Newsletter: $olar grab$ ca$h

Today’s all about that sunny money.

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You may have heard of funny money, but today’s all about that sunny money.

We’ve got three funding stories that have something to say about the energy transition, plus the first installment of a new series highlighting women’s careers in the clean energy industry.

The backstory here is that cleantech startups, for years, didn’t raise much money. Exceedingly few hit the billion-dollar valuation that triggers unicorn” status in Silicon Valley. 

Suddenly, clean energy companies break that threshold all the time. Many do it by going public via special-purpose acquisition vehicles. But a few are hitting it with venture capital investments, and we’ve got news on that front today.

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Aurora Solar is the cash king of solar software

Aurora Solar raised $250 million to grow its software business, which helps solar installers design rooftop systems remotely. This brings its valuation to $2 billion, an astronomical leap compared to the solar software field.

Rooftop solar keeps getting bigger, and Aurora is pitching itself as the software platform to cut soft costs and keep that industry growing. Investor Coatue led the funding round, joined by previous Aurora investors Energize Ventures, Iconiq and Fifth Wall.

The startup’s fundraising timeline reflects the acceleration happening in the space lately.

It launched in 2013 and raised less than $1 million in seed funding, typical of early-stage solar software companies at the time. In 2019, it raised a $20 million Series A, followed by a $50 million Series B in November. The massive round followed six months later.

It’s not clear what Aurora needs all this money for — the beauty of software is that it scales efficiently compared to more physical work, like actually putting solar on people’s roofs. The Series B was already paying for hundreds of new staffers for engineering, product and customer success. 

But cash is sloshing around, and it might not be forever. Aurora grabbed enough to build far beyond the scale that seemed possible even a year or two ago.

$500 million for microgrids

A subsidiary of private equity giant Blackstone ponied up $500 million to invest in localized power equipment for businesses.

The money goes to projects developed by GreenStruxure, a collaboration between investor Huck Capital and legacy power equipment company Schneider Electric.

Basically, GreenStruxure goes to businesses and offers them the trifecta of cheaper, cleaner and more resilient power. Using the $500 million fund, GreenStruxure offers to install solar, batteries and assorted other tools for no money down; the customer simply agrees to pay for power produced over subsequent years, which will be cheaper than the status quo. Those cash flows pay back the investment.

This medium-sized commercial market has been a tough nut to crack, even as home rooftops and massive utility-scale projects soared. But with the right financing structure making it easy for a customer to say yes, Blackstone’s investment could put a lot of steel in the ground.

Utility bills for the 21st century

Lest you think you need to pull nine figures to merit a mention in Canary Media, we also covered GridX, which raised $12 million to help modernize utility billing.

Utilities have big legacy software systems designed for the simple billing of the past, when the grid wasn’t so complicated. Now that the grid is getting all shaken up by intermittent renewables and flexible demand and distributed generation, rate structures are changing.

This can be really good: A well-designed rate encourages use of cheaper, cleaner resources and drives savings for customers. But the legacy billing systems aren’t necessarily up to the challenge of crunching all this data in real time to help customers figure out what will happen when they switch to a fancy new rate.

That’s what GridX tackles and has spent the last decade refining. Jeff St. John reveals all the juicy utility billing system and rate design details that you crave.

New feature alert: Charging Up

Canary Media just launched a jobs column chronicling women making moves in the clean energy industry. This one includes new executives taking charge at Netflix, Huck Capital, Breakthrough Energy Ventures, the Department of Energy, and many more.

Give it a read, and if you know somebody who should be in a future installment, let us know at [email protected]​canarymedia.​com.

(Lead image: Chronis Yan)

Julian Spector is an editor at Canary Media and reports on the rise of clean energy. He worked at Greentech Media for nearly five years, and before that he reported for CityLab at The Atlantic.