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California solar startup Ausra acquired by French nuclear energy giant Areva

Ausra
Mirrors reflect the sun, concentrating its energy into a transom of pipes, at the Ausra Kimberlina Solar Thermal Energy Plant in Bakersfield. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times

French nuclear energy giant Areva has jumped into the U.S. renewable energy market with the acquisition of Ausra, a Silicon Valley solar power plant startup backed by high-profile venture capitalists.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but in an interview on Monday, Areva executive Anil Srivastava said that the price the company paid for Ausra was in line with the $418 million that rival Siemens spent last year to acquire Solel, an Israel solar power plant builder.

That would be a decent payday for Ausra’s investors, which include marquee Silicon Valley venture capital firms Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Khosla Ventures.

“The current shareholders are very well-reputed venture capitalists and I can assure you they negotiated very well,” said Srivastava, the chief executive of Areva’s renewable energy division.

Ausra burst onto the green tech scene in 2007 after relocating to Silicon Valley from Australia and announcing plans to build a gigawatt's worth of solar thermal power plants.

Though the startup raised about $130 million from investors, early last year it abandoned plans to build its own solar projects to focus on supplying solar equipment to other developers. Then in November, Ausra said it would seek a buyer.

With the sale to Areva, the world’s largest nuclear power company, Ausra is back in the power plant-building business.

“Good technology was not enough to give what customers needed,” said Robert Fishman, Ausra’s chief executive, who will stay on to run Areva’s global solar division out of Ausra’s Mountain View, Calif., offices. “We needed the financial strength to guarantee that our technology had a global footprint. By joining forces with Areva, we’ve solved that problem.”

While Areva is new to the solar market, the company’s $18 billion in annual revenues should help reassure bankers who tend to shy away from financing multibillion-dollar solar power plants using new technologies.

Areva will also continue to sell Ausra’s solar thermal equipment, which uses rows of long flat mirrors to focus the sun on water-filled tubes suspended over the arrays. The superheated water creates steam for industrial uses or to drive an electricity-generating turbine.

Srivastava said Areva would target the desert Southwest in the United States as well as markets in Europe, the Middle East, Australia and South Africa.

-- Todd Woody

 
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