Sungevity attracts E.ON investment

German utility E.ON has taken an equity stake in fast-growing US residential PV specialist Sungevity, in a deal that could see Sungevity quicken its push into the European market.

California-based Sungevity today announced $70m in new equity financing, with money coming in from Jetstream Ventures, E.ON and GE Ventures, the latter of which first invested in the company last year.

“With E.ON and GE Ventures as equity investors, the Sungevity coalition now includes the world’s largest investor-owned utility company [in E.ON], the company that built  much of the planet’s power infrastructure [in GE], and one of the world’s largest retailers [in Lowe’s, with which Sungevity has had a relationship since 2011],” says Sungevity chief executive Andrew Birch.

The deal comes after E.ON “did a global search to invest in a solar company”, Birch was quoted as saying in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Privately held Sungevity’s statement today suggests it will use the money to push into new markets outside the US -- and with E.ON on board Europe would seem a distinct possibility. The company also has a presence in Australia.

Sungevity established a toehold in the European market several years ago via its investment in Dutch solar company Zonline, and it has also taken investment money from the Netherlands’ Rabobank.

Unlike other aggressive US residential PV players like SolarCity and Vivint Solar, Sungevity does not install modules, but rather works as a project originator using its remote system-design technology, before handing installation work to one of its downstream partners. 

The company was recently reported to have entered “an alliance” with Sunrun, with Sungevity to recruit new customers and Sunrun to fund, own and manage the PV systems.

Recent press reports have suggested that Sungevity’s breakneck order growth has in some cases outstripped its ability to finance new projects.

First flagged up several years ago, E.ON's push into solar energy has come slower than expected -- but there are signs that may be changing. Last autumn it inaugurated its first two utility-scale PV arrays in the US and was made a board member of the Washington-based lobbying group Solar Energy Industries Association.

The US residential PV space is in a state of violent flux, as business and financing models rapidly evolve and companies strive to catch up to market leader SolarCity.

Last week NRG -- one of the largest owners of utility-scale PV capacity in the US -- acquired New Jersey-based residential installer Roof Diagnostic Solar.