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GE Backs SolarEdge and Tendril, Raises Stake in Grid Net

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GE is upping its stake in technologies designed to make and use electricity more efficiently

The company’s investment arm, GE Energy Financial Services, today announced it has invested in three startups: SolarEdge, which has developed electronics to monitor solar panels and maximize their production, Tendril, which has developed energy-management technology for utilities and consumers, and Grid Net, a smart-meter software company.

The investment in Boulder, Colo.-based Tendril comes on top of a $30 million round that the 5-year-old company announced back in June. GE and Tendril said in July they would partner to develop software that would connect GE’s smart appliances to the grid, sending energy information between the appliances and the utility. This latest investment expands the partnership, according to the release, which didn’t disclose the size of the deal.

GE also didn’t release the amount of its funding in Grid Net. San Francisco-based Grid Net is developing network-management software around WiMAX-based meters, which are made by GE. The startup previously scored funding from GE (as well as Intel Capital and Catamount Ventures) in 2006, the year it was founded.

GE’s SolarEdge investment was part of a $23 million round that the 3-year-old Herzliya, Israel-based startup plans to use to grow its business in residential and large-scale projects. Other investors, who hail from the United States, Israel and Singapore, include Opus Capital, Walden International, Genesis Partners, Vertex Venture Capital and JP Capital Asia. SolarEdge had raised $34.8 million in venture capital before this latest round.

SolarEdge has developed chipsets that are embedded in solar panels, as well as an inverter and web-based monitoring software. Altogether, the company claims its systems boost solar power output by up to 25 percent. In May, the startup announced a deal with BP Solar, which plans to embed SolarEdge electronics in its panels.

The SolarEdge backing is the latest indication that GE sees solar as “the next wind.” The company entered the solar industry in 2004 and already sells silicon-based solar panels, but its annual solar sales amount to less than $200 million. That compares with an expected $6.5-$7 billion in wind turbine sales this year, according to a Financial Times report. Granted, the global solar industry is smaller than the wind industry, but GE has its sights on a larger market share than it has now: John Krenicki, chief executive of GE Energy Infrastructure, the department that includes the company’s renewable-energy division, last month told the Financial Times that GE plans to ramp up its solar production early next year.

Aside from expanding production of solar panels available today, GE is investing in new technologies aimed at making solar cheaper. The company last year became the majority shareholder in PrimeStar Solar, which makes thin-film solar cells out of cadmium-telluride, and it’s conducting its own thin-film research. GE also last year invested in Soliant, which makes concentrated solar panels for commercial and industrial rooftops. The tech that GE is supporting today through its investment in SolarEdge could help increase the electricity generation and reliability of those technologies, as well as the conventional silicon-based panels that GE sells today — thereby potentially reducing the cost per watt and the cost per kilowatt-hour.

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