasizes that the industry is so new it hasn't settled on nickname yet), profiling some of the new and more established companies in the area.

There's Menlo Park's Solazyme, which is genetically engineering algae to produce oil. They recently picked up a financing round from Berkeley's Roda Group. The current interest in cleantech is a welcome change for such companies. A few years ago, Valley VCs were a lot less interested.

We'd go talk to biotech VCs, and they'd say, 'This is interesting, but we know nothing about this energy business," said Harrison Dillon, Solazyme's chief executive officer.

Then there are more established companies, like SunPower in San Jose, which makes highly efficient solar powers. It brought in $236.5 million in revenue last year, up 200 percent from $78.7 million the year before. Its profit hit $26.5 million.

Competing with SunPower is Santa Clara-based Miasolé, of Santa Clara, which will soon start producing "thin-film" solar panels.

Rather than collect the sun's energy with silicon wafers, the traditional solar technology, Miasolé uses a combination of copper, indium, gallium and selenium -- all deposited on razor-thin, stainless steel sheets.

Thin-film cells don't convert sunlight to electricity as efficiently as silicon cells. But Miasolé's process for making cells will be far cheaper, said Chief Executive Officer David Pearce.

If all goes as planned, Miasolé should be able to cut the production cost of solar cells by 70 percent, Pearce said, making solar power far more competitive with other ways of generating electricity.